Cullen is a vibrant small community in the truest sense of what community stands for. It stands facing the cold north sea and it shelters between the mighty cliffs that surround it and the viaduct that stands over it like a sentinel being protecting the town. I love my visits there and my residency has focused on Cullen and the pet cemetery as is witnessed in previous posts.
It was while I was investigating this small Scottish fishing village, its community and its history that I discovered the Cullen Tapestry and eventually tracked down its maker Derek Merson.
Derek, a former postie and a very creative learning support assistant at Buckie High, is a whirlwind of ideas and creative learning initiatives. Struck down by debilitating post viral glandular fever and trapped in isolation created by covid he is one of the unsung heroes of the village. Refusing to be beaten by a condition that saw his life change so radically when he was reduced from mountain biking to using a wheel chair, he embarked on a two year epic creative journey. Instead of using his creativity to enhance other’s lives he used that creativity to save his own sanity, isolated as he was and as so many of us were during that very destructive period for the nation’s mental health.
Bantering with his son and based around a love of pixel art, computer graphics and mathematics his creative streak erupted with a humorous depiction of super mario hoarding the toilet rolls. What began as a wee effort to distract his mind and his hands and to connect with his son soon took on a life of its own and became a big thank you to the NHS, the Cullen community and also depicts the story of the lockdown as designed and experienced by him.
In Derek’s own words, “ Originally meant to be individual Super Mario characters stitched onto blank canvas sheets, my project began in March 2020. Not long after the town, the country and the whole world was shut down because of Covid-19.
As the lockdown continued and showed no signs of coming to an end, so my tapestry grew. As the world waited and watched for light at the end of the tunnel, I busied myself with more and more additions to the artwork. Well what else was I going to do with my time? It was clear I wasn’t going back to work anytime soon at the children’s charity.”
Well as creative projects often do Derek’s project grew and grew, it includes tributes to his friend Chris also struggling with illness as well as friends dogs, local landmarks and the creatures of course that bring so much joy in Cullen the dolphins. Staying true to his initial palette of pixels and computer games perhaps allowed him to see the whole difficult time as a game which could be and would be eventually finished as all good gamers do complete the various levels and beat the level bosses.
Again in Derek’s own words“ Captain Sir Tom Moore set off on his marathon trek around his garden and so earned a place alongside Mario and his friends. Complimented with a Spitfire flyby, I paid tribute to his money raising efforts and celebrated his centenary birthday by incorporating a ‘100 up’ extra life mushroom in true Super Mario style. By this time I had the beginning of my story. The end was completed some time after. The bad guys from the Super Mario world, all set beneath an ominous and lightning filled sky, dwarfed by Bowser and selfishly hoarding the mountain of toilet roll (just like the manic shoppers at the start of the pandemic) gave an appropriate end to the tapestry.”
The final part of the tapestry which links the beginning and end of the pandemic at its most critical stage had something missing he felt. That thing turned out to be the community itself and Derek has created and hand stitched 74 individual logos for all of the businesses in Cullen as a huge thank you to the community that supports him and each other and in Derek’s own words, “ … each and every business name has been given its own unique design, each one presented on the background of Cullen beach. Either on the sand or wading in the sea shore, it is a gathering of everything that embodies our wee town. Togetherness. Working towards one goal. To get everyone through these tough times and celebrate all that we have overcome …”
Is the tapestry finished? Almost but as Derek says himself “ I promise this will be completed one day. No idea when. I’m having too much fun!”
An interesting and creative man, using his creativity to survive difficulties that have beaten many others, it was a pleasure to meet him.
Watch out for his artwork all be it in a shorter format appearing in local galleries over the next few years.