Welcome to the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail, an extraordinary series of sculptures by Frank Bruce on Scottish culture, and our relationship with others.

This is an unofficial website celebrating larger works by artist Frank Bruce.

You may notice that the sculptures are in differing states of decay. Allowing the sculptures to age is intentional, Frank Bruce intended them to return to the earth from where they came; not only made from the trees and stone around us, but part of our natural cycle of birth, life and decay.

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This website is not part of FCS, but an independent resource:

The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail is located 13km (8 miles) from both Kingussie and Aviemore, and is around 200m north-west of Feshie Bridge.

By car and bicycle:

From Aviemore, drive towards Cairngorm Mountain on the B970, turn right just before the Rothiemurchus Centre signposted B970 to Coylumbridge. After Feshie Bridge there is a turning on the right marked as a FCS car-park. Park there, and walk up a steep, short path to the sculptures. There are various car rental options available. I used an automatic car hire website on my last visit as its my preferred vehicle choice. I got the tip off by this site compare cheap car hire dublin airport after a recent trip to Ireland.

By train & bus:

Scottish City Link and Megabus both serve Kingussie and Aviemore. The sculptures are accessible using the mainline Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness line. Get off at Kingussie (if you have a bicycle or want to walk) and turn right onto the B970, passing the historic Ruthven Barracks, through Insch, and before you get to Feshie Bridge there’s the turning into the FCS car-park on the left. Getting off at Aviemore,  take the 31 bus towards Cairngorm Mountain, getting off at the Rothiemurchus Centre, and walk along the back road (no path) B970 signposted to Coylumbridge to the sculpture trail.

Accessibility & facilities:

FCS have made the path around the sculptures accessible, a good hardcore track with gentle gradients. There is parking reserved at the entrance to the sculptures for disabled people. Picnic bench in the walled garden. Nearest public toilets are in Aviemore and Kingussie. There is a small shop at Kincraig 2km from the Trail.

The Trail is managed by Forestry Commission Scotland.

Winter wonderland

(c) Jenny McBain
Published on Tuesday 25 December 2007 in the Scotsman

THERE was little in Frank Bruce’s early life to suggest he would become an artist. The youngest of nine children born to a fisherman in a small Aberdeenshire village between Peterhead and Fraserburgh, he left school, aged 13, in 1944. However, Bruce was determined to educate himself. He overcame his dyslexia and taught himself to read using comic books, then other literature.

Then a small, philanthropic gesture inspired a lifetime of creativity. His older sister was in service at the time and the lady of the house where she worked lent Bruce an encyclopaedia. Within its pages he discovered Greek sculpture and was captivated by the way the ancients had expressed themselves in three dimensions without a need for written language. Bruce went on to earn his living through a series of manual jobs, but all his spare time involved experiments with wood and chisels.

The success of his endeavours speaks for itself. A major exhibition of his giant sculptures is now in place in Inshriach Forest outside Aviemore. The Forestry Commission, galvanised by the local community, has invested 65,000 in transporting and installing 12 pieces of work, which are united under the title Patriotism and Poverty.

This exhibition offers an opportunity for a walk in the country with a difference. Wandering among the woodland brings you alongside living larch and conifer. Then, every so often, an imposing piece of sculpture presents itself. The work belongs here in this dank, breathing gallery of slatted light, yet it makes a statement. It is both pleasing and disturbing.

Many of the pieces have been made from felled trees and still have all the knots and twists imposed by life. Bruce has worked with nature, making selective cuts to draw out a theme. One piece, The Walker, stands over eight metres high. It is made from the trunk of a pine tree which has been upturned. We see a man striding out, dominating the forest. His face is set deep in the wooden trunk. This personification of trees is a recurring theme in Bruce’s work, but by no means its sum total.

The exhibition was opened by Richard Holloway, who was acting in a personal capacity outside his role as chairman of the Scottish Arts Council. The thing about Frank is that he is an instinctive artist and has done astonishing things with these trees, he says.In a sense, that emphasis their naturalness. If you actually look at them they grow out of and develop from nature, and he is letting them rot back into nature. I think it’s an astonishing thing.

Bruce may not talk the critical talk which is common currency in the art world, but he doesn’t have to, as the ideas behind his work are easily understood. Asked what inspired him to create these works, he is typically succinct: Essentially, the reason for the sculptures was to say that I’m still here. I am here and I’ve got something to say.

Having lost a brother to the Second World War in 1941, Bruce is concerned with patriotism. In one of his sculptures, two truncated figures, each missing an arm, face each other in a warlike posture. What is the artist trying to say? It takes two patriots to make a war. Hitler needed patriots and Churchill needed patriots. I’m not saying patriotism is wrong; I’m just saying if Hitler hadn’t had patriots he would not have been able to go to war himself.

The strutting lord has an ineffable sense of superiority, but the artist’s sympathy, like that of Burns, is with the quiet dignity of working man.

There are artistic references in the exhibitions. Rodin’s famous bronze, The Thinker, took a classical form reminiscent of the work of Michelangelo, whereby men were godlike in their perfection. Rodin’s Thinker represented Dante contemplating the gates of hell. Bruce’s Thinker depicts a more humble figure without limbs and locked statically into the wood. It has been cleverly sited at the edge of a small pond, so we are presented with the echoing influence of previous artists and the physical reflection of the actual sculpture in the water.

The Forestry Commission is not usually associated with patronage of art. Their district manager for Inverness, David Jardine, explains why they chose to get involved with this project. A visit to the site made us think this is worth thinking about further, because some of the pieces are made from local trees,he says. The Forestry Commission has done some sculpture projects. There was one in Aberdeen and there was one in the Lake District. This particular collection, though not linked with the natural world, is actually linked with people, and some of the features within it are really well connected with the modern forestry agenda of forests and people.

Jardine points to the three figures which make up Third World as having a relevant message. This trio represents the affluent nations. In the centre is a piece called Conscience, which shows a mother holding a starving child. The child is being ignored by the larger figures, which have their eyes on the horizon and do not want to see what is going on in developing nations. Forestry is a sustainable industry but not just locally, also worldwide, says Jardine. There is an issue about how we are managing our forests, the resources that all mankind will need in the future.

There is now a Frank Bruce Sculpture Trust, which is run by volunteers. Valerie Fairweather, a retired arts curator from Stirling University, chairs the group. Frank has a global world conscience, she says. There’s something quite fascinating about his work, and he’s driven. If he had been a writer he would have written polemics, but he is a creative man and he saw these trees and he saw these tortured and tormented figures and powerful figures within these dying trees. I am completely bowled over by it.

Bruce’s talents are not confined to working with wood. The exhibition meanders from the woodland into a former walled garden and there, in among the fruit trees, are some examples of what he can do with stone. Millennium shows a face covered by a hand. The unyielding nature of the stone has been worked in such a way that the man is emerging from the liquid slime or primordial soup from which all life derived.

The sheer scale of the sculptures presented logistical problems when it came to getting them into the woodland. Now concerns are centred on the long-term future of the work. Bruce was originally happy to allow the wooden pieces to decay and dissolve naturally, but now that his work is being seen by an increasing number of admirers, he is beginning to think conservation would be a good idea. Fairweather has experience in this sort of work and is looking into various options.

A building may be put up on the site to accommodate some of the smaller works that are currently in storage and to give visitors a chance to take part in workshops. So, as he approaches the end of his eighth decade, this self-taught artist can rest in the knowledge that future generations will be able to enjoy his work. It is work that has been lovingly produced over more than four decades without the time constraints that haunt those whose art is their living. And perhaps, most importantly, it comes from a powerful, raw creativity which is unfettered by institutional or academic interference. See it and a walk in the country will never be quite the same again.

Frank Bruce

Published on Thursday 24 September 2009 in the Scotsman

Sculptor

Born: 28 August, 1931, in St Combs.

Died: 8 September, 2009 in Inverness, aged 78.

SCOTLAND has lost a most talented and inspired sculptor with the passing of Frank Bruce, creator of the Feshiebridge sculpture garden.

Originally from the fishing community of St Combs, near Fraserburgh, Frank always preferred being outside to being stuck in school, and rarely attended. He was more interested in the rock pools and the natural beauty of his environment, and a primary school jotter records his early attempts to express this love. “The most beautiful thing is the sun setting on a Sunday night,” he wrote. “The clouds were like mountains and the sky was like lochs and the sun shining on them.”

Hardly a word is untouched by the teacher’s red pen. Later in life he sympathised greatly with the character of Peter Buchan’s poem The Dunderheid and even composed his own reply.

Leaving school at 13 he went to work in a sawmill, the first of many jobs requiring strength and stamina, traits he was quite willing to show for fun or to prove a point. He also earned money the hard way, working in the six-man squads unloading coal boats in Peterhead, shovelling 260 tons of coal a day on piece rates of 2/6d (12p) per ton.

Frank’s love of the Highland environment led him to settle with his family in Aviemore in the 1960s, where he and his wife, Mabel, worked locally before building their own house and running a successful bed and breakfast business at “Hame” in Dalfaber Road.

Frank’s interest in the shapes of natural materials began to show as a boy when he would whittle a head shape from wood, but didn’t develop until a bad accident in his middle years permanently damaged his back and laid him up for a while. During his convalescence he thought he would have a go at carving a block of wood. This first attempt turned out “gey roch”, but, undaunted, he launched into carving a block of mahogany he had found as driftwood.

Eventually, the face of writer Compton Mackenzie, whose photograph he happened to have from a book, emerged out of the solid mass, brought to life by his hands. The difference between the two attempts was all the encouragement he needed. His sculptures eventually filled a house and he began carving some of the outside works for which he is now best known.

Massive icons of Scottish folk history and poetry wrought in wood, some of them standing 20ft tall, soon filled his garden. Still he was driven to complete more sculptures and had to find a bigger space to exhibit what he regarded as one whole work rather than a collection of individual pieces.

With the help of Banff Council, Frank created the Colleonard Sculpture Garden on a six-acre site about a mile from Banff town. Visitor numbers grew quickly and ordinary folk from all over the world would record in the visitor book that they felt more comfortable and welcome in the garden than in a stuffy art gallery.

Colleonard often featured in press and television and was the setting of an episode of Beech Grove Garden. There was never any vandalism at the site and Frank felt this was because local people shared an understanding and appreciation of his sculptures.

Frank refused contact with the commercial art world and would never put a price on his work. He insisted that it should always be available to everybody free of charge.

He also anticipated a relatively brief life for wooden sculptures and their eventual return to the earth. Since most of his pieces used fallen timber from Rothiemurchus and Inshriach forests, Frank welcomed the opportunity to move his work to the present location at Feshiebridge under the care of the Frank Bruce Sculpture Trust.

Used to accolades and ever suspicious of praise, Frank longed for a professional appraisal of his work from someone he could trust. He once asked Scottish Arts Council chairman Richard Holloway to tell him what he really thought. Richard kept his opinion for the opening of the sculpture trail at Feshiebridge, when he described Frank as “the Dave Brubeck of the Scottish sculpture scene … a great artist, an instinctive artist, a natural.”

Many aspects of his work, especially his detailed carvings of hands, have been copied by younger artists, much to Frank’s immense pleasure.

Some of his larger wooden figures are already showing the ravages of the weather and of woodpeckers, but some of his work in stone will endure. One of these, carved in the shape of a headstone, bears Frank’s own epitaph: “I was privileged to be.”

Those who knew him will feel that the privilege was all theirs to enjoy the art and company of the quiet man who worked his magic in the forest, who could discuss philosophy, art and life and could still have a laugh, sing a song or play a tune on the mouth organ.

Frank is survived by wife Mabel, children Elaine and Roddy and grandchildren Iona, Zane and Sorrel.