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Who is behind the exquisite steel sculptures in Scotland?



Who is behind the exquisite steel sculptures in Scotland?

Mysterious metal sculptures which have appeared one by one along the Stonehaven shoreline (Image: Paul Reid)

AT VARIOUS times over the past eight years a series of beautifully crafted metal sculptures have mysteriously appeared on the rocky foreshore of a charming Scottish coastal village to the delight of residents and visitors alike. When the first one cropped up in 2011, a 2ft-long stainless-steel model of a trawler, people marvelled at the painstaking workmanship that had gone into creating the intricate piece. They also enjoyed the humour of its creator, who has been called Scotland’s Banksy after the mysterious English street artist.

In the hull a hammerhead shark can be seen reading a book while the captain, a lobster, sports a Rastafarian haircut, not an easy look to pull off when working with stainless steel.

The proportions of the model suggested the sculptor knew a lot about boat design.

A few years later a metal dolphin appeared, followed by a netter boat in 2015, bearing the names “James and Seth” on its hull.

And in 2016 the master craftsman produced a lighthouse, complete with foghorn and some fishy characters inside, one reading a paper and the other watching television.

scotland sculptures stonehaven

The creator had been called Scotland’s Banksy after the mysterious English street artist (Image: Paul Reid)

In 2017, the mystery artist went one better with a wonderfully realistic Viking longboat. Its steel sail bears a superbly rendered image of a dragon and its oars are set to look as though they are powering through the waves.

The sculptor’s trademark sense of humour is evident too: on close examination the “oarsmen” look a lot like fish.

Just before Christmas the fifth major model was secretly erected – an older-style creel fishing boat used to catch small sea creatures without damaging them in the process.

In this creation, a lobster appears to be throwing a pot over the side – again a classic signature of the sculptor’s style and sense of humour.

On the side of the boat is the word “Rose” alongside the name of an Indian tribe.

scotland sculptures stonehaven

Detail from the lighthouse sculpture (Image: Paul Reid)

For many of the 14,000 residents of Stonehaven, a thriving community 15 miles south of Aberdeen, the new arrival has been the subject of great conjecture.

Everyone is asking: who is town’s secret sculptor?

The mystery gained an international audience after retired local hairdresser Martin Sim posted pictures of the sculptures on his Facebook page.

The resulting surge in interest is even credited with creating a mini tourist boom for a port that is still best known for Dunnottar Castle, a medieval fortress one mile south of the town.

So, in an attempt to unravel the mystery, I visited this glorious corner of north-east Scotland as bitterly cold winds threw 5ft waves over icy rocks and empty stretches of sand.

scotland sculptures stonehaven

For the local residents the new arrival has been the subject of great conjecture (Image: Paul Reid)

First stop was the Old Pier Coffee house, where the owners looked genuinely baffled and said they did not have a clue as to the identity of the publicity shy artistic genius in their midst.

It was the same story when I made enquiries at the reception desks of all the hotels on and by the seafront.

If they did not know, then the job was clearly not going to be nearly as straightforward as I had imagined.

One local out walking her dog advised me to speak to three women who spend hours every day on a bench a stone’s throw from the sculptures, which have been placed on circular metal stands over a 200-yard stretch of foreshore, which divides the harbour from Stonehaven’s sandy bay.

“Everyone asks us but we genuinely don’t have a clue,” said one.

scotland sculptures stonehaven

Detail from underneath the trawler (Image: Paul Reid)

Running out of options, I stood on a large rock with a commanding view of the local area and looked down towards the town.

From that vantage point it became clear that most of the sculptures had been placed near one house in particular.

On one wall of the home stands a metallic model of a leaping dolphin. In the same garden, a little more unobtrusive, are sculptures of a salmon and a cormorant.

It did not take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that they were extremely similar in style to the five on the foreshore, so beloved of sightseers.

Within seconds of me knocking on the door, it was opened by the owner of the house, Phil.

james murray stonehaven

MYSTERY TRAIL: The Daily Express’s James Murray (Image: Paul Reid)

As soon as I began inquiring about the sculptures, a bearded figure standing behind him shuffled on his coat and disappeared.

Had I stumbled on the nerve centre of the sculpturing operation?

Why the great flurry to get away and avoid a few friendly questions?

Leading me out the front door, apparently to allow the man in the beard to make a quick exit out the back, Phil took me over to the lighthouse.

“It’s brilliant isn’t it?” he says. “You know it lights up at four o’clock every morning for a few hours, a treat for the early risers.”

scotland sculptures stonehaven

The first one cropped up in 2011 (Image: Paul Reid)

Although he loved to talk about the brilliance of the works, Phil insisted: “I cannae tell you anything about the sculptor because he is very shy. He is a fabulous man with a wonderful natural talent. He doesn’t use drawings, just his eyes and a cutter to get the shapes.”

Further inquiries locally produced intriguing new information, which confirmed my earlier suspicions .

The elusive man in Phil’s house was McBanksy himself and I had stumbled on him by accident as he enjoyed a cup of tea with his pal.

Further inquiries led others to start putting two and two together.

Phil had been seen on the foreshore one day at dawn with a drill attached to a long extension cable, smoothing down one of the rocks on which one of the circular metal poles that support the sculptures would be bolted into place.

 scotland sculptures stonehaven

Tell-tale evidence (Image: Paul Reid)

One local said: “Phil works hand in glove with the secret sculptor. They’ve been friends for years and Phil helps him put them up when everyone else is asleep.”

It wasn’t long before another source revealed McBanksy to be Jimmy Malcolm, 68, a retired welder, father and grandfather, who lives on the outskirts of the town in an ordinary semi.

When I went to the house there was so sign of Jimmy, but a glance around the back revealed a small shed.

“Oh Jimmy’s always in his workshop, banging away,” reported one neighbour. “He loves to work with metal, he’s gifted that way. I’m sworn to secrecy about what he does. You won’t get a word from me.”

scotland sculptures stonehaven artist

ELUSIVE: Is Jimmy Malcolm the mystery artist? (Image: Collect photo )

Further inquiries led me to the harbour, where Jimmy keeps a small boat he uses for crabbing.

Standing on the harbour wall I saw him working on his pots, but he was as elusive as ever.

When I asked if he was indeed McBanksy, the secret sculptor, he smiled broadly, pulled his dark beanie hat down to his eyebrows and said: “It’s funny what a high tide brings in, isn’t it?”

Then he darted into the cabin, started the motor and pootled out of the harbour, heading off to a favourite crabbing spot across the bay.

But a friend confirmed: “Aye, you’ve got yer man. Jimmy has two grandsons, James and Seth, and that’s why he put their names on the boat. Rose was a friend of his who died a while ago and she was very interested in an Indian tribe.

scotland sculptures stonehaven

The superbly crafted metal sculptures, all of which portray the creator’s trademark sense of humour (Image: Paul Reid)

“The salmon in Phil’s garden was one of the very first works done by Jimmy. It was done because one of his friends was caught poaching for salmon with a net on the rocks overlooking the entrance to the bay.

“There was a whip-round in the pub to pay for the laddie’s fine. Jimmy, like everyone else, felt he had been hard done by.

“There are plenty of stories behind the sculptures, but the only person who knows what they all mean is Jimmy and he’ll never speak about them.”

Meanwhile, even Martin Sim refused to confirm or deny the sculptures were Jimmy’s work, saying enigmatically: “It’s better to keep the mystery alive. It’s a bit like the Loch Ness monster.”

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