Edwardian vegan artist rediscovered in Highland Vault

The work of a long-forgotten Edwardian artist has been discovered in an attic in the Highlands of Scotland.

Sir Christopher Spink, an artist who created origami sculptures of butterflies from his home in the Highlands, is said to have lived from 1895 to 1925.

He traveled the world in search of inspiration for his work of art, following in the footsteps of his heroine Maria Sibylla Merian (1647 – 1717) to South America, where he discovered the pleated era and the totally variegated Plumecast unknown.

Sir Christopher Spink’s origami butterflies.

Sir Christopher was frustrated that his works involved killing rare butterflies and so in 1921 he began to create the first of many extraordinarily beautiful origami sculptures, partly inspired by his friend, Josef Albers (1888 – 1976) who taught Spink when he studied at the highly regarded Bauhaus design school in Germany. It captured the only sighting of the Dogeared Princeling of Argentina before it died out in 1930 and the Trailing Brightpath of the Amazon, never seen since. Sir Christopher Spink died in 1925, leaving behind only his faithful companion, Otto, his dog.

The eccentric Sir Christopher was famous in the Highlands in the 1920s, not only as an entertainer, but also for the entertainment he provided to his visitors, which included artists and writers from all over the world. A local reporter at the time recalled seeing Sir Christopher riding his Penny Farthing while juggling in Beauly Square. He was also known to sing loudly while walking his dog. The aristocrat suffered from what would henceforth be called dyspraxia, but the condition was then completely unknown. This is believed to be what prompted him to start learning to juggle and later practice paper origami.

Thanks to the work of Monack Mhor writers center in Inverness-shire, the work of Sir Christopher Spink has been rediscovered and an exhibition of his work has started at the centre.

Claire Daly, director of the centre, said: “We were busy cleaning room eight in preparation for our international residency when we spotted a previously unknown opening, previously hidden by plasterboard, in the eaves of our 18th century building.

“When the lock was opened we found these wooden boxes containing these wonderful treasures, although they were covered in dust, we couldn’t believe it when we discovered these amazing creations. We started researching Sir Christopher Spink and now know that as probably the world’s first vegan taxidermist, long before the word vegan existed, he deserves much more praise, so we have created an exhibition to showcase this wonderful forgotten artist and showcase his work to a modern audience.

Eugenie Vronskaya, an internationally renowned local artist, commented: “These butterflies are the most wildly creative sculptures we know of to have emerged from the Highlands during this period. The hand-marbled paper he used mimics the natural patterns found on butterfly wings.

“The ‘spirit of the collector’ stems from the Victorian era and Sir Christopher Spink is the first known artist to have challenged this and his extraordinary work represents the shift towards a more modern artistic reflection of nature and the natural world. Butterflies are an eternal symbol of hope and due to their metamorphic life cycles they are frequently used to represent transformation and here they suggest that with change on both a personal and societal level a new future could yet be reimagined and realised.His work is very important in increasing our understanding of Highland culture at this time and has far-reaching implications for the art world today.

2022 Jessie Kesson Scholar at Moniack Mhor, Debris Stevenson, said: “As beautiful as it is sweet – a moment of history, kindness and peace has been found.”

Visit Moniack Mhor – Creative Writing Center of Scotland for more information on: www.moniackmhor.org.uk/


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