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Issue 77 - Little Sparta

Scotland Magazine Issue 77
October 2014


This article is 4 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Little Sparta

A sculptor's garden in the Pentland Hills

A pathway of russet-covered flagstones, each slab imprinted with the word “pretty”, leads into a shady copse. A signpost marked “Siegried Line” points towards the corner of a field where items of washing are hung out to dry. A notice placed under thriving wild cherry trees carries the message, “Bring back the birch!”

All of this is the legacy of the late poet and artist Ian Hamilton Finlay, mercurial, confrontational, touched with genius. For over forty years, this was the home that he created with his wife Sue and family, an oasis of planting and eccentric brilliance surrounded by farm-land on the slopes of the Pentland Hills.

Born in the Bahamas in 1925, Hamilton Finlay was sent to a boarding school in Scotland at the age of six where he developed his strong sense of creativity, painting and writing short stories, plays and poems. His first book, published in 1958, was The Sea Bed and Other Stories, followed in 1961 by his collection of poems The Dancers Inherit the Party. In that same year he co-founded the Wild Hawthorn Press.

During the early 1960s, he became interested in ‘Concrete Poetry’, the laying out of images and juxtaposing their existence through sound, shapes or references. Two temple buildings are dedicated to Baucis and Philemon from Greek mythology. At Little Sparta, always expect the unexpected.

In the Lochan Eck Garden, a nuclear sail rises over the scene; in the Roman Garden are six stone works on plinths, variations on the theme of warships and their modern airborne equivalents.

Ian Hamilton Finlay's works are now held in major collections worldwide, and on his death in 2006, The Little Sparta Trust was created to preserve this unique national treasure trove which consists of over 270 of his quirky, metaphorical, and humorous artworks for future generations to enjoy within the setting that he created for them.

However, as was the case in his lifetime, Little Sparta is only open to the public on a
limited basis so be sure to make contact beforehand if you are planning a visit.

Little Sparta
Stonypath, Dunsyre, Lanarkshire ML11 8NG
Tel: +44 (0) 7826 495 677
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