The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

Margaret Gardiner (1904-2005)

Margaret GardinerThe Pier Arts Centre in Orkney was established in 1979 to provide a home for an important collection of British fine art donated to "be held in trust for Orkney" by author, peace activist and philanthropist Margaret Gardiner.

Alongside the permanent collection, the centre curates a year-round programme of changing exhibitions and events for the education and enjoyment of the general public.

The centre re-opened in July 2007 following a two-year, £4.5m National Lottery-funded redevelopment of its buildings and facilities.

It is housed in a complex of buildings that sit on one of the many piers that characterise the historic town of Stromness.

That such a special collection of art should find a permanent home in Orkney is entirely the result of the vision and determination of the founder of the Pier Arts Centre, Margaret Gardiner.

Margaret Gardiner was a supporter of many of the artists represented in the collection and was a particular friend of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.

During the 1950s Margaret Gardiner first visited Orkney. Her visit marked the beginning of a long association with Orkney that led her to consider how to support the arts in the islands.

Along with the able assistance of local friends and colleagues she established the Pier Arts Centre as a venue for the display of that portion of her collection that she had generously decided to give to the people of Orkney.

Born into a well-to-do family, Margaret Gardiner studied at Cambridge University before a brief spell as a teacher.

She was an early activist against the fascist movement in the 1930s and in the 1960s organised an international press campaign of renowned public figures who were against the Vietnam War.

The author of several books, including a biography of Barbara Hepworth, she was also associated with some of the major figures in 20th Century literature, including Louis MacNeice and WH Auden.

Although never happy to be called a collector – "I hate being called a collector, for I never set out to collect" – Margaret Gardiner gathered together, through friendship and astute patronage, a very personal and important collection of art that closely charts the development of British Modernism.

Gardiner's interest in art was deeply influenced by her long friendship with the artist Barbara Hepworth, and through this friendship she came into contact with many of the principal figures in 20th Century British art, including Hepworth's second husband, Ben Nicholson.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s Gardiner was a key supporter of the small group of artists who sought sanctuary in St Ives, and she was also an early champion of the Cornish painter and seaman Alfred Wallis.

Following World War II she encountered and encouraged a new generation of artists, including Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost, Margaret Mellis, John Wells and Roger Hilton, who had been drawn to St Ives by its growing reputation as a centre of innovation.

Since the gallery opened its doors in 1979 The Pier Arts Centre's Collection has steadily grown from the original gift of 64 works, and now numbers just over 160 works.

© Pier Arts Centre