Spirit of graffiti art prevails despite vandalism

Selkirk-based mosaic artist Joy Parker rallied local people and artists from across the UK, to enact her vision of a fitting tribute to the Scottish town’s long legacy of shoemakers. I went along to help Joy with the installation.

Joy had been worried that the unseasonal dip in Scotland’s temperatures might dampen her plans to install more than thirty shoe mosaics onto a concrete bridge by the River Ettrick in Selkirk one Sunday during May. But the day dawned bright and warm enough for the cement to set.

She was joined by four other Scotland-based mosaic artists – Katy Jackson, Sara Melville, Marion Ross and me – along with willing helper Ross McKellar, to fix the shoes onto the graffiti-splattered bridge wall. 

Joy Parker, Sara Melville, Marion Ross, Katy Jackson and Ross McKellar

The shoes had arrived from across the country. From flip-flops to trainers, and wellies to stilettos, artists and children had created a range of shoes for Joy’s project.

So why shoes?

After two failed attempts at securing government-funded local art projects, Joy decided to take matters into her own hands. 

“I’d applied, unsuccessfully, for funded projects. It was so disappointing for both me and the local people. So I decided to do something about it myself. Something that would be positive for the local community,” Joy explains to me.

“Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, I wanted to create art that people could enjoy outside. With a long legacy of shoemaking in Selkirk, I thought mosaic shoes would be perfect,” Joy continues. Natives of the Scottish Borders town of Selkirk are affectionately known as ‘Souters’, the Scottish term for shoemakers. 

Joy Parker installs the shoes

Amid the lockdown, Joy couldn’t involve the local community immediately in workshops to create mosaic shoes. 

“But luckily I have access to a wonderful network of mosaic artists, who very generously created beautiful mosaic shoes and sent them to me. Once lockdown eased in May, some local people came to my studio to create shoes for the project too,” Joy adds. Some local children also made shoes for Joy.

Sara Melville

A project that inspired many

“Joy mentioned quite some time ago of her idea to offer people the chance to participate in creating shoes in mosaic and to put them up somewhere as a tribute to the Souters of Selkirk,” says Marion Ross. “The Covid lockdown had put a dampener on my inspiration to do much creatively on my own, so I jumped at the chance to make a mosaic shoe under Joy’s guidance. I loved seeing the other shoes from the many people who contributed. Joy posted pictures of them on her social media as they arrived.” 

Marion Ross

Marion was also amongst those who helped Joy with the installation. “It was quite exciting to be a part of the project and to be working as part of a team after lockdown. Joy’s experience of planning and preparation paid off, and it all went smoothly,” she says. “I thought the shoes were super, all the different styles and colors. They looked brilliant on the wall, standing out proudly against the drab concrete.”

Overnight vandalism

The morning after the installation, Marion brought her husband to the bridge to show him the mosaics. She was devastated to find that some of the shoes had been damaged and two of the children’s shoes had been ripped off the wall completely.

“From a distance, I realised that two shoes were missing right away. I thought that perhaps they’d fallen off overnight, and Joy had picked them up,” she says. “But then I spotted stones on the ground that had been used to smash some of the shoes. Lots of shoes had bits missing and I found the mesh from one of the missing ones in the river. To see that destruction was very upsetting and I couldn’t even take a picture of the shoes that had been damaged.” 

Mosaic artist Judy Reed’s Converse boot was one of the ones damaged by the vandalism. “Ironically, one of the reasons I chose to do a Converse boot was because I thought it would appeal to young people who might hang out around the bridge,” she says. “I thought it would give people something to connect to and help them feel more accepting of our graffiti. I guess maybe they felt ‘their space’ was invaded somehow and they rejected the whole thing in a destructive way.” 

Marion says that after she returned home she was angry at first. “I even contemplated trying to remove the shoe I had made, to prevent anything more happening to it, but I decided it had to stay with the rest, where it belonged.

“I picked myself up by making a couple of small mosaics, which I found therapeutic.” Marion continues. “I decided the shoes made so lovingly by so many people, and the installation experience, couldn’t be tainted by whoever damaged them.”

So where to from here?

“The shoes still look great,” said Joy. “I was very upset initially, but I’ve recovered from my gloom. My original hope was that the shoes were so loved, I would then be able to access a pot of money from the local council to take the project forward and involve more children and adults from the community once lockdown ended.”

There are already ideas circulating in Selkirk for how this project moves forward. Joy has been contacted by Three Hills Coffee Roasters, a local coffee shop in Selkirk, who would like to get involved.

“It seems like the project could now take on a life of its own, so watch this space!” continues Joy. “I’d love to involve more local people in projects like this, and for funding to be available to facilitate them.”

Marion adds that she’d like to see local councils put more money and effort into offering more creative options for the younger generations. “Kids get bored too easily and whoever destroyed the mosaic shoes needs help of some sort to express their anger differently, as I did by making mosaics.”

If you’d like to get in touch with Joy about the project, you can find out how to contact her on her website

All photos taken by me except the top left in the finally image gallery, which was taken by Joy Parker.

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