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In Summer 2019 new potatoes grown in Ayrshire - ‘Ayrshire Earlies’ - were awarded prestigious Protected Geographical Indication status, meaning that from May 2020, they can be specifically marketed as such. This new branding assures customers that they are buying the genuine article; not just a small salad potato but one that has the superior taste - and heritage - of a true Ayrshire tattie. See our tattie blog here: https://wp.me/p2csKB-l4

But what about tatties in Art? There are actually no works of art in the South Ayrshire collection relating to potatoes- but there are 42 on this website!
Settle down for feast for the eyes - enjoy!


18 artworks

1793

Kitchen Interior with Figures
Photo credit: The Bowes Museum

Kitchen Interior with Figures

This is the earliest dated oil painting featuring potatoes on the Art UK website, and indeed Ayrshire has been at the heart of the Scottish - and UK - potato industry since the cultivation of the crop was first reported on a commercial basis there in 1793.

In 1875 Mr Quinton Dunlop of Morriston Farm, Maidens, mixed business with pleasure, and visited the Channel Isles with Mr Hannah of Girvan Mains. Their business was to observe the early development of the potato harvest there. After extensive enquiries, Dunlop decided that conditions at Morriston were just as favourable for growing the early potato as Jersey.

Kitchen Interior with Figures mid-18th C-mid 19th C
Flemish School
The Bowes Museum

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Potato Field
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Northern Ireland Civil Service

Potato Field

Another innovative step was taken in 1880, when Mr John Wood of Chapeldonan, Girvan, experimented successfully with ‘chitting’ or sprouting potato tubers. The extent of both earlies and main crops now produced in Scotland stood at 10,993 acres.

The following year, Mr Thomas Hunter, Senior, implement maker from Maybole, visited a farm in Cheshire and observed the use of wooden chitting boxes. On his return home, he had one made and demonstrated it to Mr Hastings of Jameston Farm, Maidens who introduced the new method to Ayrshire

Potato Field
Lawson Burch (1937–1999)
Northern Ireland Civil Service

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Art_UK_smith_shields_farm_monkton_prestwick_seed_in_store_jpg
© Mary Smith, Photo credit: Mary Smith

Wooden seed boxes at Shields Farm, Monkton, Prestwick

The wooden seed boxes are very much still in use, carefully storing the tattie seeds until its time to plant!


Shields Farm, Monkton, Prestwick

1913

Potato
Photo credit: Atkinson Art Gallery Collection/Samantha Fulstow

Beauty in nature

The humble potato is often elevated to a thing of beauty by botanical artists - many early books describing the plant and the farming techniques, feature watercolours showing the delicate flower, bright green leaf, and different aspects of the tuber.

Potato 1913
Elizabeth (Bessie) Downes (1860–1920)
Atkinson Art Gallery Collection

1849

Queen Victoria's Visit to Queenstown, 1849
Photo credit: National Maritime Museum

Queen Victoria's Visit to Queenstown, 1849

The role the potato has played in the history of Ireland is immense, and the impact of the Irish workforce on Ayrshire has created a lasting memory.

From the 1890s workers were employed by potato merchants, who acted as labour contractors. They recruited large numbers of workers for a number of months – and moved them throughout Ayrshire, and across Scotland.

Workers were recruited from local towns and villages – as well as from the larger urban areas of Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock. of the harvesting labour force. A key group were Irish migratory workers – “tattie howkers” – recruited from districts of north and north-west Ireland, principally the counties of Mayo and Donegal.

Queen Victoria's Visit to Queenstown, 1849 1851
George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson (1806–1884)
National Maritime Museum

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Ground Prepared for Potato Planting
© the artist. Photo credit: The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Ground Prepared for Potato Planting

Soil types can be expected to vary from field to field, sometimes within fields, and growers strive to understand them and how to get the most from them.

Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) is the certifying authority for seed potato production in Scotland, with all stages of production under official government control. The work carried out by SASA and Scottish Government inspectors ensures the continuing high quality of Scottish seed potatoes so that we can all continue to enjoy eating potatoes (especially Ayrshire earlies!) as part of a healthy diet.


Ground Prepared for Potato Planting
Stephen Chaplin (b.1934)
The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

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Art_uk_smith_potatoes_at_houdston_girvan_planting_2_headgear_e1586341455354_jpg
Photo credit: Mary Smith

Planting tatties

‘Ayrshire Earlies’ are young, and so they are sensitive! They need to be handled with care, indeed many farms still hand planting today. Its labour intensive – but, it ensures the bud remains intact - it’s worth it!


Planting tatties at Houdston Farm, Girvan

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Potato Sorting, Berwick
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

Potato Sorting, Berwick

The workers in this painting are strikingly similar to the ones in the photograph above, showing the teams of planters at Houdston Farm, Girvan, with their headscarves, belted coats and boots.

Potato Sorting, Berwick
Evelyn Mary Dunbar (1906–1960)
Manchester Art Gallery

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Dowhill_Farm_planters_jpg
Photo credit: Carole Crawford, Dowhill Farm

Planting tatties today

Ayrshire new potatoes are still planted in a very similar way - that is, with coats on and hoods up!


Hand planting new potatoes at Dowhill Farm. by Girvan.

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Digging Potatoes in Dixon's Farm
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

Digging Potatoes in Dixon's Farm

The potato field in the landscape is familiar to rural communities - however, some consumers do not realise that Ayrshire tatties need to be grown in Ayrshire to be labelled as such. The PGI status considers and defines the region of Ayrshire in the West of Scotland as being within the geographic Local Authority boundaries of North, East and South Ayrshire Councils. The county of Ayrshire is bordered on the west side by the Firth of Clyde and extends from the coastal locations of Skelmorlie in the north to Ballantrae in the south, and to Glenbuck in the east. The county also includes the Isle of Arran and the Cumbrae Isles.

Digging Potatoes in Dixon's Farm 1967
James Dixon (1887–1970)
Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

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The Potato Diggers
© the artist's estate / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries

The Potato Diggers

The clothes and demeanour of the workers - quiet, serious, focussed - inspired many, including Colquhoun. Born in Kilmarnock, his companion Robert MacBryde was also born in Maybole - both from Ayrshire, they would have been familiar with the sight of the tatties in the field, and the superior taste of early new potatoes.

The Potato Diggers 1946
Robert Colquhoun (1914–1962)
Aberystwyth University School of Art Museum and Galleries

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Children with Potato Machine
© the artist. Photo credit: University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

Children with Potato Machine

Today, most reminiscence surrounding tattie production, is from people who worked in the fields as children.

"As a child i remember the ‘tattie howkers’ visiting Greenan Farm, at Doonfoot Ayr, where my grandfather lived and I was always fascinated by them. Boiling up tea in a metal can, singing and laughing as they worked and cooking around a camp fire at night, and sharing amazing stories of their adventures as they travelled around Scotland. I can still taste that rich earthy mineral taste of 'ayrshires'".

Children with Potato Machine 1964
Elizabeth Watson (b.1944)
University of Dundee, Duncan of Jordanstone College Collection

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The Potato Pickers
Photo credit: Bradford Museums and Galleries

The Potato Pickers

The workers were a close-knit community – they knew one another, many were family. They were supplied with accommodation, blankets, cooking utensils and potatoes (which formed a large part of their diet) by their contractor. They were usually housed in existing buildings at the farm steading or in specially erected buildings. They had hay or straw for bedding and fuel.

The Potato Pickers
Ernest Higgins Rigg (1868–1947)
Bradford Museums and Galleries

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Fieldworkers
Photo credit: The Fleming Collection

Fieldworkers

Many of the romantic scenes of field work, feature men as the main subject - but the planting and harvesting of this crop involved a lot of women - indeed they feature in photographs.

Fieldworkers
Flora Macdonald Reid (1860–c.1940)
The Fleming Collection

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Riddling Potatoes, Tullibardine
Photo credit: Perth & Kinross Council

Riddling Potatoes, Tullibardine

Riddling Potatoes, Tullibardine 1901
J. Stirling Malloch (1865–1901)
Perth & Kinross Council

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Smith_burnside_farm_girvan_picking_potatoes_by_hand_jpg
Photo credit: Mary Smith

Hand picking potatoes at Burnside Farm.

Actual photographs of the picking show people stooped, low on the ground. The sun is always shining.


Hand picking potatoes at Burnside Farm.

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Field Workers Digging Potatoes
Photo credit: Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

Field Workers Digging Potatoes

Field Workers Digging Potatoes
William Darling McKay (1844–1924)
Royal Scottish Academy of Art & Architecture

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No. 6, Harvesting Potatoes, Red Tam
© the copyright holder. Photo credit: University of Edinburgh

No. 6, Harvesting Potatoes, Red Tam

The harvested potatoes were handled with great care; the potatoes couldn’t be allowed to rub against one another, as the skins were so soft. The usual custom was to take the newly dug potatoes down to the railway that same evening, so they could be transported during the cool of the night to where they were to be consumed. Now, Dowhill Farm, Girvan dig their Earlies fresh each day, at 3am in the morning! Ayrshire’s new potatoes are precious cargo indeed!

No. 6, Harvesting Potatoes, Red Tam
Duncan MacGregor Whyte (1866–1953)
University of Edinburgh

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Bagged Potatoes
© the Eardley estate. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Photo credit: University of Edinburgh

Bagged Potatoes

Of all the potato paintings available on Art UK, this is the one we would've chosen to include in our exhibition. Its not surprising that Joan Eardley, whose observation of both urban and rural Scottish life was so insightful, chose to paint potato sacks in the field. This powerful but simple work elicits memories - one of our contributors to the exhibition remembered sewing up the tattie sacks - embroidery also one of their skill sets.

Bagged Potatoes
Joan Kathleen Harding Eardley (1921–1963)
University of Edinburgh

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Empty Potato Field
© the artist. Photo credit: Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh)

Empty Potato Field

Empty Potato Field 1952
Frances Walker (b.1930)
Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh)

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The Artist's Mother Peeling Potatoes
© the artist's estate. Photo credit: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

The Artist's Mother Peeling Potatoes

Those in the know, will tell you that ‘Ayrshires’ have a particular flavour. The milder climate and sandy soils of the West Coast gives them a unique fluffy skin and flavour, compared to potatoes harvested later. The skin is soft enough to be rubbed off. The taste has been shaped by particular varieties and fertiliser.

In 1894 varieties such as ‘Superbs’, ‘Sutton’s Regents’, ‘Puritans’ and ‘Jubilees’ were recognised as being amongst the ‘best and earliest varieties’. But there was one variety that came to dominate all others: the ‘Epicure’.

The Artist's Mother Peeling Potatoes c.1920
Evan Walters (1893–1951)
Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Kitchen Utensils
Photo credit: Tate

Kitchen Utensils

Critically acclaimed for his treatment of light and the effects of light, here Hunter lets his single tattie take centre stage.

Kitchen Utensils c.1914–18
George Leslie Hunter (1877–1931)
Tate