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Angus artist Mary-Ann leads Scottish prisoners’ project to create thousands of paper sunflowers for Ukraine appeal

The 65-year-old artist from Auchmithie, near Arbroath is to drive to the war-torn country this month to deliver the first load of creative supplies through her charity appeal.

Artists Mary-Ann Orr and Lucy Nychai with a carpet of paper sunflowers laid out at Auchmithie church. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson
Artists Mary-Ann Orr and Lucy Nychai with a carpet of paper sunflowers laid out at Auchmithie church. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

Scottish prisoners have created a massive crop of fundraising sunflowers for an art appeal to support the children of war-torn Ukraine.

And the Angus artist spearheading the initiative is about to undertake a charity mission to deliver the first truckload of creative supplies to schools and orphanages there.

Mary-Ann Orr works across Scotland’s prison estate with her SPACE Arts Scotland (Scottish Prison Arts & Creative Enterprises) charity.

For a year, inmates have been painstakingly folding and putting together nearly 20,000 Art 4 Children in Ukraine paper sunflowers.

The centrepiece of each blue and yellow origami creation is a QR code.

Angus Ukraine sunflower appeal
Ukrainian artist Lucy Nychai and Mary-Ann with some of the sunflowers laid out in St Peters Episcopal church in Auchmithie. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

When opened, it takes people directly to an appeal page for donations being managed for her charity by YMCA Scotland.

The appeal will be officially launched on February 24 – days before 65-year-old Mary begins the 2,000-mile trip across Europe with the first boxes of art supplies for fellow artists in Ukraine.

Year-long build-up to appeal launch

It’s a journey she says she was destined to take after the sunflower idea emerged.

“As the national flower of Ukraine the sunflower is so important and symbolic, so I wanted to try to do something with it as a way of raising money,” says Mary-Ann.

“It was a bit of conundrum coming up with something which would involve the prisoners.

“But I designed the folding sunflower from the piece of paper with the Ukrainian national anthem on it.

Mary-Ann in her Auchmithie gallery with boxes of appeal sunflowers ready to be distributed. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

“Since then this incredible workforce has involved itself in this wonderful collaboration.

“We are a tiny charity with as of yet no funding for this project.

“Everything is being done on a 100% voluntary basis.

“What we want to do is get people to support us by taking boxes of sunflowers for their communities, businesses, schools and organisations.

The QR code to donate to Mary-Ann’s appeal.

“We will have collection boxes, but the QR code is so important because it will allow people to simply scan it and make their donation from their phone.”

It is her hope the paper sunflowers and their symbolism of life and hope might come to be regarded in the same way as the poppy is seen as a marker of remembrance.

Ukrainian art on show in Angus

Mary-Ann’s small gallery at Auchmithie, near Arbroath has become the appeal headquarters as boxes of sunflowers are readied for distribution.

It overlooks the harbour where the South African-born artist led the community’s creation of a heart-shaped pebble tribute to the NHS during lockdown

And gracing its walls is the work of Ukrainian artist Liudmyla (Lucy) Nychai.

The 45-year-old was part of an artist collective in a rural area of her homeland before the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian paper sunflower appeal led by Angus artist Mary-Ann Orr
Ukrainian artist Lucy with one of the paper sunflowers. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

Mary-Ann met Lucy in 2019 and planned to travel to Ukraine to meet her.

Ironically, the Angus artist’s charity initiative will now take her there alone.

But the pair hope to be able to make the trip together in the future.

Mary-Ann says the importance of nurturing creative minds during the conflict is important.

Auchmithie art gallery
Lucy’s work is on display bin the Auchmithie gallery. Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

“Beautiful art came out of World War Two and now is the time to be supporting artists in Ukraine,” she added.

“We know how incredibly important the creative process is for helping those who have experienced trauma.

“The organisations I will be visiting are well established.

“They have been working at the grass roots with orphanages and children’s homes since 1998.

Scottish prisoners' Ukraine appeal support
Lucy and Mary-Ann with the Ukraine appeal sunflowers created by Scottish prisoners. Image Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

“So I will be taking the first lot of creative supplied to them and learning how we can continue to help in the best way possible,” said Mary-Ann.

“I want to give a special thanks to IART in Dundee who are donating the art supplies.”

Trip not without risk

“It has been unusual to include terms such as air raid shelter and generators into an accommodation search rather than things like air-conditioning or swimming pool.

“But from the moment I folded the first piece of paper into a sunflower I knew I had to go.

“It is a risky thing to do.

“I am a Christian, and God guides everything I do.

The prisoners’ paper sunflowers carry messages of hope and solidarity. Image: Gareth Jennings/DC Thomson

“He will guide me and the doors will open, and so far every door has opened in this project.

“We can get some incredible contemporary art happening on the ground there.

“And I cannot think of a more incredible artist to help with that process than Liudmyla.”