Hospitalfield, Day 8

Inside my kiln at home is approximately three dozen perfectly formed, balanced, light in weight porcelain bottles with chattering.  There are boxes of less than optimum bottles broken up.  I couldn’t decide whether to really go for the colour which at the moment seems to be a range of greens and blues or blue-greens using stains.  For the past six months or so I have personally been put off by glaze.  Nothing seemed to capture what was in my head and that is where Hospitalfield comes in.  When I applied to be a Resident Interdisciplinary artist here, I had no idea if I would be accepted.  The ration of applicants to those accepted I have found is very low.  One in twenty individuals.  I am in great company.  My studio mates are amazing.  Lucy Barlow is shortlisted for the First Plinth public art award for Olympic Park in London.  I am really sending off the best wishes for her.  She has to finish her final presentation to the jury in a few days, so she is working on her project here and tackling that as well.  You can check out her art at lucybarlow.art      Lucy is re-entering the art world after raising her boys, and she is doing some fantastic work.  Allan Whyte also shares my studio.  He’s all over social media.  One of the things that Allan and I have learned together is that the sound recording from the iPhone is just pretty darn good.  He is working on finishing up a commission for Glasgow and is recording sounds and working with some interesting recycled materials.  Check him out, too…and of course there are five other amazing people who I will write about later including Kiki who happens to be a fantastic cook as well.

But the point I am getting at is this.  By choosing a residency that had nothing to do with ceramics I have grown immensely in these eight days.  It isn’t just stepping back in time, sitting here in this fantastic historical room with the paint and wallpaper peeling away in places that have inspired me but it is the sea.  I have never lived by the sea.  The east coast of Scotland is flat.  In fact, it is a bit of a cosmic joke because it reminds me of Manitoba!  Flat.  I did say flat, right?  Just in case you don’t believe me, those really high hills that are the only thing Scottish Tourism sends out – well, they are on the west coast of Scotland.  The work that I am producing is my first reaction to this house and to the sea and the light.  The featured bottle still has a lip that is smoothed out, and the joins of where the moulds met have been smoothed but that is now all gone.

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We had rain and blowing rain and snow when these were made and these huge clouds trying to push the sky backwards.  Today the sky was white, and the sea was blue.  It is ever-present.  When the chill is down to your bones even though you can see the daffodils blooming in the garden, it is because of the sea.  When the slip in your mould doesn’t dry like it does in Manitoba in the winter, it is the sea.  Damp.  Moss.  Cold.  And yet, I would not give up these eight days for anything.  I highly recommend anyone considering a residency to step outside their comfort zone and challenge what they have been doing.  For me, anyway, it has allowed me a time to be free, to be playful, to react to something and someplace.  Magical.

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The sea is just beyond the kitchen garden beyond the walls of the house.

For years it was the life of this village.  And today, if you meander around the harbour, you can find ‘Smokie’ stalls.  If in Manitoba you are expecting smoked sausage, you might be right, but here in Arbroath it is smoked fish.  There are five or six places.

Just a funny historical fact.  The people in Dundee used to have a tradition.  They would not eat herring, but on New Years, they would wrap red herring in little paper clothes and hang them outside to bring good luck.  It is called ‘Dressed Herring’, and it didn’t matter if the fish was smoked, salted, or dried.  You could also purchase them ready clothed at some of the market stalls in town.  They even made acceptable gifts I am told!

And with that little tidbit, I will close this blog today.  I am looking forward to the weather being balmy on Wednesday, and I am going to sneak out of the studio and take you on a trip to two of Scotland’s beautiful castles.  Keep your fingers crossed for the excellent weather arriving!

Hospitalfield, Day 5

The last object that we looked at yesterday was a red Jasper table that was made specifically from a large piece of Jasper found on the shore.  This room with its magnificent marble fireplace and piano is the largest room on the second floor.  It is the table in front of the window – one solid piece of Red Jasper.  On the walls, you will notice lots of pictures.  Patrick Allan-Fraser, who you will recall was a member of The Clique Art Group, wrote to his fellow members and friends and said that he would pay them 100 GBP if they would send him a portrait they had painted.  At the time, the average wage for a Headmaster (considered one of the highest paying positions) was 70 GBP.  Allan-Fraser was well known for helping artists to further their training.  He even paid for some to attend art school in Edinburgh.

One of only two members of the group, Edith Ballantyne, sent the portrait below. She was active as a painter for only seven years, 1880-87.

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The title is Afternoon Tea.  The parrot makes reference to Allan-Fraser’s wife, Elizabeth, who was a member of the Parrot family at Hawkesbury.  It was her inheritance that bought this grand property.

One other portrait is D O Hill of Hill and Adamson.  They were pioneers of Scottish photography.  Hill supplied the picture, The Old Mill.

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This room contains a number of paintings and ceramics.  Sadly, Allan-Fraser had no interest in ceramics! Tomorrow I will talk about the use of bitumen to darken the oils and the subsequent unstoppable deterioration on these 19th-century pictures because of it.

One other picture from the group is A Bell Middleton, Portrait of A Bell Middleton.

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Turning around and to the left is the room that for a better title I will call the Harp Room.  Hospitalfield recently held a fundraiser to restore this 17th-century harp and they have harp concerts during the year.

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There are several other curiosities in this room.  One is the large cedar cabinet with its camphor wood drawers.  Inside, after Elizabeth died, Patrick had some of her clothes kept including the dress she was wearing in the portrait he painted of her earlier in this blog.

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There are also two other cabinets that hold collections of shells and rocks as well as flora.  These were typical hobbies during the 19th century.

Every day Simon bakes homemade bread for us and there is a growing interesting in using handmade wooden breadboards.  The one below was carved by John Hutchinson who also did other fine wood carvings in the house.  One of his pieces is encased in a glass frame in the Harp Room.

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Also in this room are several marble groups and a number of pictures.

W. Calder Marshall carved the beautiful figure of Psyche.  Marshall was born in Edinburgh (1813) and attended Edinburgh University before he became a student at the Royal Academy in London in 1834.  There his tutors were Francis Chantrey and Edward Hodges Baily.  Two years later, in 1836, Marshall travels to Rome to study classical sculpture.  He returns to England in 1836.  At the age of fifty-one, he was commissioned to carve the allegorical group, Agriculture, for the Albert Memorial.  In that magnificent work, a female figure symbolizing Agriculture directs the attention of the farmers to the benefits of the latest farming technology including a steam cylinder, cob, and a retort.  Marshall was the most accomplished and prolific sculptors during the Victorian era.

Also in the room is a lovely group, Hen and Chicks, by Longbardi.  I have yet to find information on this sculptor.  If you know, write to me!

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And right as you exit, to your right, is a lovely genre picture by Alexander Bell Middleton’s (1829-1860), The Evening Guide Sir!  It is one of three or four pictures by Middleton in the Hospitalfield collection.

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It is such a privilege being at Hospitalfield House.  When I was reading for my PhD, I wished that I could transport myself back into the lives of the people in the 19th century.  Decades later that wish has come true!

And now, my project.  I came with the anticipation of casting 54 ovoid bottles and placing them along the coastline.  Two problems:  too damp to dry that many bottles even with mechanical assistance (heat lamps and lights) and you cannot actually get right down to the sea because the railway is there.  So they are being placed among the plants in the kitchen garden.

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The forecast is for snow tomorrow.  It is Saturday and I am due to take a day off and drive up through the Scottish Highlands.  More images to share with you!

Arrived at Arbroath and Hospitalfield House

From my window in one of the most historic bedrooms at Hospitalfield, I can see the North Sea.  To get there, one only has to walk through the garden, full of blooming daffodils and crocus.

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The photographs provided by Hospitalfield show the amazing exterior of this medieval building, but it is the interior spaces that give you that ‘wow, oh my goodness’ moment.  Built in the 13th century, the warren of rooms was home to the people who had leprosy and the plaque….hence, the name Hospitalfield.  Right now, it is both home and inspiration to the nine or ten of us who are here as interdisciplinary artists from various places including Brooklyn, London, Glasgow, Holland, and Newcastle, Great creative people.

Cicely Farrer wrote to us and told us that it is both cold outside and cold inside this old stone building,.  She is right.  It is cold to the bones which, in some way, has a connection with the SHEEP that are everywhere and the wool industry.  Did I forget my wool jumper from Ireland just so I could get a new one from here?  Did I really?!  But, for those who are thinking of travelling to Scotland, the first word that comes to mind is SHEEP.  There are more sheep in Scotland than there are people.  Did you know that?  And some of those sheep are even orange!

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This is the first residency that I have been on in more than 30 years.  It feels like a first time because everything is that much more different.  There is a fantastic chef here named Simon who cooked us pilaf, a chicken curry, slaw with Nigella seeds, and his homemade flatbread.  This was followed by a chocolate brownie with real whipped cream and a raspberry coulis.  It is nice to be taken care of and not having to think about anything – a mantra that seems to be on everyone’s mind.

So this is the four posters historic bedroom at Hospitalfield that is mine for two weeks.

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Some of you might recall that I was given a -37 degree C sleeping bag.  It will definitely come in handy tonight!  It makes me appreciate all of those big two-story frame farmhouses in Manitoba and all their small rooms and doors. Apparently to keep the warm in.

Here are some other views of the inside hallways.  The wood is beautiful.  Some of the private rooms have coffered wood ceilings and carved wooden walls.  I fear that they would crack in the dry cold of Manitoba,

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Scotland is on many of your bucket lists.  It is a gorgeous country with vast open spaces.  That is one of the single reasons that Scotland is a favoured tourist destination for the Chinese.  The tops of the Highland hills have snow on them today. March is chilly.  The great houses open in April.  You should come after April 1 if you can.

And if you do come, you need to start planning in advance and check out all of your options.  From Canada, for example, I found out that you can fly from Halifax to Glasgow.  Other places even land in Dundee, but the majority of travellers I am told begin their journey in London.  It is easy to get to Scotland from London King’s Cross; it takes about five hours, and if you book at least 5 to 6 weeks in advance with NLER you can get a much-discounted ticket.  Most everyone I know automatically thinks about renting a car.  If you absolutely need to, plan, so you only need to for a short period.  It isn’t the cost of the daily car fee that is so expensive.  It is the cost of insurance.  The price per day of full coverage with Europcar is 37 GBP.  At the moment it is 1 GBP to 2 CDN.  While the daily rental might seem insignificant, insurance can add up.  Figure it out before you travel.

If you decide to go ahead and rent a car then make the most of it!  This means not travelling on the motorways – at least as much as you can,  Wandering off to find small villages with quaint shops and local food is part of the fun.  And do check out the local fare.  To give you an idea of what fast food costs in Scotland and an excellent reason to stay away from it, I can tell you that a Burger King Jr Whopper meal is 7.14 GBP or $14.28 CDN.  Thank goodness the chef at Hospitalfield House is so amazing.