Farewell Hospitalfield

I think that we all knew that saying goodbye after working, creating, laughing, eating, and exploring together for a fortnight was not going to be easy.  Friendships were formed, ideas exchanged and debated.  At the very beginning, it felt like there was a thread that had already woven the nine of us together.  Without exception, everyone is concerned about the environment, and our impact on it and all agreed, at one time or another, that the natural environment of Hospitalfield was having an effect on our work, intended or not.

Three highly intelligent and creative young women worked inside the historic house while the other six of us were in the historic studio.  I only wish there had been more time to get to know these young ladies a little bit more.  Ruby de Vos spent her time working on her dissertation for the University of Groningen inside the main house.  Her research examines the embodied temporalities of toxicity in contemporary art and literature.  Ruby had previously studied Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and we found ourselves at the dining room table talking about the work of Mieke Bal.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Ruby about her findings, but I am grateful for our discussions about climate change and how the young people in the Netherlands are protesting the impact of climate change.  We both smiles when the news reported about students around the world walking out of school to demonstrate how important it is to this generation to find a way to reverse the impact or at least halt in and the utter dismay in the politicians who are climate change deniers.

Emily Furneaux studied Critical Fine Art Practice at Brighton University.  She now lives and works in Glasgow where she uses video, sculpture, installation, and drawing to create narratives that weave together truth and fiction.  Emily’s work currently deals with her healing and the impact of mental health on a person.  She was busy working on a project that will be shown in Glasgow.  Emily is one of the bravest young women I have met, meeting her demons head-on, accepting the trauma that has occurred, and using it in a positive way for her art and for her reaching out to others who have been in similar situations.  “Place and environment” work to inspire this young artist and no doubt Hospitalfield will take its rightful place at one time or another.  I will always be grateful for our very candid conversations.  Emily’s work has screened across the UK and as far away as Lithuania.  Holly Argent is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She uses various materials, often looking for strategies to utilize the fragmentary nature of archives to tell and re-tell narratives of artistic legacies.  Emily has taken the lead on a project focused on ‘Women Artists of the North East Library’.  In doing so, she is creating a resource that will contribute much to the untold stories of the history working in that area of the UK.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Holly but was so glad that she ‘ran’ to get into the group photo before I had to leave.  Holly was the recipient of the Luby’s Legs Artist Bursary (2017-18) and the Forshaw Rome Residency from Newcastle University at The British School at Rome (2017).

 

The middle section of the main studio was shared by Katy West and Lizzie Watt, both from Glasgow (OK, Katy is originally from Dublin).  At the very beginning of our residency, Katy was supervising the delivery of her electric kiln which she promptly plugged in.  That is one of the great things about the UK – the voltage of the plugs easily accommodates a kiln!  Katy studied ceramics at The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.  Since her graduation, she has worked as a designer, and a curator propelled by her interest in the history and meaning of objects.  Katy is currently a Lecturer at Glasgow School of Art.  Her list of commissions and curatorial projects is impressive.  From the beginning, it felt like Katy was in a marathon race.  Little did I know (til later) that this was an exceptional time for this mom with children aged 5 and 7.  It was an opportunity for her to get back to her roots in ceramics, to have a period without the responsibilities of her family and away from her work.  She is currently working with the students and faculty of Glasgow School of Art to revitalise their first-year programme.  That is a big task!  Katy could have selfishly protected her time, but that doesn’t seem to be her way at all.  She has a beautiful sense of humour and is generous in sharing her knowledge.  A good example was her teaching Lizzie how to make moulds!  Here she is discovering that my new coat fit her perfectly!  Fantastic woman with great charm.

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Lizzie Watt has one of the most infectious laughs and like Katy, has boundless energy and curiosity.  She is a collector of ‘stuff’ and ideas all the while experimenting with the process.  At times her area of the studio looked like a debris field but, then again, so did Katy’s so busy were they with mixing plaster and dying materials.  Lizzie was particularly interested in making natural dyes.  She had borrowed a book from the library, The Wild Dyer, that led her to collect the pits and shells of our avocado salad one day.  Did you know that the combination of skins and seeds makes a stunning pink dye?  I didn’t either.

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Watt is known for her kitschy works in miniature.  Her bio in the Hospitalfield Residency list says that she:  “borrows imagery and ideas from archaeological and scientific discoveries to explore the messy intermingling of human and non-human timescales. Ideas about these relationships are manifested in Watts’ work, not through linear narratives, but instead in sculptural debris, fascinating objects, and in films and animations which focus upon isolated and enchanting behaviours”.  Like all of us, she drew inspiration from Hospitalfield and the stories and events that came up during our two weeks together.  This morning, she presented me with a “Dressed Herring” because of the story I had relayed to her after she had taken Lucy and me to the museums in Dundee.  It is an object that I will always treasure and encapsulates Watt’s playful attitude entirely.

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Kikki Ghezzi had the last studio in our building.  From Milan but now living in Brooklyn, she not only introduced me to various ways of working with a needle and thread to create imagery that was anything but simple but she also cooked a wicked Italian dinner for us one weekend.  In her studio at Hospitalfield, she sewed and dyed a body of work that will ultimately go to the National Museum of Women’s Art in Washington, DC.  Other pieces are destined for the Italian Consulate in DC where Kikki will also be blessing a tree as part of her artistic exchange.  Using only thread, silk, linen, and natural dyes, Ghezzi creates artist’s books with meticulous embroidery using beet dyes for the colour.  She was working on a larger piece, hanging in the wind to dry that is anchored in her experiences as a woman.

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It goes without saying that the two people who shared the end studio with me were the ones that I came to know the most.  Like all the others, Allan Whyte and Lucy Barlow are immensely talented.  Allan is heading off to Berlin for a three-month residency, and Lucy is shortlisted for the Olympic Park Public Art Competition.   Allan and I spent hours talking about everything, but the one thing he gleaned was how proud I am of my granddaughter, Elysha, and her principals about animal cruelty, Veganism, and the environment.  Allan works with deprived inner-city youth in Glasgow, and he sees first hand what poverty and a lack of love can do to children.  They are so lucky to have someone so empathetic to help them, those young men.

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Lucy has her interview this coming Thursday, and I cannot imagine a better artist to take that project on.  Lucy and I became fast friends, sharing many conversations on our evening walk about the garden about the challenges of being an artist, stopping to raise a family, and returning to one’s practice.  That is precisely what Lucy is doing, and she has many, many years to make even a more significant impact on the world of public art and installations.

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And last but never least, four individuals who worked very hard to make certain that our residencies were such a success:  Lucy Byatt, Director of Hospitalfield and her adorable Whippet; Scott Byrne, General Manager who wore so many hats I lost track; Cicely Farrer, Programme and Communications Officer who made sure on a daily basis both before and after our arrival that all was well; and Simon Brown who juggled Vegans, Vegetarians, and Carnivores, always smiling.  We thrived on the most amazing local food, still healthy and delicious.  All of their background work, devotion to the visual arts, and to Hospitalfield made this two weeks in Arbroath meaningful.  All of us were grateful for their care and attention.  As we depart, we join the illustrious artists who have come before us as Hospitalfield Alumni.

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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!

Hospitalfield, Day 3

Each of us, at breakfast, seemed to have settled in.  Everyone has adjusted to keeping warm and many of us threw off covers during the night.  The wind off the North Sea subsided and we woke to glorious blue skies.  Today, was an opportunity to stop thinking about being creative and to enjoy a tour of the library and the house with Alasdair Sutherland.  I learned so much that it was impossible to keep track of everything but today, I will begin writing about the ‘true’ history of Hospitalfield and not that contained in many accounts.  Alasdair gave us insight into the reasons for the carvings, the history of the pictures in the collection as they related to the Fraser family, and showed us some amazing books including the account books of the woodcarver whose work decorates the house.  To not overwhelm you, this will be done in instalments!  The house is the history of the Parrot family from Hawkesbury Hill in Coventry and the Fraser family.

The original building was called Hospitalfield but it was because it was a place to receive pilgrims arriving to go to St John the Baptist Abbey. — ‘hospitality’  A statue on the front of the house is original to the medieval era.  It was only later a place for those ill with leprosy and the plague.

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Patrick Allan’s family did not really want him to be an artist.  Not much different today, parents afraid their children wanting to be artists will be impoverished all of their lives.  His family did apprentice him with his grandfather who was a very skilled draftsman.  He then goes to art school in Edinburgh where he specialises in portraits.  From there he went to Rome where he made a very successful career selling drawings and pictures to people on the Grand Tour.  It is in Rome that he will meet some other painters and sculptors who will become his lifelong friends and will supply work for the rooms here at Hospitalfield.  In 1841, he set up a successful portrait business in London and traveled back and forth to Paris.  Patrick Allan becomes one of the founders of a group of artists, The Clique, in the late 1830s.  The group was known for their rejection of academic art and embracing genre scenes.  They also had a great disdain for the Pre-Raphalite Brotherhood, more of that later this week!

In 1842, Patrick Allan was approached by Robert Cadell, an Edinburgh publisher, who wants him to produce illustrations for Walter Scott’s Antiquity, which I mentioned the last post.  Patrick Allan did create the work but, according to our guide, not that enthusiastically.   Our guide today also said that there is no shred of evidence that Scott’s novel was based on people and places in Arbrough or that Hospitalfield was Monkbarns.  It is a myth that has been perpetuated (even by me yesterday).  While he is in Arbroath working on this series, he meets a widow, Elizabeth, whom he married in 1843.  Elizabeth will inherit all of the Hawkesbury estates in 1883.  Below are three large oil portraits painted by Patrick Allan-Fraser on the left, Elizabeth, his wife, on the right, and her mother in the middle.  The bottom picture is an image of Elizabeth holding her favourite cat painted by Patrick.

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I would like to draw your attention to the material on the wall behind the portrait of Elizabeth.  It is the most beautiful 17th-century Dutch embossed leather and was all the rage when the couple were renovating the house.  The room that these images are in was the original entrance hall of the James Fraser House.  One other curiosity about this room is the installation of gasoliers, gas lighting.  It was trendy and a status symbol, just like the imported leather wall panels.  They, however, did a lot of damage to the ceilings and objects in various rooms within the house with the fumes.  This was compounded by the soot from the candles and the coal that was used.

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The fireplace was shown at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations of 1851 at Hyde Park, London, from 1 May to 15 October 1851.  The models of all of the various items that could be purchased could also be bought.  That is how the fireplace wound up in Hospitalfield.

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The beautiful wood carving through the original Hall and then the dining room was done by a local carver, James Hutchinson.   His work can be seen throughout the house including the framing of the triple portraits.  Below is a detail.

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The Drawing Room features two 17th century tapestries that Patrick acquired in Bruges.  The Room was decorated in 1870 when cedar was used to cover all of the walls to protect the fabrics from moths.  The room is the earliest example of the Scottish Arts and Crafts Movement.  The intent, through the subjects of the tapestries, was to link the inside of the house with the outside environment.  The ceiling has 197 different plant carvings found on the property.  It was done by a local carver, David Maver, who was paid seven pence an hour.  Hospitalfield has the complete book of his accounts.  Some of the ceiling carvings took up to one hundred hours.  Maver later moved to New York where he made a name for himself carving for the grand houses along the Eastern seaboard.

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Other images of the tapestries in the Drawing Room.  Because of their age, the light from the windows is curtained off.  The brilliance of living a room with cedar to protect artworks at that time was quite impressive. Other cabinets within the house are made of solid cedar and lined with camphorwood to safeguard the beautiful clothes of the women.

Tomorrow I will give you a tour of three more rooms in this great house.

The winds are still down, and the sun is shining brightly in Arbroath.  Any artist seriously looking for a place to do a residency should seriously consider Hospitalfield.  They have a small dedicated staff.  The costs are reasonable and if you take public transportation – and not rent a car – you will really only have to bring your supplies.  For some of the writers this March, that has meant only pens and paper!

 

Hospitalfield House, Day 2

Another introduction to this amazing ‘house’.  There are nine of us in residence at this amazing artist centre in Arbroath, Scotland.  This morning we spent some time in the study introducing ourselves and our projects to find that our interests were, as one of my colleagues noted, intertwined together.  It is going to be a very productive time.  That said, Simon, the cook has continually pulled off amazing meals.  We were happy to find out tonight that the idea of a Hospitalfield cookbook is in the works.  He has managed to juggle each of our needs into amazing meals made with local produce.  Not to say it too loud but we could all leave having gained a wee bit of weight.

Hospitalfield House has a long history.  It was built by a group of Tironesian monks in the 13th century.  At the time it was the Hospital of St. John the Baptist and was home to those persons with leprosy and the plague.  I have mentioned that before.  In 1665, the Fraser family took over the property.  Wikipedia informs us that Walter Scott stayed here in 1803 and again in 1809.  The beautiful stone buildings inspired the model for his Monkbarns in his novel The Antiquary which he finished in 1816.   In the middle of the  19th century, Hospitalfield House came into the hands of Patrick Allan-Fraser, a son of a local weaving merchant, who seems to have enlarged the property.    {He acquired the property through his marriage to Elizabeth}, He was a major patron of the arts and a painter himself had studied in Edinburgh.  He was held in high esteem and was elected to be President of the British Academy in Rome.  It is well known that he did a series of paintings to illustrate a volume of Scott’s The Antiquary.  He refurbished rooms, hired some of the best local artists and craftspeople, gave enormous commissions and acquired more objects for the collection.  A five-storey bartizan, which is a type of cantilevered turret,  and another large wing.  It is described as an Arts and Crafts House.  In the collection are objects including desks with the most exquisite inlay, ceramics, tapestries, and books.

 

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We will get a real tour of the library and the collections later on.  The priceless objects are locked away but we are allowed to access them for study.  I am really keen to see the other ceramics as the ones scattered about indicate a keen interest in Japanese work.

For now, the thing that brings us here today is the fact that he set up the Patrick Allan-Fraser of Hospitalfield Trust to support young artists.  The couple had no children and when Allan-Fraser died, he bequeathed the entire property and its contents “for the promotion of Education in the Arts” on the death of Allan-Fraser in 1890.  Here is an image of the outside of the studios and a few into the interior of the one I am sharing with my new friend, Lucy Barlow from London.

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Today, Hospitalfield is internationally renowned as a centre for the arts.  The Trust has spent its money wisely refurbishing various rooms and many of the original musical instruments in the building including the harpsichord and the harp.  There is an annual harp festival and I am told that there are Jazz musical events in the building periodically.  Indeed one is coming up next week!

Like every other arts centre, money needs to come in to support this as a place of contemporary ideas in the arts.  The staff is small but energetic and passionate.  The beautiful gardens outside my window are getting ready to be levelled.  A new garden designer has been hired and in May the place will be in full bloom.  There are also greenhouses to be refurbished and a new very modern residence with ten bedrooms and kitchenettes will be built.  At the same time, they plan to restore the Victorian walled gardens and the glass house.  They will also restore the fernery.  It is an 18th-century feature and is the only one of its kind on the east coast of Scotland.