As the sun sets over London, I am packing my bags and getting ready to say farewell

It has been an incredible time in the United Kingdom.  The Residency at Hospitalfield was inspirational, and my attitudes towards ceramics have been permanently altered in new and exciting ways.  I made good friends, ate beautiful food, slept in a historic room in an ancient house, learned about tweed, devoured the best cod and chips in Arbroath, and saw amazing scenery.  The time in London, a 180 degree turn around from the rural countryside of Scotland, has been just as enjoyable.   So what did I learn that I could pass on to you?

First, in London, do your homework.  Get a hotel or a Bed and Breakfast near to the sights that you want to see.  There are many ways of travelling in this well laid out city.  You can take the London Underground.  An off-peak day ticket is around 134 GBP or $26 CDN$.  This means you can ride the tube as much as you want and there are underground stations all over the place.  You can take one of the red double-decker buses.  Your tube ticket allows you to switch between them.  Alternatively, you can catch a black taxi. They take credit cards so no need to worry about exchanging money or running short.  The machine is in the back with you, not upfront with the driver.  Very easy.

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An excellent example of the cost is that it is about 25 GBP from London King’s Cross to Hyde Park in a cab whereas it is less than 6 GBP on a single tube ticket.  When you arrive, the amount of luggage that you have will really impact the transport that you need to get to your hotel.  One other word of warning, if you have a considerable suitcase like I do with all of its ceramic supplies and a plaster mould inside, you do not want to book yourself into a B & B and be staying on the top floor unless you have Hercules with you to carry that suitcase up those stairs!  OK.  Maybe you are 20something and reading this but seriously, try not to pack your entire house if you can. You will have many more options.  Once you get settled in you can take the tube, take a taxi, rent an electric bicycle for 2 GBP a day, or you can walk.

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Many of the sights are actually close together, and you can get some good exercise in.  It is also good to ‘get lost’ and discover places you might not otherwise see.  There is history in every corner of London!

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I chose to stay right across from Hyde Park because I was going to meet a long time friend and co-author, Richard Barnes, at the Albert Memorial.

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Richard and I agreed to meet at the ‘America’ corner which his relative had carved out of gorgeous marble, John Bell.  Each corner was designed to represent the four corners of the globe with America being represented by the bison.  Canada is on the left looking on as the United States is on the right.  Some of Britain’s finest Victorian sculptors have their work on this grandiose memorial.

The Albert Memorial has Prince Albert, Consort to Queen Victoria looking over to the Royal Albert Hall and the Science Museum.  That is another attraction in the area which is really a ‘must see’.  Of course, he is also looking towards the Victoria & Albert Museum (assuming his eyesight is better than mine!).  You can easily spend an entire day at the Museum.  Their blockbuster exhibition, Dior, has been extended and do not get distressed if you see the ‘sold out’ sign and don’t have a ticket.  If you really want to see this comprehensive exhibition of one of the world’s great 20th century designers then go over and purchase yourself a membership to the museum.  I promise you will get a ticket to the show!  Inside there is the new Cast Court exhibition area.  Richard told me that people went all over taking casts and bringing them back.  The Museum has art from all over the world including an excellent Asian section.

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And they also have ‘the’ Moon Jar.

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The Victoria and Albert Museum has a cafe where you can get salads, sandwiches, hot meals, cakes, tea, or other drinks.  On a sunny day, you can sit outside, or you can relax in the William Morris room.  It was a sad day for me.  My old friend, Pauline Rohatgi and I, used to meet to have lunch in the William Morris room or sitting outside on a bench every time I was in London.  Pauline was the Keeper of the Prints and Drawings for the India Office Library.  That was how I met her.   Over the years we worked on publications and exchanged information on British sculpture sent to India.  Pauline has health issues and now lives permanently in India.  I hope that we can have tea there soon!  But she was very much missed.

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But that wasn’t the only reason.  Within walking distance, inside the park, you can tour Kensington Palace – the home of the Cambridges and the Sussexes.  You can tour their gardens.  You can visit Princess Diana’s children’s playground, go to the Serpentine Gallery, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, sit and eat ice cream by Princess Diana’s Memorial Fountain, or have tea by the Albert Memorial.  You can even feed the pigeons, crows, geese, and swans at the Round Pond.

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One of the things I wanted to do was to visit the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.  I am a bit curious.  When I was a teenager, everyone remembered where they were when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas.  I wonder how many people remember where they were when the news came of Diana’s death?

The fountain was opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 6th July 2004.  Using contemporary technology, 545 pieces of Cornish granite were shaped and placed together using traditional masonry skills.  All of the information says:  “The design aims to reflect Diana’s life, water flows from the highest point in two directions as it cascades, swirls and bubbles before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. The water is constantly being refreshed and is drawn from London’s water table.”  It is a very quiet, contemplative memorial that sits in the landscape in the same way that Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial does.

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There are many reasons to visit London this time of year if you are from Canada.  The first is an escape from the last remnants of a long, snowy, cold Canadian winter.  The flowers are bursting forth.  The temperature is about 11-14 degrees Celsius.  You can get by with a lined windbreaker.  Hotel prices are more reasonable, and you can get special deals on air tickets.

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If you are flying in at either of the two main airports that serve London, London Heathrow or London Gatwick, there are reasonable ways of getting into the City and back out again.  If its Heathrow, you can take the London underground directly into the City.  Arriving at Gatwick presents several options.  One is the Thameslink train that will take you into the City.  Or you can take the National Express bus which will get you to London Victoria.  There are various limo services and flat rate taxes that cost around 62 GBP.  These could be helpful if you have too much luggage.

All of the museums in London are free except for their special exhibitions.  You could keep yourself busy, as I said, right here near to Hyde Park.  One other one I didn’t list is the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace.   If you want to have high tea, Harrod’s is in walking distance.  They will continue to refill the pot and the plates until you leave.  Down Exhibition Road into South Kensington, you can find some of the very smart places for meals all during the day.  If you are looking for Middle Eastern food, including Persian, try Queensway Road.

Happy travelling!

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 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.

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Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?

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Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.

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And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…

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And then there are the mushrooms…

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All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.

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So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.

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And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.

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There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.

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!

Day 6, Hospitalfield

It is 7 minutes until midnight, almost day 6 at Hospitalfield.  But tomorrow I am going to take a break.  The clay moulds take a long time to dry here.  In fact, I can pour one and go castle-hopping and come back and take it out of the mould without worrying a bit.

So there are said to be 19 amazing ‘romantic’ castles in Scotland.  Most do not open their doors until April 1, secure in that date that spring should have fully arrived and their gardens will have that ‘wow factor’ for all the visitors.  So tomorrow I am going to go and see two of those having ticked off Edinburgh Castle last week.

Dunnotar Castle is north of Arbroath, right along the coast.  It is about a 35-40 minute drive.  Today, the castle is run by Clan Keith. It is a ruined medieval fortress but its fame is the fact that it is positioned on a rocky outcrop hanging over the North Sea.

For Scotland, it was a very important site because it is where the Scottish crown jewels were hidden when Oliver Cromwell and his invading army from the south came in the 17th century.  They held Cromwell off for eight months saving Scotland’s heritage.  Visitors to the castle (when it was intact) include the Who’s Who of Scottish history:  William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II.  Sir William Wallace is known as being one of the great heroes who united all of the clans in Scotland to fight against Edward I’s army.  The most significant event was a battle at a bridge near Stirling in September 1297.  It is said that the stone bridge was only wide enough for two horses side by side and that it would take the English army hours and hours to cross.  On 11 September the Scots forced the English to have to cross that bridge.  William Wallace and his men waited until half of the army had passed over the bridge before charging it.  The others went along the banks of the river preventing the English from escaping their deadly fate.  5000 Welsh Guards died with 100 fatalities for Wallace and his men.  Known as the Battle of Stirling Bridge it is viewed as part of the first war of Scottish independence.  Mary Queen of Scotts is probably the best known of all the Scottish heroes and martyrs.  She was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth 1 when she sought help during the battle of the Reformation (Catholic vs. Protestants) for nineteen years.  In the intrigues of the day, Mary was discovered to be plotting against Elizabeth and she was executed at the guillotine at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.  Mary’s son would become James I of England and VI of Scotland after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603.

 

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The second castle is Glamis Castle.  It has been occupied since 1372. Most people consider it to be the most romantic castle in Scotland.

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Information from Scottish Home & Garden says:  “Glamis was the family home of the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and has been in the Lyon family since the 14th century, when Sir John Lyon, Thane of Glamis, received the land as a gift from King Robert II.”

It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s MacBeth and it was the birthplace of the late Princess Margaret.

The entrance fees for all of the castles are about $15 CDN, children are most often free.  This gets you into the houses and the gardens.  Each and everyone has a shop where you can buy products related to that specific castle as well as having a meal.  You can even stay in cottages on the Balmoral estate of the Queen.

Photo Credit:  Scottish Heritage and Scottish Home and Garden.

Hospitalfield, Day 4

It is 10 degrees C with bright sun in Arbroath this morning.  Hospitalfield House is cosy and inviting.  The light streams through the windows warming up the entire area of the building on the east side.  I had a lovely walk in the gardens this morning after breakfast.  I am so impressed with the staff at Hospitalfield and the friendliness of the Scots.  I feel completely blessed being here and while I came to do ceramics my interest has been consumed by the objects in the collection and some of the books in the library, such as The Art Journal, from the 19th century that are not available to me in Winnipeg.  In talking with one of the other residents, Allan, who had ten new creative ideas yesterday, I am not allowing my academic identities collide.  That said, having done graduate work in the history of sculpture, several of the pieces in the collection of Hospitalfield have caught my interest.  Thank goodness that pouring my moulds allows me the time to pursue both interests – history and art and that I have given myself permission to slide back into the historical.  Often students struggle with their course projects because they have a ‘fixed’ idea of what they want at the end.  Hospitalfield is a place that allows you to take a different path if you find yourself on it.  That is one of the other reasons that I am thrilled that this is not just a ceramics residency.

It is fabulous getting e-mails from some of you that read my blog.  It is difficult to know if anything is of interest to anyone, so thank you.

We are slowly moving through Hospitalfield House now that more information is becoming available about the contents and uses of the rooms.  The next room down the hall on the first floor is the anteroom.  This is where Patrick Allan-Fraser met with his clients to discuss commissions.  According to our guide, ‘it was cheaply done’.  In 1877, the walls were covered with the first commercially available wallpaper.  To make the embossed designs to try and replicate the 17th century embossed leather that we saw in the dining room, the manufacturers mixed woodflour and linseed oil and applied it to linen which was then adhered to the wall and could be painted.   The wallpaper is still made in Lancaster; it is used for renovations to the walls of these stately homes.  The arrival of cheap wall coverings completely wiped out the plaster industry in England.

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This room also had gasoliers at each side of the fireplace.  A gasolier is typically a chandelier with gas burners rather than light bulbs or candles.  In some cases in Hospitalfield, they are wall-mounted or there is one, designed like a torch, on the grand staircase.

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The anteroom also contains an unusual sculpture carved in marble by George Simmons.  The title is Cupid with a Panther.  There are pictures of Cupid Riding a Panther on 1st-century Roman walls but I have come up against a wall trying to find out about the artist, George Simmons and this particular piece.  If you know anything at all, please write and let me know.

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Behind the door in the anteroom is a picture by Francesco Francia of St Lucy with Madonna and Child.  Francia was from Bologna.   St Lucy has a very interesting legend.  She is considered to be very brave.  She grew up in Syracuse and lost her life during the early 4th century when Christians were being persecuted.  She is well known as a defender of the Christian faith.  One legend says that Lucy wanted to give her life to the service of the Church but her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan.  Lucy learning of this devised a plan to get her mother to change her mind. She prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha who told her that her mother was ill and that her sickness would be only cured through having faith.  Lucy was to try and persuade her mother to give her dowry money to the poor and allow her to become a nun.  Lucy’s mother was grateful but the bridegroom became very angry and reported Lucy and her strong religious convictions to the local governor, Paschasius.  He ordered Lucy to be defiled by the guards.  But the guards could not move her when they came to take her.  They even tried hitching her to a team of oxen and dragging her.  But it was to no avail.  Then they tried to burn her.  At last, they took their swords and put out her eyes.  That was how she died.  When her body was prepared for burial, everyone discovered that her eyes had been restored.  In pictures, she is shown holding a dish containing her eyes.  You can see it in this painting.

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The ‘real gems’ of the house are the two rooms in the west wing.   We will look at one of those today.

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The central feature of the largest room is a marble fireplace carved by James Christie.  The three allegorical figures, from left to right are Peace, Plenty, and Prosperity.  Other details include strawberries and parrots from the coat of arms of the two families.  The central figure, a cupid with both hands under his chin,  was a later addition.  Can you see the parrots and strawberries?  The fireplace still works today and provides warmth to a room that does not start being warmed by the sun until later in the morning.  Because of all of the wood and the tapestries in the house, in addition to all of the pictures, the blinds are generally pulled.

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There was a huge interest in fossils and stones.  A large piece of Jasper was found on the shore near the house and was turned into a table.

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Tomorrow we will talk about the woodwork above the arches, the picture commissions in the room, and then we will take a tour of the harp room with its many curiosities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!