Dunnottar Castle

I had written about Dunnottar Castle earlier in my blog when I planned to go and visit.  I did finally find the time today to take a run up the coast.  As I got closer and closer the skies opened and the rain began to fall.  Those clouds that look blue were actually black and the rain had made the trail to the castle – very steep in either direction – pretty much impossible unless you had really good hiking boots with grip.  The admission fee is 7 GBP and it appears the castle is open every day of the year from at least 10:00-16:00.  In the summer it is open longer.  I can only imagine the small car park filling up quite quickly.  The castle bulletin board actually suggests parking in Stonehaven and hiking up to the castle.  There is a caravan with tea and coffee and sweets before the path leading to the castle.

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The views from the hills around are absolutely breathtaking.

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I suggest that you take the A92 from Arbroath and drive through the scenic villages.  You could stop for lunch at Lunan and also take in the lovely beach area there on the same visit.  The fields between Montrose and Stonehaven are full of daffodils being grown for market and amazing sheep!

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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.

Meeting fabulous women artists and thinking of Graysville

Several weeks ago, the Director of the Manitoba Crafts Council, Tammy Sutherland, asked me if I would be interested in being a facilitator for The Love of Craft members exhibition.  Even though there are regular critiques that I lead in my university classes, I wondered if I was up to the job.  There was such diversity in the participants – well, it was a bit worrisome.  All of that disappeared when, to my surprise, a former student was standing in the gallery, Erika Hanneson.  I had seen her name on the list of those that wanted to be part of the afternoon discussion but, there could have been many Erika’s as Manitoba has a sizeable Icelandic community.  But, it was her.  There is something beautiful about teaching, and it is seeing the students thrive and prosper when they leave that is the most rewarding.  I am afraid that my photograph of Erika’s work does not do it justice.  At first glance, most of the visitors to the gallery thought that the large plate had been entirely wheel thrown.  But, it isn’t.  The body of the vessel is a manipulated slab over a slump mould.  On the reverse, there is a wheel thrown foot ring.  The base is heavily gouged with the lines filled in with a dark slip.  There are subtle transitions in the glaze towards the rim giving the impression of a fall prairie landscape.  She has recently moved her studio to Gimli, Manitoba and no doubt the colours of the Lake Winnipeg and the summer sky will provide more inspiration.

Like many of those that come to the School of Art, Erika was a nurse, but her passion was art.  She was enrolled in the Diploma programme, but shortly after beginning her classes, Erika discovered that she liked the academic courses and did well in them.  She went on to get her BFA degree while raising children and working.  An excellent role model.  Now she devotes most of her time to her craft.  I wish her every success in her new studio and am anxiously awaiting the end of winter to go and visit.

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I intend to write about all of the women who I met on Saturday.  Each and everyone is doing something they are passionate about, and there were so many similarities in their stories.  Each tries to give voice to their experiences, they appreciate different materials and processes while acknowledging that one must practice a craft, ‘the verb’, and do things well.  One other thing we discussed is the need for meeting new people, the sharing of ideas, and the importance of positive support.

The other talented woman I would like to introduce you to is Judith Rempel Smucker.  Judith is also a graduate of the School of Art here in Winnipeg where she studied graphic design and the Basel School of Design in Switzerland.  She lived for some years in Pennsylvania where she taught graphic design.  The featured image is a photograph of a mixed media collage, one of 28 originals, that form the pages of her book, RE-encounters.  Views from the Field.  Here she has used vintage material, repurposed letters from the newspapers, and bouncing images of sheep.  Judith took 28 words that begin with ‘RE’ and gave them to 28 individuals who are part of her daily life.  She asked them to provide her with a text.  Re-count, re-direct, re-fresh, re-new are amongst the words chosen.  It is a delightful book and is available at the Manitoba Craft Council Shop on Cumberland.

Thumbing through the pages of RE-encounters made me recall part of my life tas a rural potter.  I lived in Graysville, Manitoba.  It is roughly eleven miles west of Carman Manitoba.  There was grain storage, a church, a school, and the general store run by Ada and Howard Stephenson.  The railway line that went all the way to Snow Valley had been removed.  The young people were leaving.  Most of the farms were getting larger and larger.  Some, like my neighbours to the east, used an old tractor and didn’t spray.  None of the ‘new fangled’ technology there.  I loved Graysville and the people who lived there.  And there are times when I miss them all.  I had a marvellous friend, Walter Toews.  He lived with his family near Graysville.  Walter was a teacher, and in his spare time, he raised sheep.  It has been so long ago now that I have forgotten some of the details but..in a nutshell.  Sometimes Walter’s ewes had twins.  And sometimes the mothers didn’t want to have to contend with two sheep so they would push one aside.  At other times, ewes whose lambs had died decided to literally butt in and try and take those of another mother.  Looking at their faces and their soft woolly bodies one would never imagine such things.  They are so cute.  Walter had heard about me from someone, perhaps his daughter who used to come and babysit my children, Cris and Jaine.  At any rate, it came to pass that Walter would give me the orphan lambs.  He didn’t have the time to deal with them.   So, they went in my basement at the beginning because the barn was too cold.  Yes, you read it right – lambs in the basement.  They were fed with bottles of milk from Elsie, the cow.  We were all gleeful when they were around.  The idea was that they would become outdoor pets used for their wool,  and die of old age.  Then one summer, the vegetables in the garden were getting eaten by some kind of worm.  It was taking its toll but, looking up and down, produced no sight of caterpillars or any other insect crunch a munching on the broccoli.  Ah, but one day Jaine and Cris came to tell me that they had seen something so ‘cute’ – it was the word they used.  Little Cindy was in the garden eating up all of the green beans!  Cute I asked myself.  Cute?!  This garden had been years in the making – getting rid of all the weeds and then having it killed by the farmer’s spray the second year.  This year there would be vegetables…an electric fence had been put around the area to keep the calves out.  But apparently, that lovely wool insulated the sheep.  They could go in and out.   We did get to eat those green beans one way or another…but I must thank Judith for bringing back those memories.  Someone asked her why she chose sheep and Judith replied it was because they were innocuous.  I smiled and didn’t say anything.  Shrewd might be the word I would use!

I want to thank the Manitoba Craft Council for inviting me to be the facilitator of the discussion.  I gained more having met three talented women previously unknown to me and become re-acquainted with a former student.  It was my pleasure.