ANGUS MCPHEE - Weaver of Grass

ANGUS MCPHEE or MACPHEE was a crofter from Uist who spent almost 50 years in a Highland psychiatric hospital. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he wove a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.

This blog follows the progress of HORSE + BAMBOO THEATRE as they develop and tour a show about Angus....

Friday, 17 September 2010

Angus McPhee - Weaver of Grass

This is a blog following my progress putting together a theatre show about Angus McPhee. So, already it's getting complicated - who was Angus McPhee? What kind of theatre show? Who is going to do this? So here goes...

Angus McPhee was from Iochdar, in South Uist, part of the Outer Hebrides, or Western Islands of Scotland. He was a crofter who as a young man went off to war in 1940. Something happened during the next few years and he was invalided home, a changed man, an elective mute. Soon he was transferred to Craig Dunain, a Victorian psychiatric hospital outside of Inverness. There he spent the next 40-odd years. During this period he created extraordinary woven grass objects. These were hardly recognized by the hospital staff, until in the late 1970s the noted art therapist Joyce Laing visited the hospital, looking for examples of 'Art Brut', Outsider Art, or 'Art Extraordinary'. Joyce seized upon the pieces she found in the hospital grounds, and thus fortunately was able to preserve a small part of Angus's work. 

As Artistic Director of Horse + Bamboo Theatre I visited the Outer Islands in the 1980s as part of an extensive horse-drawn tour. I made many friends during that memorable time. Several years later, one friend, Chris Spears of Berneray, sent me a copy of the booklet written by Joyce Laing about Angus. Called Angus McPhee: Weaver of Grass, it told Angus's story and I immediately felt it would make a wonderful subject for a theatre piece. Angus had been sent home to spend his last years in Uist, and had died there in 1997.

Last year I finally got round to take taking Joyce's book down off the shelf again. I discussed the subject with my colleagues at H+B, and found they were extremely enthusiastic about the idea of a touring show on this subject, and furthermore a show that would be designed in such a way as to be suited to touring to the Hebrides themselves, as well as to other island and similar isolated communities. So with the help of my colleagues, in particular Helen Jackson, who has started the unenviable task of fundraising for the tour; Esther Ferry-Kennington, who as producer to the company, will be selling the tour, and my co-artistic director Alison Duddle, work has begun on the task - this blog will document the journey. 

I visited Joyce earlier this summer at her wonderful 'Art Extraordinary Gallery' in Pittenweem, Fife, and there saw some of Angus's amazing pieces for myself. Joyce was very enthusiastic about the project and has already been extremely helpful and supportive. Esther visited her at the gallery to maintain this dialogue and Alison and I visited the Uists (see foggy photo above) in July. There we tracked down Angus's old tigh dubh (black house - see below) and visited Chris Spears, who had prompted the whole adventure on Berneray



    this is an interview we did with joyce laing when we had the exhibition of angus' weaving here at taigh chearsabhagh

  2. Hi,

    I was hoping to send this as a private message! I'm currently in the process of submitting an essay that deals with "outsider arts" (and delivering a conference paper on the topic), and was wondering if any of the images presented in this blog and elsewhere might be available for insertion into my essay--which is prefaced by my experience at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival screening of Higgins' film.

    Perhaps I'm asking the wrong person. Or perhaps you might know of the right people to ask.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Nicole Marchesseau