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, 23 December 2011


Alison modeling a head of the young Angus MacPhee

With the confirmation from Creative Scotland we've been able to plan seriously for the period from January through to August 2012, and a lot of this period will be dedicated to work on the Angus production. 

I've been able to talk with many of the artists involved in the project and a timetable is slowly emerging. Rehearsals will start on the 4th June, and Esther tells me that Angus will open in Scotland - somewhere close to Oban, she says - on the 12th July. Final details of the venues are being worked out, but it appears we'll be on Uist shortly after the 12th and expect this to tie-in with the celebrated annual summer school and festival of Ceòlas, which makes connections between Scottish traditional music, Gaelic song and dance. With Angus part of the festival, this will extend to theatre. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

An old friend

Some of the Horse + Bamboo creative team on North Uist
Since we heard the very positive news from Creative Scotland our focus has continued to be on getting our two Christmas productions on stage. However, that done, I sat down with Alison yesterday and we began the process of time-tabling our New Year - in particular how we will use the period from January to April to develop the Angus production, starting with a re-examination of the script immediately we're back at work.

In the meantime I noticed that this blog has passed 10,000 hits, and I continue to receive news from our partners in Scotland, telling of the continued interest in Angus and his work. It was particularly good to hear from Dr. Stephanie Bunn. Steph is Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at St. Andrews University, and author of the excellent British Museum book on 'Nomadic Felts', based on her researches among pastoral nomads in Kyygyzstan. In another life Steph worked with Horse + Bamboo, and stumbled across us again when talking to Joyce Laing at the Art Extraordinary Gallery. Seems Steph has an interest in Angus too, which I suppose isn't entirely surprising given her interest in felt-making - which I feel is a kind of second cousin, removed, of grass weaving. 

Thursday, 8 December 2011

From Creative Scotland

"We write to inform you that the above-mentioned application was successful and your award will be confirmed once the following conditions have been received:

  •     A revised budget. Clearly showing the level of rehearsal costs and the proposed size (personnel, etc) of the touring company.
  •          Confirmation of all delivery partners, especially within the Gaelic Diaspora. (Note MG Alba not BBC Alba)

"A reassessment of CS Investment Level will be commensurate on the above conditions being met."

This refers, of course, to our application for support towards touring our show about Angus MacPhee. The email arrived in Helen's inbox just as she was leaving the office last night, and caused her to break our unofficial rule of not disturbing rehearsal. 

Many, many thanks to everyone who has helped us get this far. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Meanwhile in Caithness

Once again, in the absence of any new work on our production Angus at the Boo (Horse + Bamboo's workshop in Rossendale) - as we're in the thick of producing two Christmas shows - we turn to Caithness and Joanne B Kaar to find that she has now completed the replica grass trousers. That's Joanne above, with the trousers mysteriously hovering directly in front of her. 

To compare them with the original, here they both are:

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The view from Shetland

From the Shetland Times, Spaekalation (link to the full article here):

"In much the same way as Shetlanders cared for their boats, the Uist people nurtured and nursed their homes. Mingling love and economic necessity, they created bridles and harnesses for their horses, long strands to rein in and control the most unruly steed from the grass found upon the machair.

"In his years of exile in Inverness, Angus MacPhee, however, did much more than this. Incorporating beech leaves and other material from the trees around the asylum, his artful fingers sculpted a bizarre wardrobe from grass. A swallow-tailed coat. A pair of shoes. An astonishing haberdashery of hats, from Tyrolean to Stetsons. Most of the time, however, he hid these creations away. A private artist, it was the fierce and secret obsession of a man miles away from the touch and texture of his beloved marram grass."

From a review of:
The Silent Weaver: The Extraordinary Life Of Angus MacPhee, by Roger Hutchinson, is published by Birlinn, £9.99.
by D.S.Murray

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Cracking the Grass Code

Joanne Kaar explains how she succeeded in unravelling the mystery of Angus MacPhee's garments.....

"My name is Joanne Kaar. I live in Dunnet village, on Dunnet Head in Caithness. With  views  to the village of Brough, where I grew up. The Pentland Firth and the Orkney Island of Hoy are in the distance.

Earlier this year I visited Joyce Laing  in Pittenweem, Fife, to take a closer look at the grass garments made my Angus MacPhee.  I had seen his incredible work while it as on display in Stornoway many years ago.   Angus was a crofter. He lived in South Uist, but spent almost 50 years in Craig Dunain psychiatric hospital in Inverness........."

To read more go to the NORTHINGS website

Sunday, 20 November 2011

As we continue to wait for news of our funding application to Creative Scotland, there's still - of course - plenty to do. Alison's new show 'The Twittering Machine' goes into rehearsal tomorrow and I've a set to complete for that, plus 'Red Riding Hood' continues to tour until it arrives at the Royal Exchange studio in Manchester, as their Christmas Show. 

As for Angus, whenever I come up for air from working on the above, new ideas emerge. The video and film sections in particular keep being reshaped in my mind, probably because animated videos are another thing I'm working on at Horse + Bamboo at the moment. Last week I woke up in the middle of the night and imagined 52 Balgarva, the tigh dubh where Angus spent his boyhood, as a small but detailed model that a camera could explore with live feed whilst projecting the results onto the stage; and that the hospital at Craig Dunain likewise could be modelled and used in the same way. I like this idea of combining the action of live use of the camera, preferring it in many ways to using pre-shot film. 

Today I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester to see Dark Matters, a show by 10 artists who explore shadow, darkness and illusion - many using video and live-feed projection. Daniel Rozin's pieces I found especially impressive. One 'Snow Mirror' (above) simply played back the viewers likenesses onto a silk screen, but the quality of the image - spectral, snow-like, created a sense of something removed from the present,  remembered rather than actual, even though it worked much as a mirror does. This was exactly the quality I had imagined using for 'Angus' in those scenes where Angus MacPhee returns to his home after 50 years and the memories flood back; totally present for him (and the audience) - but at the same time existing only as memories. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

A new resting place...

This, the Glasgow Museums Resource Centre is where most of what remains of Angus MacPhees work will end up. Joanne B Kaar sent me this link; the Centre is where the vast collection of Scottish Museums is held when it's not on display. 

Joyce Laing is intending to close her wonderful Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem for good this winter, and then the collection will move to the GMRC where it can be properly looked after and the fragile work restored where necessary. I know it's her hope that the pieces will still be able to be seen, forming touring exhibitions of the work. 

Sunday, 30 October 2011

An Guth

I watched Music from Blas on BBC Alba last night - from the Blas Festival that celebrates the culture of the Highlands and Islands. This was part of a concert held last month at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, and celebrating the Voice, an Guth.

It included sessions from Kathleen MacInnes and Karen Matheson. Kathleen MacInnes was born and brought up on South Uist, a Gaelic speaker, and I discovered her first album 'Og Mhadainn Shamhraidh' on my trip to the islands in July. It's a fine recording, so it was great to be reminded of it on a cold and dark evening just before the clocks go back. If you haven't heard her, give it a try - a wonderful voice with great character, and a slight and subtle huskiness to it that is very appealing. Try it on here

It reminded me, too, that one of the more pressing issues, as we wait to see the result of our grant applications towards a tour of 'Angus', is finding a singer to tour with the show. Not just to accompany the performance, but to be a part of the performing team - also involved in the mask and puppet work and the thrills and spills of touring. We can't approach anyone until we know we have the funding for the project, but the ideal musician would be - a female singer, a gaelic speaker from the islands, with acting experience. Turns out that Kathleen MacInnes is all of these things! Now there's a thought...

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Operation Valentine

Permission: Postverk Føroya, Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
Last night I stumbled upon a short film from BBC's 'Coast', in which Neil Oliver traveled to the Faroe Islands - halfway between Shetland and Iceland. The story that the film was hung around was that of 'Operation Valentine' - the period in 1940 when, Denmark having been overrun by the German Army, Winston Churchill moved quickly to place the Faroes under British control. It was where Angus MacPhee, as a soldier in the Lovat Scouts, was posted as a young man - and where the first signs of his illness occurred. 

Although Roger Hutchinson writes at some length about this in 'The Silent Weaver', the film brought it home to me in a very immediate way. The British soldiers built the one and only airstrip on the islands; they built most of the surfaced roads, and they left behind several hundred vehicles. Romances flourished between the troops and local women, and I found myself wondering if Angus would appear on any of the film footage of soldiers they unearthed for the film. 

Neil Oliver mentioned how many of the soldiers were Scottish islanders, and how they would have identified with the lives of the Faroese. The footage of Faroe's coast, by the way, was stunning and quite incredibly beautiful. What chance of 'Angus' playing in Tórshavn, I wonder?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Now, we wait

The young Angus and his horse; from our research period on Berneray.

Last week an application for financial support towards a tour of Angus was sent by Helen Jackson to Creative Scotland and a second, smaller, one to the Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

A tour would start on the Outer Islands, and then tour throughout the Highland Region in July and August 2012. Thanks to the agreement with the Arts Council of England we would also be able to undertake some shows in Lancashire. But for now, we wait....

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Some positive news

Although the week for the artistic directors at Horse + Bamboo has been a rather scattered one - with work happening on several projects simultaneously - the news from the office team has been very positive for our Angus project. First, the Arts Council of England have accepted our case that their decision in March this year to fund the company only for regional work from the next financial year (2012/13) didn't allow us to make proper transition arrangements for a project like Angus that had been conceived almost a year beforehand and was already in production. Although this may seem like a minor issue in reality it makes a difference of at least £20,000 to the amount we'll need to raise in order to tour 'Angus'. It also encourages us to show it in Lancashire as well as in Scotland. 

Then Esther had a meeting with Brian O'Headhra at the Bòrd na Gàidhlig who took a very positive and understanding approach to the Gaelic language content of the show and our commitment to employing a Gaelic speaking musician to tour with the production. So we now know that the Gaelic Board support our intention to make this show directly relevant to the Gaelic speakers among our audiences. 

Meanwhile, even if we're quiet ourselves on the making front, Joanne B Kaar is busy working on a second replica of Angus's iconic jacket - this time for Joyce Laing's Art Extraordinary Gallery. These photographs are from Joanne's own excellent blog - Bakers-Botanists-Whalers - which is always worth a look.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Two jackets and a red calf

Yesterday I went to the Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem, Fife, to meet Joyce Laing, the art therapist who first noticed Angus MacPhee when she visited Craig Dunain Hospital in the 1970s, and who subsequently rescued some of his work and wrote about him in her book 'Weaver of Grass'. It's through Joyce's efforts that we now remember Angus and know a little about his extraordinary work. 

I had with me the reproduction of Angus's jacket made by Joanne B Kaar for our theatre piece, and took it for Joyce to see. 

I laid Joanne's jacket on the floor in front of the display. The photographs above do the pieces a disservice as their colouring is actually almost identical to one another, but under the gallery lights the original appears far yellower. Joyce was astonished at Joanne's achievement and clearly thrilled that someone had at last been able to discover and replicate Angus's technique. 

We had a long conversation about the jacket - Joyce's memories of finding it under a rhododendron bush in the garden of Craig Dunain, and her feeling that the distortion in the shape was probably due to her having had to pull and tug at the weaving to release it.  The original also had a neck opening, but Joyce had pinned this back in order to display the piece better. This opens the intriguing possibility that if and when Joanne makes another copy for Joyce's collection it should instead be made with the original symmetry and open neck as in Angus's original.

One last treat for me was that Joanne had made the red calf I had asked for - a woven piece to be used in the theatre show, during a section when Angus MacPhee as a young boy is told, by his mum, the story of the Rashin Cootie (a kind of Scottish version of Cinderella). The hero is a red calf - and here it is:

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Craig Dunain

On my way back from visiting Joanne I passed through Inverness and thought it only natural to visit Craig Dunain, the psychiatric hospital where Angus MacPhee has passed 50 years, and where he had made his woven garments. I knew, as Esther and Helen had visited just over  a year ago (see the blog for October 2010), that the place was in a state of development but I still wasn't quite prepared for what I found. 

The gardens were fenced off - all part of the hard hat zone - so I couldn't really see much of the place where Angus had worked. But incredible to think how short a time has passed since this was the main mental hospital for the whole of the Highland Region. Now it's well on the way to being swanky housing - apartments and penthouses for the successful people of Inverness. There's already a smart reception unit for prospective purchasers. 

Yet, in 1961 there were 1,051 people in Craig Dunain Hospital, almost 0.4% of the Highland population. Angus entered Craig Dunain on the 31st December 1946, and left there early in 1996. This statistic and much more about Angus MacPhee and the circumstances that surround his life are to be found in Roger Hutchinson's new book - The Silent Weaver, now published and in your local bookshop (or in Amazon. of course). Much to be recommended at £8.99 and published by Birlinn. 

Thursday, 29 September 2011

To Joanne and Dunnet Head

I've been on the road now for a couple of days; yesterday started with a visit to Wick Heritage Centre and then to see Aileen Grogan, who worked as Producer at Horse + Bamboo until 5 years ago when she left to a plot of land and a new life in Caithness. Then on the Caithness Horizons in Thurso to see the Robert Dick exhibition put together by Joanne B Kaar (above). Joanne has been fascinated by the story of this baker turned botanist, and in partnership with the museum department at Caithness Horizons who had Dick's herbarium collection in their care, catalogued 60 of the beautiful pressed specimens and used these as a basis for an exhibition about Dick's life and studies. The gallery is a really rich and evocative installation full of images of Dicks work and his fascination with phrenology and botanical studies alongside the paraphernalia of a bakers work - flour bags, twine, loaves.  

And then to meet Joanne and Joe, who live close by Dunnet Head - the most northerly part of the British mainland. Joanne is an important collaborator in the Angus production, and has been researching Angus MacPhee's work and the precise manner in which he created his woven garments. Recently she visited Joyce Laing and looked at the originals in the Museum of Art Extraordinary, and has since tried recreating some of Angus's work. The first she showed me was a reproduction of the oddly memorable jacket that dominates Joyce's collection. To me it was exactly as I remembered the original and I felt in awe of Joanne's ability to recreate such a unique piece of work. I had asked Joanne to do this as it's clear that we need, on stage, to show the work Angus produced, but to have such a hauntingly accurate piece at this point is something I hadn't expected. Something about seeing this laid out of Joanne's floor (above) filled me with fresh confidence in the production. Joanne's material all comes from her land - the grasses and plants used in the weaving process pulled from outside her doorstep.

Then at the end of a warm and sticky and it has to be said, untypical, Caithness day, Joanne took me to Dunnet Head, where as the sun set we looked all around - north to Hoy in Orkney, south to the Sutherland hills, and below us her own Brough home.  You can find more about Joanne's woven 'Angus' jacket on her blog here.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Esther sends in a progress report

Esther is on the last leg of her mini-epic round trip with the Press Night of Para Handy at, I think, the Eden Court in Inverness. A perfect way to end a day of travelling if you ask me - as we found on our horse-drawn tours of Scotland, when it became a regular habit to read out loud the adventures of Para Handy and the crew of the Vital Spark, while we clustered around the camp-fire, dram in hand, 'til way past midnight.  

Anyway, while Esther recovered from the Stornoway - Ullapool ferry, she sent word of her meetings with Rona MacDonald of Glasgow Life; then at Sabhal Mor Ostaig - Mikey and Annette and Kath and then the TV studio at the college, plus talk of BBC Alba. Then on to Uist and meeting Andy MacKinnon. Everywhere mighty enthusiasm and promises of help. 

Alison during our trip last year, on the beach near Eochar, with the chimney of
Angus MacPhee's now ruined childhood home peeking up over the shore line. 

Esther then met Mary McInnes in Eochar, (Angus's home as a young man), where she clearly had a wide-ranging discussion touching on Ceolas, possible venues, Julie Fowlis, Kathleen McInnes, Anna Murray, and came away even more enthused than before. Then on the way to catch the Berneray - Harris ferry she popped in to see Chris and Mary. Next to An Lanntair and Alex MacDonald - and finally a rough crossing to Ullapool and thence to Inverness and the coal-puffer crew.

So, now I can barely wait to hear directly from Esther - and then get on the road with my own trip.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A ferry, three galleries, a school, a college...and a workshop

Esther (our Producer - see column on right) is, as I write, on the Cal-Mac Uig-Lochmaddy ferry, and when she lands she will drive up the ramp, turn left and almost immediately pull over to the other side of the road to park outside Taigh Chearsabhagh, the arts centre for North Uist where she has a meeting arranged with Andy MacKinnon. Esther has texted me to say her meetings in Glasgow and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic College on Skye, have been very good and she was looking forward to seeing Andy and later Mary MacInnes, the head of Eochar School - where Angus MacPhee was schooled about eighty years ago. 

Meanwhile I've been in touch with Joanne B Kaar about my own visit north next week, when I'll be visiting Joanne and catching her exhibition at Caithness Museum in Thurso. I've also written to Joyce Laing at the Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem, Fife, where most of Angus's existent work is kept, hoping I'll be able to meet with her on my way back south and discuss possible ways of connecting our tour of a show about Angus with her collection.

Above: a couple of photographs Joanne sent me this morning. At the top a close-up of an Angus-style woven blanket using sheep's wool and grass, and below her workshop.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Esther away

Esther is visiting Scotland next week; following up my own visits in July. Her itinerary, I believe, is Glasgow - Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, Skye - Taigh Chearsabhagh, Lochmaddy - Eochar - Berneray - Stornoway - Ullapool - Inverness. In 5 days - good luck Esther.

The idea is for her to look for additional but specific and focused support towards a tour of the region; to see how we can work with other groups to make the tour more than simply a show that goes from centre to centre. It might be possible, for example, to have an accompanying exhibition, or follow up the show with skill sharing. This could take many forms - mask and puppet making, weaving, music, animation, even Gaelic song, for example. We couldn't deliver all of these ourselves, so it's beginning to look for partners, as well as listening to what people say to us - maybe new opportunities or things we haven't thought of will grow from the visit. 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Open Studios Day

This weekend Horse + Bamboo opened up our workshop as part of the Reveal Open Studios weekend; it also tied in with Waterfoot Day Out - a small town fete for the community. The rain for once stayed away and we had a great day - 160 people having guided tours of the building, an animation workshop for children, and a film of the show we're currently rehearsing - Red Riding Hood - running on a loop next to the set and a display of related masks and puppets. 

On the middle floor we have a small display on Angus MacPhee; combining our masks, puppets and some of Joanne B Kaar's woven pieces. This was a great little talking point and many people came up to me throughout the day to ask for more information about the project and the story of Angus himself. 

Thursday, 8 September 2011


I very much like this photograph (taken from Joanne B Kaar's blog). It shows just how large Angus's woven jacket is, as Joanne looks round - almost as if it just touched her on the shoulder. There's also Joyce Laing (back to us) taking her own photograph of Joanne, and then we get a glimpse of a cheery looking Angus MacPhee himself in the upper left. 

Over the next few weeks the Horse + Bamboo team will be heading north. Esther for a number of meetings with potential promoters of our show, and myself to visit Joanne and other contacts in Caithness, as well as to film more material for the film elements of the production. 

All of this is in preparation for us putting in grant applications to enable the rest of the work, including the tour itself, to happen. We'll need the support of Scottish partners to help us with this; even small grants and partnerships will strengthen the case that we'll have to make to fund the tour. 

Donnie Munro wrote: "Very nice to receive your letter on your plans for the touring show (about) Angus McPhee which is fantastic news. It is such a fascinating story and one which I always felt should really be explored in film. I am delighted however that this will now be done as a piece of theatre and look forward to having the opportunity of seeing the production somewhere along the way."  He goes on to say that he felt Sabhal Mor could well be a host for the touring production.

It is this kind of support that will be crucial in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, 1 September 2011


We passed through Copenhagen on the way back from Sweden and had a few hours to pass between trains. I couldn't resist the opportunity of revisiting the Gundestrup Cauldron in the National Museum. Not immediately related to Angus MacPhee, I suppose, but to me the quintessential piece of Celtic artwork. Look at the horned figure in the central photograph, and seeing his woven suit I can't but imagine it woven from grass. And more directly, these excavated sacrificial offerings of human hair - as fresh as the day they were cut - and even here, that compunction to plait and weave. Wonderful!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Developments - and crunch time

As I get back into things after the holiday break I'm discovering that developments around Angus MacPhee's story are coming thick and fast.

First, tucked among my emails were several from Joanne B. Kaar. One was her discovery in a paper from the University of Auckland of native Australian stitching and basketry techniques of a diagram of the characteristic stitch used by Angus. Her partner Joe had sketched this identical technique when they were working with Joyce Laing in Pittenweem recently, attempting to figure out exactly how Angus made his woven pieces. Photographs of his work, even in close up, don't provide sufficient information to see how the components of the weave have been formed. Through persistent research and analysis it has finally turned up elsewhere - the other side of the world.

Then Joanne excitedly copied me into a photograph from the excavations of the native American site at Mesa Verde in Colorado, USA, where a grass slipper or sock, woven from yucca twine, has been uncovered which could easily have been one of Angus's creations.

At Horse + Bamboo we're rapidly approaching crunch time for putting together a bid for financial support of a tour of 'Angus' throughout the Islands, Highlands, and Scotland generally, in the summer of 2012. Because of the changes in arts funding for our programme of work this will have to be an entirely self-supporting tour, meaning that none of our grant from the Arts Council of England can be used towards the work or the tour, even if it subsequently tours in England. This, of course, makes life very difficult for us - and Esther and Helen are planning a visit to Uist to meet key people in order to help us put together such a bid. It's going to be a hard job - so cross your fingers and wish them well.

Finally Roger Hutchinson's new book 'The Silent Weaver' has reached that stage in its journey that it can be pre-ordered on Amazon. I've read it - it's a fine book, well up to his high standards of story-telling, and providing a very full background to the circumstances of Angus's life. Strongly recommended to anyone interested in this amazing story

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

1997 - 2011

By chance I came across the upper photograph on the CANMORE site. This is the website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland no less, and it includes the photograph apparently taken by Mary Miers (who holds the copyright for it), and the accompanying information refers to 12th May 1997 - perhaps the date it was taken? 

So the house where Angus lived as a young man is recorded on this august site, including accompanying archaeological information - "A crofting township comprising twenty-four roofed buildings, two of which are L-shaped buildings, and two unroofed buildings is depicted on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Inverness-shire, Hebrides, South Uist 1882, sheet xlviii). Fifteen roofed, one partially roofed and six unroofed buildings are shown on the current edition of the OS 1:10000 map (1971)."  

Below it is my own photograph from 2010, fortuitously taken from almost the same position as in 1997. The deterioration in the house is marked. It made me wonder what status the building has, if it is considered worthy of inclusion in the Canmore lists?

By the way the site is included for its 'archaeological' importance - nothing to do with Angus at all. I'm sure no one involved was conscious of his existence back then. It's also wrongly labelled as 53 Balgarva rather than 52, although patcmbll posted to Canmore in May this year pointing out the mistake.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

A short holiday break

The phone DID ring....and last night we feasted on the hamper of smoked fish from the Loch Duart Smokery that arrived the day before. My prize from the Berneray Community Raffle - not the weekend for two in Glasgow but something all the nicer for coming direct from the Uists. 

I received an email from Joanne B Kaar, telling me more about her time with Joyce Laing at the Art Extraordinary Gallery in Pittenweem, having an opportunity to look at Angus MacPhee's weaving first hand, and showing Joyce her own attempts at replicating Angus's unique weaving technique. Apparently Joanne only planned to stay for one day but ended up spending two, so well did the work go. What's more she left her own work behind for Joyce, and visitors to the Gallery are now able, if not to touch Angus's original but fragile pieces (see above), to handle Joanne's work and get a feel of what woven grass is like in the hands.

The blog will now go quiet for a couple of weeks, as I take a holiday. 

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Berneray week

Today is the last day of Berneray week; the week of the summer when the island really comes alive – lots of visitors and lots of events – including a 10k race around the island, barbecues, a treasure hunt, and this evening it all ends with a Traditional Concert. Our friends Chris Spears (who came 9th in today's race, but the 1st of the Berneray men so winning the Berneray Cup - well done, Chris) and Mary are right in the heart of this; they were already planning some of the Berneray Week events when we there in June.

A view from Berneray, with remains of lazybeds (feannagan) visible
in the foreground

But all I have to link me to the island today is a brown envelope full of Berneray Community Raffle tickets, announcing that The Grand Prize will be drawn this evening at the Community Hall (where we spent our week starting development of the Angus show). Maybe I'll win that Grand Prize - 2 nights for 2 at Menzies Glasgow Hotel, or the Amazon Kindle, second prize? I'm sitting by the phone, anyway...

Things wind down at Horse + Bamboo for a little while now; I'm away shortly for a few weeks holiday in Baltic lands. Joanne no doubt will continue her grass weaving, and Daniella will be planning the animated film section for Angus's garden at Craig Dunain. Esther has just come back from a week in Glasgow, on a marketing shindig but from what she tells me meeting with lots of people involved with theatre in the islands and highlands, many associated in particular with organisations working to promote and support the exciting regeneration of Gaelic. Having just finished 'A Waxing Moon', another – excellent – book by Roger Hutchinson, I'm very aware of this. The book tells the story of the relatively recent change in the fortunes of the language, after centuries of persecution and ignorance. Whether this transformation is in time to turn the tide it is clearly too early to say, but the book is surprisingly interesting, even exciting, and has given me a much better understanding of an issue which I've been aware of from the margins since meeting Fr. Colin MacInnes in Barra in the early 1980s, culminating in Horse + Bamboo taking an active part in Feis Bharraigh in 1984.   

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Jalapeno dreams

A combination of eating too many hot jalapeno peppers alongside watching videos of various performances in their r'n'd stage left me tossing and turning all night, my half-asleep brain obsessing about two fragments of an imagined 'Angus' show - one in which we depict the effect of him being away from home, supposedly at war (in the Faroes) and the other the depiction of the autumnal bonfires in which the years' worth of weavings were burned, alongside the fallen leaves, in the garden of Craig Dunain. The silver lining of that awkward night was the ability to leap out of bed and rewrite those parts of the script.

Meanwhile, as I keep reminding myself, others are continuing with their waking research work on our project. Joanne B Kaar reports a two good days in Fife with Joyce Laing, looking at Angus's work first hand, and trying tests of woven grass (and other plants) in 'the Angus style'. Some examples of this in the photograph above. If Angus himself were watching I'm sure there would be some chuckling going on. As if to remind myself as to his sense of humour, I dug out a photograph I took myself at Joyce's Art Extraordinary Collection in Pittenweem, of a cat he made. Apparently Angus befriended a feral cat at Craig Dunain, and made this tribute in his memory.