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....

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Silent Weaver

Within the past hour I've finished reading the proof copy of The Silent Weaver that the author Roger Hutchinson very kindly allowed me to read before its forthcoming publication in September. This is a detailed story of Angus McPhee's life - in fact its full title is 'The Silent Weaver: The Extraordinary Life and Work of Angus MacPhee'

The information for my own play about Angus has so far been derived almost entirely from the short book Weaver of Grass, by Joyce Laing, and it was through Joyce that I heard about Roger's book. I've read Calum's Road - Roger Hutchinson's previous and very successful book about a crofter from Raasay, and it occurred to me, as I began reading The Silent Weaver, that his new book had the potential to upset all the notions and ideas that came together to form the raw material for my production with Horse + Bamboo Theatre (as yet untitled, but we currently refer to it as, simply, 'Angus'). 

Trial collar for our production of
'Angus' by Joanne B Kaar

Roger Hutchinson's book is beautifully written and clearly very well researched - not only the particular details of Angus McPhee's life, but also with regard to those things that helped shape it - grass weaving in the crofting community; the soldiering of the Lovat Scouts; the Art Brut movement; the treatment of mental illness in the Highlands during the Twentieth Century, for example. 

Despite this I've put the book down feeling pleased and perhaps a little surprised that the only real modification I'll need to make to our piece is an acknowledgement that Angus was actually born near Glasgow, rather than in South Uist as I had assumed. What is more, in The Silent Weaver, Roger Hutchinson continually places Angus's work in the context of Celtic art and traditions, which is something I decided to make a part of our own 'Angus' from its inception. 

Within a few yards of where I'm staying there are two rocks on the shore with mysterious cup marks (above); slightly higher up the hill is Cladh Maolruibhe, an ancient burial ground and later a 6th century chapel; within a 100m is A'Clach Mor, a standing Stone and from there walking back to the house is Leac an Righ (The Flat Stone of the King), believed to be the inauguration stone of the Lord of the Isles. None of this is signposted or marked in any way; they just exist in the landscape, just as they always have.

Angus's weavings, it has been noted, have an ancient, archaeological, look - a feeling that they could have been made at any time during the period that human beings have lived on the earth. The Silent Weaver notes this too, and celebrates the fact that Angus McPhee, trapped in the institution of Craig Dunain, was able to reach deep down into the ancient well of his culture and somehow manage to twist the strands together in a way that protected his individuality with work of great inventiveness, distinction and even wit. 

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