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....

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.