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....

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The gentle weaver

I'm just back from a short trip to Inverness - meaning two days and one night. The reason was to join Karrie Marshall (founder of Creativity in Care and author of the recently published Puppetry in Dementia Care: Connecting Through Creativity and Joy) in a guided walk round the grounds of what remains of Craig Dunain Hospital, where Angus MacPhee spent 50 years of his life, and where he began his weaving with grass.The walk was part of SMHAFF (Scottish Mental Health Arts & Film Festival). Karrie had been involved at the very beginning of this 'Angus - Weaver of Grass' adventure because soon after I had decided that I wanted to create a show about Angus MacPhee she met with our Producer and (then) CEO Helen, who were looking at the feasibility of a tour, and showed them Craig Dunain and gave them an introduction to Angus's life there. 

Yesterday, we met at the duckpond...

...which Karrie said was one of the favourite places for the inmates/patients. I could see why. The hospital was set in 200 acres of grounds, but the pond was in a part not too far from the main building so people could easily walk to it. Craig Dunain was self-sufficient in many ways, with its own piggeries, cow herds and farms. It was on one of these, Kinmylies Farm, that Angus worked and showed his prowess at working with animals.

Here's Karrie arriving...

We met at 6pm - I had arrived early, but it soon turned out that 5 of us in total were joining Karrie on the walk. It had also turned very cold and by the end Karrie's hands were too cold to hand out the inevitable feed-back forms we were asked to complete. 

Karrie started by giving us a brief introduction to the history of asylums and the care system in Scotland, and of Craig Dunain in particular. Which, at the moment, looks like this:

A small part of the site has been made into smart housing, and there's a housing estate on part of the grounds, but the paraphernalia of flags and site offices that was there when I last visited 18 months ago had gone - all victims, I imagine, of the recession. 

After seeing the ruins of the old hospital we went back into the woods, and it was now too dark for much more photography. We passed the pet cemetery, and walked to the old paupers cemetery, which is now gradually returning back to nature...

Karrie showed us photographs of hospital life and, teeth chattering, we conversed sharing memories and stories, and talked of Angus. How people remembered him as a gentle giant, a man who seemed content - in his own way, how in the early days he worked wearing the woven grass clothes of his own manufacture, how he was able to collect potatoes even wearing heavy grass mittens, and how these kept him warm, while the other inmates - like us - probably just shivered. 

The hour passed quickly and then Karrie gave me a lift back into Inverness and so to my hotel, to eat, warm up, and enjoy a few drams. A very special and worthwhile visit in memory of Angus MacPhee, the gentle weaver; something I'll remember for a long time.

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