"Angus McPhee was an unusual artist. What happened is this, at Craig Dunain, Angus was set to work on the asylum farm but he was always wandering off into the woods, and he was allowed to do this. And there in the wood he made rope and clothes and boots and shoes and harness and reins for horses, out of grass! He made them out of hay, wool, twigs and leaves, anything he could find. And this kept him quiet. He was so strong he could be dangerous. He was schizophrenic but, working at his ropes, he became as meek as a lamb and the staff let him get on with it. He used to hang what he made up on trees and in hedges and stack them under the rhododendron bushes. Over the months and years they rotted away into compost.
"He had this compulsion to be useful, to earn his keep. He had a dedicated sense of service. He must have remembered how his father had made ropes of grass and heather, how he'd helped his sisters carding wool, how they'd made horse-bridals and collars out of marram - so, in his madness, he made length after length of string and rope. Then he would weave these ropes into hats and cloaks and leggings, knapsacks, holdalls, and strange things that look like giant horns. He made needles out of wire and knitted vests from the wool he collected from the thorn hedges. He made trousers out of beech leaves and tobacco pouches out of birch and great sea-boots out of hay. He lived in a world of his own but it was also a world like the past, like the old days Mairi Mhor wrote about in her song:
When Martinmas came
And the livestock and crops were all put away,
The men would be making their ropes of heather
And the rush-bags stacked in a heap
By the clamp built high for potatoes,
And the barrel would be full of salt-meat:
That's how things were for us,
Growing up in the Island of the Mist."
As told by the bard John MacAskill of Blackpoint, Grimsay, North Uist. The photographs by Tim Neat are of sculptured weavings by Angus McPhee from the undergrowth of Craig Dunain Hospital, Inverness.