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, 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.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Angus cards

Esther has begun to tell people about our plans for touring a show about Angus MacPhee. The show will be designed to play in community halls as well as fully equipped theatre spaces. We're mailing out these cards to people who may be interested - and thank you to Fiona Mackenzie for allowing us to use the words of the chorus of the Mackenzie' s excellent song 'A' Fighe le Feur'...

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Work continues..a fine gelding

I'm currently working on a small pilot project ultimately aimed at creating a touring show/event for children with special needs; and it has provided an opportunity to make a full-size mask/puppet of a horse. This, I have in mind, may well end up as that 'fine gelding' that Angus MacPhee referred to in his last meeting with Joyce Laing, apparently the first words she had heard him utter in knowing Angus for over 20 years. 

Joanne B Kaar has also been in touch, sending me photographs of some of her continued experiments in grass weaving. These may well also end up in our production of 'Angus'. The lower of these photographs, by the way, is made from woven montbrecia, the other from 'an unknown grass'.