From 2005-2009 my husband was working on his book, Manual, the Personality of Hands.
He was creating portraits of people by making photogram and ambrotype
images of their hands and obtaining hand writing samples from them as
they completed a questionnaire about their professions and how they use
Since these photographic processes involved use of a darkroom he was at first limited to taking these portraits in his studio in New Jersey and a rented studio in New York City. In 2006, he decided to take his act on the road. At the time I was a masters candidate at Montclair State University. My ceramics professor/advisor was William McCreath, a native of Scotland. He put us in touch with Peter Michael Mountford who put us in touch with Gregor White, who turned us onto Hospitalfield House.
Hospitalfield House is an artists’ retreat in Arbroath, on Scotland’s east coast and is about twelve miles north of Dundee. Built on the site of a hospital for a monastery in the 13th Century, it was remodeled by Patrick Allen Fraser in 1850 as his private residence and a repository of his vast art collection. Upon his death it was bequeathed “for promotion of Education in the Arts in 1890.” Each artist in residence was allotted their own room in the main house and studio in one of the many buildings on the grounds. Meals were taken together in an informal dining room and a comfortable lounge was provided for relaxing. Artists in residence had access to most of the rooms of the main house, which still contain many of the original furnishings and art collection.
Having secured the necessary approvals and documents to both ship and transport the chemicals and equipment, we flew to Edinburgh and squeezed it all into a rental car and drove up to Arbroath. Once there we encountered a suburban area by the sea. We made a left at the gas station and right at McDonalds, past a subdivision then made a right and rolled through the massive gates up the drive and wound up at a freaking, honest to God castle.
We were set up in a Victorian painting studio. The darkroom was in a loft up a ladder. The sink was an old shower pan. Our accommodations included a commodious room with a private bath and 4 poster bed overlooking the formal gardens. Most parts of the castle were at our disposal. One room that was kept locked was the painting gallery and that was because of the fire codes. The key to the room was on a ring held on the finger of the statue of a saint just outside the door. I had so much fun exploring nooks and crannies both inside and out. It truly was a once in a life time experience. There were trunks of documents centuries old; silver, crystal and china in hidden closets; carvings, paintings, sculpture and tapestries from all over the world. At first I thought this concept was so fool hardy to have everything accessible, but as I explored my sense of stewardship for the place and its contents increased. I felt very protective of everything by the end of our stay, at sentiment shared by the other artists.
There were several artists in residence during our stay, from Great Britain, America, New Zealand and Pakistan, all there to work on individual projects in painting, performance art, sculpture, music and photography. The New Zealand artists had won their stay as a national prize, and the bonus included a chef. We all got to benefit from their largesse. We met for meals, visited each others' studios, watched tv and went to the local pub together. It was really fun to see each others' work in process.
Bill needed a local assistant to not only scout for subjects but assist in obtaining equipment, chemicals and supplies we could not bring with us. Believe it or not the hardest item to obtain were surgical gloves- you need a prescription for those in Scotland! Upon recommendation, Bill hired Malcolm Thomson as first assistant. I was second assistant. It was on this trip that I learned how to cut and clean glass for the ambrotypes.
Since I was away for a large part of the semester, Bill McCreath gave me an assignment for independent study credit- to interview at least 10 artists in their studios for a paper and presentation upon my return. The result of this was The Scotland Project.