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 their hands.

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.

Panorama of Bill's studio
This was a Victorian painting studio complete with plaster busts.
Bill's studio
The camera for the ambrotypes fit right in.
Bill hard at work
Drying an ambrotype.
Exterior view of Bill's studio
It overlooked a hay field. Bill's darkroom was in a loft off a landing by the upper window.
View of side entrance
Inside the turret were the workings of the clock.
Rear view
Our room was where the window under the arch is. How cool is that?!
View from our room
Beyond the garden wall was a hay field then the sea.
Turret view
One morning, I found a spiral stair that seemed to go to nowhere. It let to a little bridge to a tiny ancient door which led to a turret. In it was a trunk full of ledgers about 100 years old.
Fern wall
This fern wall was part of a tumbled down greenhouse.
Contents of ancient garage
This garage was off a crumbling, overgrown, walled kitchen garden that had an enormous monkey puzzle tree (the first I've ever seen) growing in it. It was locked but had hole big enough of a space for me to shove the camera in and take the picture.
The group hangs out
Hopsitalfield rents part of its facility out as an event space. We had a little party there just before we went back home. L - R: Ali Kazim, Bill, me, Kate Owens Daisy Jackson, Nicholas Twist.
The group hangs out
Relaxation time was very important to all of us. It can get pretty loney sequestered in the studio. L - R: Ali Kazim, me, Kate Owens, Tommy Grace, Nicholas Twist, Daisy Jackson.
Stair landing
This landing led to the locked painting galleries. Other resident's rooms and a tv room were off this corridor.
Stone carved greeting
This monk greeted us at the base of the stairs. A remnant of when it was a monastery hospital.
Stair to our room
Our room was at the top of the stair.
Saint holds the key
The keys to the painting galleries are on the finger of the saint. The fire codes mandated they be locked...
Main painting gallery
This gallery was chock full of paintings by artists from the Scottish Academy, as well as many carvings and ornate furniture.
Alabaster sculpture
This sculpture was in the series of locked painting galleries.
Wall carving in painting gallery
The interior was full of paintings, sculpture and wall and ceiling carvings. It's a wonder we got any work done at all there was so much to look at!
Rosewood carved wall sculpture
Every where you turned around there was ART!
Formal dining room
The secret closets were located right where I stood to take this picture.
Secret closet #1- china and crystal
Hidden closets to house china, crystal and silverware flanked the fire place in the dining room. You had to know where they were and where to press on the walls to open them.
Hidden closet #2- silverware
This closet was hidden in the dining room.