Hospitalfield House, the inspiration for Monksbarns in Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquary, is a largely 19th century gentleman’s estate built upon foundations of a 13th century hospital for plague and leprosy victims founded by monks from nearby Arbroath Abbey, on the outskirts of a small fishing village on the east coast of Scotland, Arbroath. It is considered to be the first Scotland’s first school of fine art, and the first art college in Britain. In the present day, it is a destination for artists and students of art history from all over the world.
After having visited Hospitalfield twice before (during two separate three-week trips with a group of students from SIUC), I was invited by the Director at Hospitalfield to return for a year’s residency. I accepted, and arrived at Hospitalfield in August, 1997 (just a few days before Princess Diana was killed in an automobile accident.)
Prevented by the terms of my student visa from employment lasting longer than six months while in Scotland, I worked in the Director’s office until January, 1998. During that time, I gave general clerical assistance and also created Hospitalfield’s first website. I also assisted volunteers working on the archives, and supervised the staff of the house in the Director’s absence.
When visitors were in residence (either short-term guests, or long-term artists in residence), I often was called upon to give tours of the house and grounds, and at historic sites in the vicinity.
I set up a studio in the very top of the tower (which was once Patrick Allan-Fraser’s private study and observatory) where I painted small pictures and made drawings and collages inspired by the estate surrounding me. From the tower, I had a 360˙ view of the estate, the town of Arbroath, and the North Sea.
Above is an oil pastel painting I made that winter, of a row of beech trees that serve as a windbreak from the strong winds that come up from the North Sea coast less than half a mile away. It was one of my favorite locations on the estate, and I would often go there to sit and read, sketch or just think. The beech hedge was over 100 years old, and shortly after I made this drawing, all of the trees were cut back to stumps.
Most of my work at Hospitalfield was more abstract. Because of my limited access to supplies, I either used materials I could find on the grounds, or limited myself to small sketches, collages and drawings such as these.
My stay at Hospitalfield ended in the summer of 1998, when I was accepted into the MFA program at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. With only a few short weeks before the start of classes, I had to return to the United States and move to Philadelphia (a city I’d never been to). I’ve maintained friendships to this day with many of the people I met in Scotland, and I hope someday to return.