Morag Young combines her creative skills running a tattoo studio with being Chair of Blairgowrie Community Council. Clare Cooper, co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth found out a little about how she came to be in this very important civic role.
Morag Young at a Blairgowrie & Rattray Community Council meeting
Can you tell us a bit about yourself Morag and how you come to be living and working in Blairgowrie?
I was brought up in Blairgowrie, went to primary school here, high school in Perth and University in Dundee. I have a mainly catering and business background and have run and owned a few successful catering businesses.
Since returning to Scotland in 2013 from the U.S, my husband and I relocated our award winning tattoo studio to Blairgowrie, where it’s gone from strength to strength. I am the resident piercer and he’s the tattooist, and it’s great being so close to my parents and one of my sisters, who still live here.
An example of the work of Hammer God Tattoos
You are Chair of Blairgowrie and Rattray Community Council – what do Community Council’s do?
We’re just supposed to represent the voice and views of the community to the Council, but we actually do far more than that. Blairgowrie and Rattray Community Council (BRCC) is made up of some very dynamic and motivated people, who seem to have endless amounts of energy. I honestly don’t know where they all get the time from!
We continue to develop a working relationship with PKC and work towards changing things in the community for the better and have set up, and are involved with, several small groups to help make these changes. Everything from assessing the number and condition of litter bins, grass cutting of local paths to sourcing event funding to bring back Bonfire Night and trying to set up a local cycle path network to link Coupar Angus, Alyth and Blairgowrie are all on our To Do list. I think the public would be really surprised if they knew how many small and local groups do things now instead of the council.
The Ballot Box for Citizen of the Year 2016
Lots of folk would say that Community Council’s don’t have any real power and so they aren’t important … but they can influence decisions about a lot of very important issues that affect local people on an every day level – I’m thinking of the Wellmeadow traffic lights issue in Blairgowrie for example. Can you give us your perspective on what you think Community Council’s can achieve and why you think all of us living and working around the Cateran Trail should engage with them more?
You’re right, we don’t have any direct power but we do have the power of persuasion. Sometimes it’s enough just to be part of the conversation and have the community’s voice heard for things to change.
A Banner advertising the Blairgowrie & Rattray Charette that took place in 2016
You’ve mentioned the Wellmeadow traffic lights, but there’s also been the issue of the public toilets. These were scheduled to close but after dialogue with PKC, and help from John Swinney, we were able to avoid their closure and, at over a thousand visits a month, you can see why it’s an important penny to spend!
There’s now safer access to the Cottage Hospital because of the extension to the pavement from the road to the hospital entrance and the installation of a pedestrian crossing. We did that.
The changes to parking waiting times from 30 minutes to an hour and the removal of the outdates loading bays, that was us too.
The installation of a speed bump at the top of Reform Street to help slow traffic down and prevent any more accidents. Us again.
Blairgowrie Wellmeadow from the air, Photo copyright Perth & Kinross Heritage Trust
What motivated you to get involved in the Community Council and to stand as Chair?
I’d heard these were the people who could make a difference, who could affect change. That was enough for me.
When I came onto BRCC, I was Vice Chair. At that time David Bailey was the Chair and he agreed to do it for one year, to help set it up and set it on its way. He did this marvelously. When it came time for him to step down, I kind of had to “put up”. I took on the role and have been doing it now for 2 years. It’s been very challenging and rewarding and could easily be a full time job if I’m not careful.
Arms Crest of Blairgowrie & Rattray
It’s big responsibility and a huge time commitment … what makes it worthwhile?
I want to see things change. I’m sorry to see how much we’ve lost over the years and someone needs to step forward and stand up for the area. I don’t mind being that person and being part of a group of like-minded people who want the best for our area.
Seeing the changes and improvements is very rewarding. Knowing that I’ve helped is really satisfying.
Ashleigh Slater’s Cherries & Berries Tartan on the loom, photo, Clare Cooper
Where do you see the greatest opportunities to strengthen and sustain our East Perthshire communities are in the next wee while and how do you see those opportunities being realised.
I think things have really changed over the last couple of years with regards to communication. Groups are talking more to each other, there is a Forum group that facilitates the coming together of local groups and organisations and they share what’s going on and their vision for the area, and it’s wonderful. At the last Forum meeting there was standing room only!
I feel that’s the key. The more people allow others to be part of what’s going on and share their ideas with each other, the more successful we’ll all be.
Eastern Perthshire is thriving right now, there’s so much going on and with a bit more investment we could see it turning into a real hub, a real destination.
Glen Isla, Photo by Clare Cooper
What’s your favourite part of the Cateran Trail?
To be honest, I’m not much of a walker but I really enjoy the sections that are near water. The trail has some absolutely beautiful views.
Photo of Hamish Henderson
Which is your favourite object out of those chosen for ‘A Story of the Cateran Trail in 100 Objects’ ?
The more I find out about Hamish Henderson the more I think he’d be my first choice.
Jim C. Mackintosh was born and raised in Perthshire and currently resides in Perth. Clare Cooper, co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth caught up with him to hear about how he is spreading the word about his craft and what poetry means to him.
Photo, Jim C. Mackintosh
W.H Auden said that “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language”, what inspires your passion for language?
My passion for language stems from us, all of us, in the world and the use of language to describe, interpret and embrace all of our challenges, to use words sparingly but pointedly to highlight injustice and inequality, and raise awareness of particular things about which I am passionate. The beauty and power of poetry is its ability to say so much in so few words and importantly, the space around carefully chosen and placed words can be just as powerful as the words themselves.
Photo, Charles Bukowski
Which poets have you been most influenced by?
Like, I would imagine every other poet, my influences are varied and sometimes by only one poem. The more obvious candidates include Norman MacCaig, Seamus Heaney, but also from completely different tangents Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda.
But if I have to narrow the list of influences down to pure influence of shared belief and common purpose in their writings then I have three.
Hugh Miller. I recently won an award in a Competition run jointly by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The Friends of Hugh Miller. Its aim was to celebrate the work of Miller and highlight its continuing relevance today. Miller was a stonemason to trade from Cromarty who through that began to question his surroundings and became a geologist and from that a writer and poet with a passion for the landscape, his place within it and using words to share his discoveries.
Hamish Henderson. A giant of a man who straddles so many important causes but whose championing of spoken word, and the diverse culture of ordinary folk continues to influence me, most of the time without me even realising it. His phrase ‘Poetry becomes People’ sums up my relationship with his work perfectly. I am involved in the nurturing of a Festival later in the year to celebrate Hamish’s life and hope this will bring his words to even more fresh and willing minds.
Willie Soutar. Having sat, in my mind at his feet for years and listened to his poetry, I was fair chuffed to be invited to join the Soutar Writers Group. I had won an Award in the Soutar Writing Competition a couple of years ago and this led to the invite. It is a precious thing to sit in Willie’s room where he spent so much of his life bedridden and be able to read my feeble efforts to fellow writers.
St Johnston Football Club logo
You hold a very unusual role for a poet, can you tell us what it is and what you do in that role?
I am the Poet in Residence for St Johnstone Football Club. Having supported the Saints since before I was born, it was an incredible honour to be asked to undertake the role.
Last year, I wrote a piece for the Club’s Hall of Fame Dinner in Perth Concert Hall. This was my first exposure as the Club’s poet. You’ll not get much tougher Gigs – late on a Sunday evening, reading poetry to three hundred or so football fans who’d been enjoying the spirit of the occasion but it seemed to go down very well. Although the obvious aspects of my relationship with the Saints are celebrating the memorable moments of the Club’s life, it has opened up avenues which would not have become apparent if I had not been involved. One of the elements that has taken up much of my time in the last few months has been collating an anthology of poetry to support the Football Memories Project.
Football Memories, supported by the National Football Museum and Alzheimer’s Scotland runs over 100 groups across the country where people with dementia, whether football fans or ex-players can come together for a couple of hours on a regular basis to provide an environment where memory can be drawn out and the ‘good old days’ discussed using memorabilia and photographs as a trigger.
I have ‘persuaded’ nearly 40 contemporary poets from across Scotland to donate nearly 80 football related poems to the collection. Its aim being to raise awareness of the Project’s work, to provide an additional tool to be used in the Groups through the poetry and the photography that compliments it, and hopefully through sales of the book to raise funds for the continued success of the Project. The book will be launched in early June this year.
I’m also in the early stages of working with a Project to link Gaelic poetry and Football and next season will do more in relation to Schools.
Photo, Cateran Yomp, courtesy of Patter PR
You have also just landed a rather special commission from The Soldier’s Charity who run the Cateran Yomp. Tell us about that and when you’ll be able to share your poem for them with the world.
Yes. I am incredibly chuffed to have been asked to write a poem that highlights the important work that the Charity undertakes. The plan is to write the poem and do a couple of readings at the pre-Event briefings so not sure, but that might be when I can first share the work.
I have written the first draft, binned it and now have various words burbling about in my head. This is normal.
As you know, I’m in love with the Cateran Trail, Cateran’s Common Wealth and everything it represents, and importantly the opportunities that the initiative is opening up for local artists and people to engage with the landscape so to be involved with this was an easy decision for me. Although I have walked most of the Trail I will not however be taking part in the Yomp. That’s not part of the deal.
I’m hoping that we can work together on some other ideas I have for the area as well despite the fact that I hate the word Nature – although some would say it is irrational, perhaps inexplicable or even just downright daft. I blame David Attenborough really. He has gone out of his way to infect us all with his passionate support for stunning landscapes, unfathomable oceans and endless skies, all of them bursting with wondrous creatures and he has rightly shamed us, lambasted us even, for our feeble efforts to save the planet for future generations.
And I fully support all of that but it’s the nature word with which I have a problem because it is open to abuse. It perceives humanity to be separate and provides a get-out clause to excuse our inactions and absolve us of our duty of care
Photo of the Cateran Trail courtesy of Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust
Poetry can change the way we look and listen to the world, given how powerful it can be, why do you think it is an art form that is so often seen as marginal?
Poetry – what’s all that about? Elitist nonsense – is that not the likes of Shakespeare with all his to be’s or not to be’s, or Wordsworth and his daffodils or Burns with his haggis and mouse poems? That’s right, I remember being anesthetised in double English on a cold and wet Tuesday afternoon with that stuff – or so poetry is perceived.
It’s a bit like classical music when someone makes that sweeping statement that they don’t like it until you point out the various pieces they know, mostly through television adverts and they admit ‘Yes. I like those bits but I don’t like classical music in general’. Poetry suffers the same bad press. Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with loving Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Burns, in fact personally speaking I think Burns was a genius but they do not represent the entire world of Poetry. Yes, there are people pushing the boundaries of poetry all the time but I strongly believe that there is some form of poetry, a single poem or perhaps only a few words from a poem that will hook you and hopefully draw you into try some more. That’s my aim whether through being a Poet in Residence for a Football Club or through readings or events like the Yomp.
The tradition of poetry stems from spoken word (see Hamish Henderson again) and there is nothing more powerful than a poet reading their own work to understand the effect it can have. Is there where I plug my next events?
Photo, Pupils from Alyth Primary School with Marian bruce, co-producer of Cateran’s Common wealth
What would you like to do to get more people of all ages involved in writing and listening to poetry?
This could end up being a very long list but in short there are loads of ideas simmering away in my head at any one time. It’s about finding the right opportunity to explore the right ideas. For example, I’d love to do more with the Cateran Commonwealth and the Trail and have a bunch of ideas that would work for it but these would not be the same ideas that would work for a Football Residency so it’s all about keeping the lid on the pot and taking out what is relevant at the right time. I’m also pestering the Perth 2021 Bid on a regular basis to ensure poetry threads are woven through their plans.
With all the uncertainty and turmoil in the world just now, whose poetry would you suggest we read and why?
You’ll not go far wrong revisiting Hamish Henderson’s work especially his poems exposing the futility of conflict in war but I tend to read poetry that takes me away from the turmoil so most of the poems by Norman MacCaig which centre me back in the landscape become my comfort blanket.
And as I type this, I am surrounded by books from contemporary poets like Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson, Sarah Howe, Jim Carruth, Sheila Templeton, Andy Jackson, Graham Fulton and my fellow Perthshire based poets Hazel Buchan Cameron and Jon Plunkett. You’ll not go far wrong with copies of their wonderful books and honest I’m not on commission.
Can you share one of your poems with us?
I’ll share two which come from entirely different perspectives. The first It used to be bottles was written for a pamphlet Refugees Welcome published by Eyewear in 2015 and highlights our difficulty in understanding their plight.
The second poem Old is Tomorrow is the poem which I won an award with in the Hugh Miller Competition last year.
Both of the poems are in my latest Collection, The Rubicon of Ash.
IT USED TO BE BOTTLES
It used to be something, once in a while
to read of a bottle washed up on a beach
with a scatter of words cast on another tide
saying hello from a dot on an old school map.
Sometimes, it would make the newspaper,
in the local section between a notable death
and a prize for jam or the odd photograph
of the potato that looked like your Granny.
It used to be bottles, now it is drifting shoes.
Sometimes, they will make the newspaper
but mostly they don’t because we’d rather
read about bottles and words from dots.
There are too many shoes, but none with words.
Their message is more subtle, imprinted
in the insole, like the rings of the felled pine,
counting outwards the life now surrendered.
Sometimes the message in the shoe is hidden,
covered by the wrinkled foot of the drowned
on another tide, on an old school map, a dot
shaded in pink where the Empire screwed us all.
It makes the newspaper, just another death,
not so much notable but just as a passing dot
until another odd shaped vegetable surfaces.
Oh, how we laugh and forget the insoles of the felled.
OLD IS TOMORROW
You can see it clearly, if you allow yourself, to pause, to breathe out
for the briefest of moments away from the grub
that befuddles our imagination, the digital bleed of information.
life itself is a school
always a fresh study
layers of past generations
mulch of past millenniums
the openings, the chasms
the marks of ancient furrows
successive soils laid bare in stratified gravel, moraines of memory unpicked
by him, to be scooped up, understood – learning
the memorial of time, a clock ticking past our fragile existence barely
a thin layer of history visible, relevant – brushed
by the frequent eddy of tides where humanity shifted along the shore
and in that shallow glimpse of our past, man
emptied his mouth of gravel and found the plough to till his story
and that the man
who keeps his eyes
and his mind open
will always find fitting
How long have we stumbled and understood nothing? Not him.
He walked with a steady pace: noticed the difference,
even a section of a few feet, our two lines of pointless text message lost
where in that time, he would find an archipelago
of islands, brushed by frequent icebergs, and the lift of creatures
sub-arctic molluscs, sand floods, a belief
in all that’s left under our feet, belongs in our minds, in our imaginations
though it may be
hard school masters
to speed him
on his lifelong education
I am sure of this – Hugh Miller’s stride was unbroken, in seeing our story.
His footprints apparent today in the unravelling
of our tomorrows, the unfurling coil of our layers, the unlocking of ourselves
to place fresh words on the shelf next to his.
Note: The words in italics are the last four lines from Hugh Miller’s book, My Schools and Schoolmasters.
“Margaret is, in many ways, the true spirit of Alyth. There is a real comfort in the unchanging nature of her shop. A warm welcome awaits all who cross her threshold and she offers an experience that is so much more than shopping. Margaret has a genuine warmth and she knows her customers and their extended families inside out.” An Alyth Exile
Margaret chatting on the doorstep of her shop in Alyth, photo Clare Cooper
In our fast paced lives where most of us rush from one thing to the next trying to fit everything in, we can often miss experiencing some of the best things that are on our doorstep. Margaret Ferguson and her shop on Commercial Street in Alyth is one of those. A trove of food and groceries of all kinds, Margaret’s sparkling personality and quick wit turns the chore of shopping into a refuge from the daily whirl. After some months of persuading, Clare Cooper, co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth managed to get her to overcome her reticence and talk, a little, about herself and the shop.
Tell us about how you came to have this shop, how long you have been running it and what you offer your customers?
I bought the house with the shop attached to it and decided to give it a go for a few years and 44 years later, I’m still here! We try to buy a lot of local Scottish produced, fresh, quality produce. We try to give our customers personal service, which I think most people like, and they are not just customers, they are friends.
Some of Margaret’s fresh local produce, photo Clare Cooper
“A high point whenever I visit Alyth is visiting Margaret in her shop. Purchasing things from her is a reminder that the best kind of shopping comes with personal attention, a warm welcome and exchange of news. Margaret always offers more than what’s for sale – a great mix of essentials and really high quality treats to take back to friends at home”. Julia Rowntree, London
Margaret’s very popular preserves, photo Clare Cooper
I also have an extensive range of old fashioned sweets. They are made in Edinburgh and we make a good sale on both ordinary sweets and sugar free ones too. Over the 44 years I’ve run the shop, very little has changed in what I stock and that seems to suit my customers very well.”
Some of Margaret’s extensive range of old fashioned sweets, photo, Clare Cooper
What do you enjoy most about being a shop keeper?
“Meeting all my customers, many of whom have been my customers ever since I opened the shop!”
“As regular visitors to Alyth, we always enjoy going to Margaret’s for our shopping. You always get a warm welcome and a kind word and her shelves are so well stocked with the things we enjoy and can’t get down south. A visit to Margaret’s makes shopping a pleasure and reminds one of how life used to be. A gentle and kindly lady, she has the whole community at heart and has become quite a legend in her own time. Indeed, we regard Margaret as an Institution in her own right!” Greg and Di Desson, Surrey
Margaret at work, Photo, Clare Cooper
You experienced the devastating flood of 2015 when the Alyth Burn burst its banks and flooded the whole of the centre of the Town and beyond. You were the first shop to re-open – tell us about that experience
“That was dreadful that morning, we couldn’t get near the shop, we had 27 inches of water inside the shop that came and went within four hours. I’d never seen anything like it. At first I couldn’t take it in because I really didn’t know what had happened, I just really had never seen anything like it, and I didn’t know what had happened until I was walking along Airlie Street almost at the shop, when a lady said to me “you’ll not get near the shop today, Alyth’s flooded.” But even after hearing what she said I still didn’t realise that we had actually been flooded in the shop, I thought it was just the square. We had quite a bit of damage, but fortunately with the family around me, we got in, got clearing and cleaned the shop. We closed on the Friday and then re-opened on the Monday, the second working day after the flood, ready for trading again. We were the first shop to re-open for business.”
“When I went to see Margaret after the flood I was amazed at how calm and resilient she was about what had happened. Even though she had to strip out everything, scrub out all the mud and filth that had come in, put as much back as she could and wait for the floor to dry out for weeks before it could be re-layed, she just ‘got on with it’, got the shop open and started trading again almost straight away. She taught me a real lesson in how you can manage and get through a disaster and I shall not forget it.” Alyth resident
July 17th, 2015, the Great Alyth Flood, photo, Daily Record
What’s special about Alyth and the Cateran Trail area for you?
“I think it’s a lovely place to live, people are friendly, loyal, and we love the countryside, we tour about a lot in the car locally, we love to meander over all the area, it’s beautiful, I wouldn’t move from here.”
Looking down towards Glen Isla, Photo, Clare Cooper
What are your hopes for the future of Alyth and your grandchildren?
I have four grandsons all of whom live in the town and are happy to live in the town at the moment. I was hoping that we would have had all our foot bridges back after they got swept away in the flood, but unfortunately, the one that I would like to have had put back is not coming. But I want to see the whole town centre regenerated and tidied up greatly, and I just want people to come and enjoy it as we do. I’d also like there to be more individual shops in the town, but I’m not sure that is going to happen.
Young dancers at the Alyth Gala Day, Photo, Clare Cooper
What advice would you give to future generations who come to live in Alyth
“I think everyone who lives here needs to try and be part of the community, too many people come and live here, but they don’t shop in Alyth, they don’t join anything in Alyth, they don’t have anything to do with anything in Alyth, they use it as a place to sleep at night and go away every day and do everything they want outwith the town.”
Alyth folk gathering for the lighting of the beacon on Alyth Hill on New Years day, a local tradition, Photo, Clare Cooper
If you hadn’t been a shop keeper, what do you think you would have been?
I think I would probably have ended up working in a café or something like that. I’d have been meeting people for sure. I never thought I would like being a shop keeper because I had no intentions when I bought the house of having a shop, but I don’t think I would ever give it up willingly now!
“Margaret is an “icon of Alyth”. She is at the centre of the community and has a wealth of knowledge about the people and the town which she is always happy to share. She has a welcoming smile for everyone who enters her shop and is always cheery – she is a great asset to the town.” Marian Bruce, Vice Chair of Alyth Development Trust
Andrew Hunter is a graphic designer and artist who lives and works in Enochdhu near Kirkmichael, the start of one of the most glorious and remote sections of the Cateran Trail which winds up from the village of Kirkmichael, through Enochdhu up to the highest point of the Trail at An Lairag, then down to the Spittal of Glenshee.
Andrew in his studio, photo by Clare Cooper
He describes himself as a graphic designer and artist but it is through his painting that he finds the greatest freedom of expression. Born in Edinburgh, he studied at the College of Art after an apprenticeship in a printing company. He is Vice Chair of Perthshire Open Studios (POS) an annual event where artists and makers of all kinds open their studios to the public and which opens this year – 2016 on Saturday the 3rd of September.
View from the Cateran Trail near Kirkmichael, photo by Clare Cooper
Tell us about your studio Andrew and what inspires your work. “Fundamentally what inspires me is ideas on paper. And whilst you might say that is obvious if it is a landscape or a still life or something graphic, for me and my background, ideas are always at the heart. I think I see myself as image making when it comes to painting. Rather than a straight interpretation of a real place I tend to approach it a bit more imaginatively. I don’t necessarily want to paint exactly what I see, I want to paint what I think I see, although the starting point is usually something real. I tend to extract elements out and use them in a slightly more abstract and graphic way and because I always drew, even as a graphic designer, I used to sketch my ideas out and technology was only ever a supporting tool, it was never anything more than a means to an end. I always had to start with some kind of thought process.”
Kirkmichael Village Church’ painting by Andrew Hunter
“I use simply everything you could think of! From pen and ink to oil paints to acrylic to water colour. It is what moves me and what I think will best translate the subject matter to my satisfaction. I’ll sometimes paint things in several different materials before I’m satisfied. I’m actually quite good at burning what I don’t like when I’ve done it – there’s usually a seasonal burning and because I sometimes paint on little blocks of wood – rather eccentric looking chicken portraits, if they don’t work out they go in the fire! These days though, I don’t waste as much as I used to.”
Andrew at work in his studio
Has the subject matter that interests you changed over your career? “Yes, I would say it has. Because of where I live landscapes are obviously all around me, and I Iove painting landscapes but also I am quite a focused person and I like selling my paintings and there are an awful lot of landscape painters out there. I think that if I specialised in landscape that would be fine but I don’t, I paint all sorts of different things and I tend not to paint local landscapes so much as to go in to the landscape and come back with some thoughts and then come up with an idea that captures the essence of the landscape. I’m obsessed, when it comes to landscapes, with atmosphere, I don’t actually find blue sky and a beautiful day inspiring to paint, I a prefer a bit of drama.”
‘Hen Party’, painting by Andrew Hunter
What is it about a completed piece of work that makes you feel most satisfied? “I did a piece when I came back from Cornwall (see immediately below) which is the drawing together of several different elements which kind of hit me when I went down there. The stones in the harbours were extraordinary, quite different from what I had seen anywhere else. They are just enormous and beautifully put together and I thought they were rather wonderful. And then the old boats were easy because everybody loves these old sail boats, but the little houses perched on top, none of it is exactly as I saw it it is how I saw it in my mind. It kind of has a resonance with me which captures what left a strong memory in my mind. Likewise, when I was in Switzerland it was the little houses perched on these incredibly steep hillsides that leaves the memory and the sketches that I made weren’t actually based on my trip to Switzerland because I actually put them into snow and it was summertime!”
‘Harbour’ painting by Andrew Hunter
How has your creativity shaped you as a person – the choices you’ve made for example, the values that you hold? “In many ways it is very satisfying life for me and I could have made more of my career as a businessman if I hadn’t been so devoted to creativity. If I had actually taken my hands off the creativity side and concentrated on being more commercial, I would probably have made more money, but I would not have been so satisfied and I’ve made various career jumps which must have made people think, well ‘why did he do that’? I left a very, successful design business in Edinburgh and joined a very, small young business at the peak of the one that was doing so well because I grew to dislike the administration and the desire to only make money and I enjoyed a further 10 years of great satisfaction. I’ve always lived in the country and worked in the city rather than the other way around. I’ve always loved that time gap between leaving home and getting to the office because you can sort most things out in your head.”
Who are you inspired by? “I have various people I admire. There are various landscape painters I really admire, the West Coast painters Ethel Walker and Francis Macdonald. If I go back, I met a very famous artist who I actually commissioned to do some work for me when I was a designer called Paul Hogarth who was an RA but also an illustrator as well. He illustrated all Graham Greene’s book covers. But he was a great landscape painter but very quirky as well and I like quirky. I think quirky is fun and if you can add something to a painting that makes people laugh or smile then I think you have achieved quite a lot. That’s what I do with my chickens.”
How long have you lived on the Cateran Trail and what drew you here and makes you stay? “We moved from East Lothian, from a beautiful 15thc Tower House in Haddington and then a friend of ours who used to live here, the writer Jamie Jauncey happened to be selling this house and we bought it from him. And we just fell in love with it and even though it turned our lives upside down because I kept working in Edinburgh and stayed with a friend during the week, it all worked out fine. And we wanted our children to have a less restrictive lifestyle, to be not affected by living in a town and they all love it. What is special about Strathardle which is where we are is its fantastic contrast of sometimes feeling incredibly isolated and miles from anywhere – you could, especially in the winter time – be in Russia but actually it is only 25 minutes to Pitlochry. It is a real landscape of contrasts. I’m forever painting the landscape looking toward Bein A’Glo. I’ve done Kirkmichael village which has been very successful, but I’m afraid I’ve had to be rather destructive and I’ve torn down some buildings and changed the shape of one or two but it still looks like Kirkmichael – well you can do that without planning permission if you are an artist!”
Winter’s Visitors, painting by Andrew Hunter
There are a lot of artists and craft people who live around the Trail and you are Vice Chair of POS which is one of the biggest showcases of work in the area – can you tell us a bit about POS and what it is trying to achieve? “Well POS is going to celebrate its 10th year next year which is pretty good. It is incredibly hard work making it happen at all, mainly because not enough people are prepared to put their hands up and join in which is a real shame. The organisation exists entirely because of those members who are prepared to commit themselves. We are over subscribed with artists, there is no trouble getting artists, there is only trouble in getting enough artists to say I would really like to help. Some help to do small things but the big things end up being done by two or three people of which I am one and we are struggling to find replacements. I’ve been doing it for 6 years now and I think these organisations survive on the basis of those committed and if there is nobody there then there is no organisation. But we get support from Perth & Kinross Council as well. POS started with 80 artists participating and this year it is 140 and actually in many ways we would quite like to restrict it if we can, but despite these challenges, it’s a great thing and it inspires a lot of people and there are lots of new people moving in and wanting to get involved. Fresh faces are great. We’re going to be celebrating the 10th anniversary next year with various special events, so look out for those!”
Andrew in his kitchen
What is your dream for the Cateran Trail’s creative community – what would you like to see developed, paid more attention to, invested in? “I think (you would expect this from me) there should be some more visibility for the Cateran Trail. Too often people just stumble over it. The branding work I have done with you for the Cateran’s Common Wealth project might be able to help in this perhaps. My wife and I did a lot of walking in Switzerland and the wayfinding is fantastic. All over Europe they paint marks on stones – its called the Grande Randonnees (GR routes ) and you can walk through parts of Paris and follow the same painted stones, they are right across Europe and are like several pilgrim routes, and OK, it is a bit brutal just seeing a big splash of red or red and white or whatever which is what they’ve done, but they consistently do it and re-apply it and tidy it up so that people don’t get lost and the fundamental idea behind that is I think very good and I think it could be done without it getting in the way of people’s senses thinking ‘Oh this is man applying something that is spoiling the landscape’. I think you could do it in another way which would help people think ‘Oh, I’m on something here, I’m on the Cateran Trail.’ If you make the Trail more visible and if you link that to those around the Trail who are making things or building things or selling things, there’s a way of doing things which doesn’t need to be overtly commercial.”
‘Ducks, one, two and three’ painting by Andrew Hunter
We’re living in pretty tumultuous times right now and many folk are worried and anxious about their future and their children’s future. Climate change, political uncertainty, terrorism … what role do you think artists have in helping people navigate these stormy waters? “Well the ferries from Europe to the UK are completely booked up according to a German student I was talking to yesterday so we must offering something that people want here at least! I believe one can always think of ways of turning any problem into something positive. And yes there are artists who have a political approach to their work and who are devoted to changing people’s ideas by the way they paint but they tend to paint things you wouldn’t want to personally own! I think that creativity is a great way of resolving issues in yourself. You were just saying that you felt that on a good day arts and culture have great capacity to do three very powerful things; bring people together, challenge the status quo and create spaces – both physical and in your head – where you can imagine that anything is possible and I agree with you. Art has no boundaries and also there are no limitations to how you express things. You see that chicken up there on the shelf? That is a present from a friend of mine. I gave her one of my wooden blocks with a painting of a chicken on it as a gift and she has turned it into a small scale tapestry and given it back to me as a gift!”
Misty Trees’ painting by Andrew Hunter
Andrew was interviewed at his home in Enochdhu in August 2016 by Clare Cooper, Co-Producer of the Cateran’s Common Wealth initiative.