Current Project (The Human Condition)
Up until now I hadn’t settled on a final piece for my summer project. The theme was identity/the human condition.
I had explored many options that included:
– Installation piece made from my own hair influenced by Samantha Scott. The hair was taken from my hairbrush over the five month period. This was then manipulated with wire into circular shapes.
– Digital graphic pieces inspired by Lynn Henderson’s photo manipulation techniques. I had taken photos of both my hand and feet and created what looked like symmetrical patterns. The were actually asymmetrical but gave the appearance of being symmetrical – emphasising the view that most people assume the body is perfect and symmetrical when really it is anything but.
– Abstract maps of streets and monuments I grew up around inspired by Annegret Soltau’s lines in her work.
David Pithie and the Barred Gate
All of these bodies of work I had followed had kept me interested for some time, but after a few weeks I lost momentum with the ideas. They seemed alright when I had first started them, but for me there lacked a certain depth to the project which I had felt in every previous project I had executed.
I had recently been to visit the Duncan of Jordanstone Master’s Degree show and had been inspired by the artist Issy Valentine. Her exhibition was about objects from the past and we had talked about the effect of connecting the past to the present to make it more accessible.
With this in mind I decided to try a fresh approach and asked my Grandmother for a copy of my family tree on her side. I had never seen it, and she produced a piece of paper which dated back to 1849. At the top left hand side of the sheet there was the title ‘Panmure May 18th 1874’ (I later learned this referred to the Panmure Estate which stretches from Carnoustie to Arbroath and is 14,000 acres.)
The first entry read ‘David Pithie Married on May 7th 1849 To Catherine D. Williamson.’ Not only was this quite a remarkable record in itself, but the declaration was actually written by David Pithie (my great, great, great Grandfather.) I was somewhat overwhelmed by seeing handwriting from 140 years ago, and not only that but it belonged to my relatives, my ancestors.
My Grandmother then proceeded to tell me that he lived in one of the lodging houses at the Panmure estate. I had been past this iconic site many times and I had absolutely no idea. In the 1800’s he worked for the Baron on the Forestry commission and was responsible for the grounds and the surrounding area.
She then proceeded to tell me this tale which was passed down from him through the generations:
“Rumour is there is a gate in there which is locked indefinitely. The Baron shut the gate behind Bonnie Prince Charlie when he left for the Battle of Culloden and stated he would not open it until a King of the Stewart line was on the throne . Of course, we know that the battle of Culloden did not go favourably for Bonnie Prince Charlie and he was exiled. Hence, the gate never opened.”
I was fascinated by this. What was the ‘Panmure Estate’ is now broken up into various plots owned by farmers and is not open to the public. In fact, as recently as the 60’s and 70’s if you were caught on the Panmure estate you would literally be chased off the property by a gamekeeper with a gun, who assumed you were a poacher.
I didn’t know if the law had changed since then but I wanted to find out.
I grabbed my camera and drove up to the Panmure Lodging houses. To my surprise, the gate in the middle was open. I had assumed this was the gate that had been locked. On second inspection I realised it couldn’t be, because the lodging houses had been modernised and rented out and the only access to the front doors was through the gate. Still, it was pretty impressive to see where my great (x3) Grandad had lived.
The houses were clearly occupied so I knocked on the doors to see if any of them knew where the barred gate was. There was no answer at both of the houses which left me stuck as I had no idea where to even start looking for the gate in such a large area. There was a long impressive road leading down to where the Panmure house would have been (it was demolished in 1955.) I was going to walk down here in search for the barred gate, but it seemed too obvious- I didn’t want to get told to move off the property before i’d even had a chance to look. I started to regret not having phoned up whatever authority ran this place, to get permission to wander about.
Deciding that this was a dead end I started driving around the walled borders, looking for any possible entrances into the estate. There were a few openings but these were barred and just led into the dense forest.
Eventually I came across a driveway which looked like it led a considerable distance. I went and knocked on the door of the first house. A man answered, and I explained my intentions for the project and asked if he happened to know where this gate was. To my amazement he gave me specific directions which involved driving up the path, taking a left and parking at a bridge. I also asked him if I was allowed to just wander about freely. His answer was:
“I can’t say that. I just live in this house. But, you know, it’s a free country, walk where you want.”
Needless to say, this was good enough permission for me and I got back in the car and followed his directions, determined to find this gate.
Arriving at the bridge I had to stop and park because there was a barrier preventing me from driving any further as the bridge was unsafe for traffic. I was definitely off the beaten track here, I had passed maybe three small farm houses on the way. This bridge was known (as I later found out) as the Montague bridge and was built in 1854, a mere 20 years before my Great (x3) Grandfather had started the family tree.
Initially I thought the bridge ran over a small burn or brook, but peering in-between the castle-like walls I soon realised I was very high up, and that the bridge spanned a deep gully with a small river flowing underneath.
I continued to follow the path up and around a corner. The wilderness was so unlike anything I had come across – far denser than any of the local wildlife parks. The path continued on for about half a mile. Luckily, it was a hazy sunny Sunday so I was in no hurry. There were several large conifers the towered at the side of the pathway, I could easily imagine a carriage with several horses trotting down on their way to the great house. The was forest so dense it lead into nothing but black and at the side there were mushrooms taller than the length of my arm. There was no other human on the road at that point, just a family of Pheasants and the odd rabbit. The land stretched on for miles in every direction and was only broken up by a forked path here and there, a derelict farmhouse or a fallen tree. It was obvious this land had barely been touched since the 1800’s – these are the same paths David Pithie would have walked. I felt a great sense of connection to my heritage.
After about a mile of wandering and guessing which way to go at forked roads, I had to admit I was lost. Luckily I could see a man in the distance who looked like a rambler and waited until he caught up with me – maybe he would know where the gate was. I noticed he was carrying something cupped in his hands – a baby Pheasant. “Usually they are injured “ he explained, “but this one looks in good health. I just found him on the path up there by himself. I’m going to drop him off at one of the houses with chicken coops, maybe they can raise him there.” He recognised immediately that I did not live in one of the houses in the surrounding area. He was a contractor, and had been working on restoring the buildings up here for quite some time. I explained my project and asked him if he knew where the the gate was. He said he was heading that was anyway and would show me.
During the time we walked he told me of some of the history of the area. The large house had been blown up by the government during the war, because there were too many windows to pay the tax the government set. The house itself was built according to the calendar. There were 12 windows on every side, 365 steps, 52 doors and so on.
We stop on the way by a loveseat. He tells me that there were two built diagonally opposite each other over the gully, so in the 18oo’s the woman could sit and watch while their men went hunting. I couldn’t help wonder if David Pithie had sat on this seat before.
Eventually we reached a narrower path which led up to a house. I wondered where we were going until we turned the corner and right in front of me was the Barred Gate. I thanked the man (of whom I never did get the name of) and made my way up to the gate. It was almost a magical moment and I can imagine this must have been what Mary Lennox felt when she discovered the Secret Garden. The gate was much larger than I had anticipated, and sure enough it was locked. The detail was wonderful on the iron work, stems of roses climbed up the sides and bloomed at the height. Tall grass covered the bottom, trapping the gate in the ground. It was a beautiful gate, no doubt and I can only wonder what it was like when it had been used. It was strange to think Bonnie Prince Charlie had walked through these gates and now I was standing next to them. David Pithie probably stood here as well, wondering if they would be opened in his lifetime, and now i’m wondering the same.
This project has given me a greater insight and connection to my heritage and my geographical identity. I intend to continue this project in my own time with the other areas of the Panmure estate I have yet to visit.
My final pieces were a series of photographs I abstracted and manipulated to convey my initial intrigue and the mystery of the area. You can view them here: The Panmure Series