This week was a good week. I finally started to get a sense of exactly how I want to frame my book about Iona. Sometimes you just need some clarity from an objective source, and in this case it happened to come from my dear friend Eden. After 20 years of friendship I guess she isn’t totally objective, but I trust her creative opinion. Eden is very good at identifying when I am employing my incredibly proficient skills at complicating things. In this case, she kindly told me to abandon the rocky path I have been currently stumbling along for the sake of another that feels a bit more solid and capable of leading me to my desired destination.
So this week I started in on the small vignettes I’ll be writing to go along with all my paintings created in the months that I lived on Iona. Wee stories that give you glimpses into what inspired me to capture each scene with pen and ink and watercolor. Today I’m going to share a story about Jane’s house. I look forward to sharing a few more with you as the book takes shape.
I pass Jane’s house every time I walk back to the hostel. Its stark white structure looks out over the sea, defiant and solitary as it withstands the winter wind and storms that sweep along the Hebrides. On one particular afternoon, I made my way along the rocky beach below the house and realized that I needed to traverse up through Jane’s property to escape being trapped by barbwire fences. I picked my way through the sheep dotting the landscape and managed to find the gate that would lead me back onto the lone road that graces Iona. I struck up a conversation with one of Jane’s neighbors who happened to be walking her dog. In this particular conversation I learned that Jane’s house has a rich history.
Before I ever arrived on Iona, I spent about a week in Edinburgh and Glasgow. One of the things that can be simultaneously wonderful and overwhelming about travel is the sheer amount of museums that are available to the art-minded sightseer. Personally, I love small museums. Museums that are easy to digest and allow the viewer to enter into the pieces on exhibit, rather than feel the weight of all the rooms as yet unseen. The Hunterian Art Gallery on the grounds of the University of Glasgow is a perfect example as it is the perfect size. It boasts a wonderful collection of works by the Glasgow Boys, Whistler and many others. A few of the paintings in the museum were created by Scottish Colorists Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe. These paintings are views off the north end of Iona, and are views I also grew to love in the time I spent there. I learned that from about 1912 until at least 1933 Cadell visited Iona virtually every summer, where he produced vibrant seascapes and landscapes. Peploe started joining him in 1920 and they enjoyed commercial success with the pictures they painted from the shores of the island.
What I discovered in my conversation that particular morning on the road, is that Cadell and Peploe had rented Jane’s house every summer they lived on Iona. The next day I returned to the grassy hill above the house and sat with my body facing north and sketched until my fingers froze. I was mesmerized by the very same light and colors that these long ago artists were, and there is something about that type of experience that always pulls me out of the moment and into history.
Even though Jane’s house has been renovated and added to in the century since Cadell started his first painting there, I can still imagine him out in the grass near the garden, paints at the ready. I see his forehead furrowed in concentration, eager to capture the ethereal beauty that lay at his feet. And I am quiet. I don’t want to disturb him. The light moves quickly, and it is time to work.