Issue 206
Winter 2018/19

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Apr 18, 2019

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Diary of an (earnest) late developer

Politician, hotelier (she co-founded Ullapool's iconic Ceilidh Place) and now artist, Jean Urquhart maps the route that has led her to Shetland and a Fine Art degree course there.…

'SERO, SED SERIO' – Late but in Earnest – is the motto of Newbattle Abbey College, Scotland's only adult residential college that I attended for a year in 2000/01.

I mention this because 18 years later the diploma award has come in useful. At the time I attended the college it was to learn something, anything really, and to know if I was capable of study (I left school when I was fifteen) but without thought of any further education.

Early work: 'Tiny fish washed up on Levenwick Beach'

The previous 28 years I'd spent working in the Ceilidh Place (see advert in this esteemed journal) and I had a real need of change. Not forever, but for discovery.

I mention that time because it was the start of realising that it's possible to do anything if you have mind to. I realise that I did nothing momentous like climbing Everest or becoming Prime Minister, but at the time it was a life changing experience for me. And I also have to say, not only because I learned a great deal from the different tutors, but I was learning with a diverse and interesting group of people, all of us, late, but earnest.

I have been lucky in my life to have always worked with or been around artists. Designers, painters, musicians, writers and actors were, it seemed, interpreters of life and creative thinkers – and good craic in the bar!

Early in the 90s Eleanor and Peter White started Bridge House Art school in Ullapool, an enlightened, ambitious development. After my Newbattle experience I was determined to enrol on the Portfolio Course.

I was thrilled to accept the offer of a place (there's much competition) on the course over the winter of 2003/4. But it wasn't to be. Unexpectedly I became the local elected member of Highland Council. I relinquished my place on the art course, but assured Eleanor that I would be back. Politics curbed that ambition until 2016.

From 2011 I was regularly working in Shetland and by 2012 I knew that I would live here. I had of course never intended to move from Ullapool; but the pull of Shetland was immense. It is the most atmospheric, scenic and international of places and I was inspired by its history, culture, geography and by the people I met here. I flitted from Ullapool to Shetland in January 2015.

I finally completed the Bridge House art course in March 2017. Like Newbattle, it was another good experience and I discovered that I wanted to paint; to be a painter. How to do that? Undoubtedly, there was a way to go.

Back in Shetland. Back to an amazing summer. Weeks of warm sunshine, hedgerows thick with colourful wild flowers, hedgehogs, the Shetland bee (it is very beautiful) orcas, seals and otters. In September I enrolled on the Portfolio Course at Shetland College. Back to school, surrounded by talented, spirited, eighteen year olds determined to make irresistible portfolios to take them on to one of Scotland's art schools and away from Shetland. I loved it and I was again learning much from my fellow students.

I am now embarked on a Fine Art Degree Course with the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI). The Newbattle Diploma gave me access and there is no age or fee barrier to attending university here, for which I am really grateful.

I am inspired by the young people that I am learning with (and from). Inspired by the 50 minute bus journey along one of the most stunning coast lines in Britain.

Inspired by tutors at the beginning of delivering a degree course (only now in its third year).

Inspired by the light and the dark; in winter my walk of half a mile to and from the bus-stop requires a head torch and sometimes a wind-proof waterproof.

Inspired by the dramatic geo's, voe's, islands, ruins, landscape, seascape, fish, sheep, birds, architecture, flora, artists, poets, Sunday teas, festivals, music, knitting, sunrise and sunsets, light all night, reestit mutton – and the politics of it all.

Late, but in Earnest (still)

The Perfect Gift! New Scotland's Stations - Northern Books

"A wealth of insider information" - Scots Magazine
"Immersive and informative" - The Courier
"This beautifully illustrated guide" - RIAS Journal
"Many great pictures" - Scottish Field

ArtWork Special Bundles - A Trio of Entertaining Volumes

An extensive new preface by the Ross Herald of Arms, Charles Bunnett, Chamberlain of Duff House