NuArt Aberdeen

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A couple of weeks ago I jetted off to Scotland for some professional development. My school is incredibly supportive when it comes to continuing our learning and I couldn’t appreciate it more. In the fall, I joined a ragtag bunch of a dozen art teachers stationed throughout Europe. When we met up in Luxembourg, we traded lesson ideas and did some place-based learning, taking in the city and making it our studio. Rubbings, painting sessions, and street sticker grabs fill my journal from that weekend.

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Jeane (Norway) and Nicolina (Aberdeen)

This time, the group met up in Aberdeen, Scotland, for the kick-off weekend of the NuArt Aberdeen Festival. In the weeks prior, street artists the world over had descended upon this industrial northern Scottish town to make their mark. Throughout the weekend, I had the chance to see many of them speak on a number of topics from elderly engagement in the arts to tagging to contemporary outdoor museums.

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The glorious Easter weather was well worth the travel. The granite architecture in Aberdeen means the town is spared the dusted look of Edinburgh, where softer stone is prolific. But this graveyard was straight up as mossy as the picture turned out.

Only three years young, NuArt Aberdeen blossomed out of the annual NuArt Festival in Stavanger, Norway. Another industrial city on the sea, Stavanger has been host to this street art festival since 2001. Aberdeen invests substantial funds to entice top name street artists to their city by the sea. The festival has made Aberdeen a bit of a street art Mecca. The official map of murals and paintings number just over 30 but there must be dozens more by lesser known artists.

Another art teacher and I set out to visit the works like a scavenger hunt and it took nearly two days and I still missed quite a few. I got to know the work of HUSH, Dotmaster, Jan Vormann, and Evol, to name a few. To hear more about these murals and the artists who created them, check this out.

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This mural, perhaps my favorite, was created by Portuguese artist Add Fuel, a name I found pretty apropos considering Aberdeen’s place in the oil industry.
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In front of the work of Helen Bur on Greyfriars House, Gallowgate

On the day I was departing Moscow, I was eating breakfast in the cafeteria with a number of Scottish colleagues. Upon mentioning I was flying to Aberdeen that evening, one of them mentioned the new V&A outpost which had opened in Dundee (if you’re not familiar, the Victoria & Albert Museum is an extremely revered museum in London). Excited not to waste such an opportunity, I hopped a train my first morning in Aberdeen and rode it an hour south to Dundee.

The ride itself was gorgeous, beginning alongside the frigid waters of the North Sea and bobbing in and out of farmland dressed with stone walls. The museum proved impressive in range, hosting a “best of Scottish design” show alongside a show on video games and digital literacy in the age of e-sports (a term I’ve only encountered recently from my students).

Back in Aberdeen, our group spent time at the International School Aberdeen, a lush campus about 15 minutes from downtown featuring modern architecture and top rate educational tools. I can understand why the overseas faculty never leave!

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One of the coolest things about my time in Aberdeen was the chance to see one of the huge murals come to life. SMUG’s mural on The Green was sweet enough but thanks to our local chapter member, we had dinner in a cabin in the middle of it all, watching the whole process go down.

Aberdeen proved a charming little town. A little rough around the edges, it’s burgeoning art scene is boosted by start ups like Peacock Visual Arts, a small gallery and extensive print studio. With spots like Books and Beans (which I frequented daily for breakfast), there’s a lot to love about downtown.

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With local pubs like Ma Cameron’s (obvi partial) and BrewDog, there are pints for the taking.

 

Though the festival events weren’t overly attended, the seven of us ate it up. Reinvigorated, I returned to my classroom ready to take on our next printmaking unit – protest posters – and put the inspiration and stencil skills to good use. Up next, I’m awaiting my aunt’s arrival in Moscow tomorrow. A trip to St. Pete’s is planned as well as the promise of more local Moscow sights to share with all of you.

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This about sums up the weekend. Hoppy Easter! Great crew – Petr (Prague), Nicolina, and Ryan (Zurich).
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Skye

When I last left you, we were headed west, beyond Fort Cameron to the coast where a multitude of little islands and inlets create Scotland’s western shoreline.

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Incoming! at the Port of Mallaig

From the Port of Mallaig, we hopped a quick ferry across the Sound of Sleat. It was a chilly crossing on the upper deck but the mountainous shorelines were too pretty to view from inside.

Arriving in Armadale, we wove our way up the coast, stopping at roadside stands and enjoying the views of the idyllic countryside, sheep and all. We made our way about an hour north to Portree, another port town. On my brother’s advice, we chose to make Portree our home base on the Isle of Skye as it’s the most populated and there’s actually something to do there past 6pm.

Katie overlooking Portree harbor
My new scarf, purchased locally due to the chill in the air – the color matching the blue-grey sky.
Mussels at Sea Breezes Restaurant – highly recommended but always make a reservation!

The next morning, on the advice of our innkeeper, we set off to complete the northern loop of the island, the forefinger on the map below, if you will. Her one warning to us – you must have nerve to drive the loop. We deemed ourselves up to the challenge.

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The loop turned out to be a 3+ hour adventure drive, with many single lanes (remember – driving on the left!) and incredible ocean vistas. We opted to stop numerous times along the way, enjoying the ragged cliffs and enjoying a picnic lunch. Excitingly, scientists have recently discovered dinosaur tracks along this stretch of land. Though we saw no evidence, it is possible to imagine jurassic beasts roaming this epic landscape.

Nesting grounds for seabirds – I’m told these were bunting

As we only had one full day on Skye, we next opted to drive about 45 minutes southwest of Portree to view the Glen Brittle Fairy Pools. One thing to note on Skye – you cannot rely solely on GPS as you quickly become rural and signal disappears.

 

The Fairy Pools proved the perfect chance to stretch our legs and hike the fairly easy 1.5km path into the falls themselves.

Rust colored markings on the rock face accented the falls against the rich chocolate-brown earth.

The surrounding mountains reminded me of the Colorado Rockies.

With the olive-toasted grass not yet in bloom, the purple heather mountains looked as soft as velvet against the moody April sky.

After another self-made pub crawl, this time through Portree, we awoke the next morning to warm temperatures and beautiful sunshine. We opted to head south to Armadale Harbor and get in line for the ferry. With shops and restaurants harborside, there was plenty to do despite a departure delay for our ferry.

Incredible day on the water and an easy ride back to the Port of Mallaig.

From Mallaig, we drove back to Fort Cameron, this time opting to stay the night and explore what the area had to offer. We toured the Ben Nevis Whiskey Brewery, guided by a local Cameron (my dad’s family’s heritage). We learned about the use of the fresh mountain waters found above town and sampled a 30-year-old vintage.

Katie opted for the full flight.

Fort Cameron seemed pretty built up and a bit touristy but the loch across from our hotel was lovely at sunset.

 

Our final day provided the only steady rain of the trip for which we felt lucky as April in Scotland is not known for beautiful weather. We drove out of the Highlands through the Glencoe region, which I’d love to return to someday. More beautiful roadside vistas enhanced by epic cloud cover made the drive worth it.

Just south of Glencoe – the lake’s silver shimmer was more spectacular than the photo lets on.

Stopping at Stirling Castle, the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots, we thoroughly enjoyed our digital tour of the newly renovated halls. I was delighted to find that Stirling was the original home of the famed Unicorn tapestries, a focus of study in my college Art History courses.

The Castle commissioned the painstakingly accurate recreation of the original tapestries, numbering seven panels in total.
Coats of Arms in gorgeous stained glass in the massive dining hall.
Epic battles played out at Stirling, with the Castle changing hands multiple times throughout the ages. One such battle included the famed William Wallace and a monument to him stands on the hill across the valley, visible from the Castle walls.

Back in Edinburgh, we were joined by a good friend of mine from Medfield. She hopped a train up from Newcastle and we throughly enjoyed our final, foggy night in Edinburgh.

Though I was sad to say goodbye to Scotland, I look forward to returning and continuing to explore. It’s a truly gorgeous place with many hidden gems left to discover.

The Scottish Highlands

Spring has sprung in Moscow. The sun is on the horizon until nearly 9pm and tennis season is in full swing. Per usual, time is flying and it barely seems possible that only two weeks ago I was in Scotland.

My friend Katie and I had been planning this trip for nearly a year – she’s a fan of the TV show Outlander and I was interested in seeing where the MacPherson side of my family came from. I’d spent a couple of days in Edinburgh a few years back and was really excited to explore into the Highlands.

We started back in Edinburgh, where we enjoyed dinner at the Queen’s Arms. It was a rainy, chilly night when we arrived in town and the pub proved a perfect spot to celebrate the start of vacation.

The next day we headed north, with the gradual crawl into the mountains reminding me of my drives to college up into Vermont. However, this time I was driving manual on the wrong side of the road! I was up for the challenge and once we hit the mountainous incline, the views proved the perfect distraction.

Our first stop was Newtonmore, population 982. Two hours north of Edinburgh, Newtonmore’s downtown consists of a single shop-lined strip which can be walked end-to-end in approximately 10 minutes. The views and the warm-hearted townspeople make this little town a true treasure.

The unfiltered beauty of the small town loch. Also the site of our first introduction to Jeff the dog and his owners. We ran into Jeff repeatedly over our three days in town.

We walked the Wildcat Trail, encircling the town, on a crisp and clear April morning.

Rising quickly in elevation, the trail provided stunning views as we passed through local farmers’ fields, alongside many a sheep. Katie likes to say that our hike came to an end when I stepped in a large cow patty which is, though not the full story, fairly accurate.

Spotted in the local cemetery – another MacPherson/Cameron pairing, like my own parents.

The Wildcat Trail – quite a tourist attraction, so we’re told – also features over thirty sculptures of the famed local feline, all decorated by the local school children. The Where’s Waldo of Newtonmore, cats can be spotted everywhere from rooftops to stream side. Here’s one at the local diner, below. Katie’s face reminds us that no matter where you go in town, there is most definitely a wildcat watching you.

The real impetuous of our trip to Newtonmore was to visit the Clan MacPherson Museum. Many in my family have made the trek and I was eager to explore for myself.

Housed in the old town post office, the Museum has expanded over the years and is host to the annual Clan Gathering in August.
Found in the registry of visitors – entries from my brother and cousin. The MacPherson pride runs deep.

The Museum was an intense experience – so much information, such a cheerful curator (dressed in a kilt). We took a few hours to take it all in and I pieced together some of the history I had heard from Grandad over the years. The visit was somewhat bittersweet as I would have loved to have shared what I saw with him in person.

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Further evidence of the family legacy at the Highland Folk Museum. Doug – future career move?

While in Newtonmore, we did manage to complete perhaps the only pub crawl in the history of the town (self-designed), stopping at all three available establishments, at least one of which could surely be considered “dodgy”. The town proved a true highlight of the trip, definitely more than we’d bargained for. And, after a few quiet days, we were off again – this time headed to Mallaig to catch the ferry to the Isle of Skye…

The viaduct leading into the Bay of Mallaig.