This exhibition is dedicated to my late Grandfather Albert Murray MacLeod from whom I
inherited my desire for knowledge and my love of history
The ancient Celts, Norse and Beothuk people who gave us a great and diverse cultural
ANCESTRAL HOMES PROJECT
Ancestral Homes and Vinland Series
The Ancestral Homes Project
My journey of exploration into my Celtic and Norse roots began in 1999 when I received the William Blair Bruce European Travel Scholarship from the Canadian-Scandinavian Foundation and a second travel grant from The Canada Council for the Arts. These grants enabled me to travel to Norway to research my Norse heritage in the Viking period. My early ancestors—‘the sons of Leod’ (which translates from old Norse as the ‘sons of the ugly’)—colonized and then integrated into the Celtic culture and landscape of my Scottish ancestors on the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides, at one time a Norse stronghold.
After my experiences in Norway I went on to study the Icelander, Greenlander and Vinland Sagas and my Ancestral Homes project took shape. This series has since become a long-term, three phase adventure which began in Scandinavia (Ancestral Homes Series phase I), moved on to Scotland (Scottish Memory Series phase II) and brought me finally to Newfoundland (Vinland Series phase III).
As history has been a major component of my research with this series, I consulted and studied from many literary and scholarly sources, most notably, A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones, The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings by Peter Sawyer, Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga by the Smithsonian and Natural Museum of History, Viking Scotland by Anna Ritchie, and The Vikings by Tre Trycare. I also read Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine’s The Viking Discovery of America, as well as an exhibition catalogue for the Full Circle First Contact: Vikings and Skralings in Newfoundland and Labrador exhibition. I used this as reference material for both Beothuk and Norse artifacts. Passages from Farley Mowat’s Westviking, the Vinland Saga and Bernard Assiniwi’s The Beothuk Saga were used to highlight particular works.
This collective work, surveys the history of Norse and Celts in Scotland and the Europeans’ ‘First Contact’ with the indigenous peoples of Canada, proving that there is no pure race, but rather, that we are apart of a greater whole comprised of a myriad of cultures and traditions.
G. Scott MacLeod
Montreal, October, 2007
Ancestral Homes Series - Phase I (Scandinavia)
In Phase I of my Ancestral Homes Series I studied and documented site-specific locations in Scandinavia and Scotland where my ancestors left their mark as they migrated into the cultures and landscapes of the North Atlantic. In this work I explored my predecessors to better interpret their and my own personal meaning. This investigation into my family line intertwines with my painting experience, personal mythology and ancestry. I have used the Viking long ship as an archetype to depict the movement of my Viking ancestors. Entering the exhibition is like entering the last thousand years of my ancestral time line. The aim of this work is to illustrate the integration of my Celtic and Norse ancestry from Norway to Scotland. In the process I emphasize the cultural diversity of my Scottish heritage, pointing out that no culture is pure but rather a composite of many different cultures.
Scottish Memory Series – Ancestral Homes Phase II (Scotland)
My Scottish Memory Series was inspired by my Grandfather and Grandmother’s (Albert MacLeod and Margaret Gillespie) trip to Scotland in 1971. One of my Grandfather’s motivations for that trip was to locate the descendants of our distant relatives Malcolm MacLeod (1834-1879) and Ann MacIver (1830-1926) from the Isle of Lewis. Years ago my Grandmother gave me my Grandfather’s travel diaries and photographs from this journey. These diaries motivated me to produce a series of wood constructions referencing the Picts and their assimilation into the Scottish genealogical landscape. I also produced a series of encaustic and oil landscapes of different regions of Scotland and some of the places my Grandparents visited—Aberdeen, Inverness, Stornoway and Skye. The reason for calling these paintings a ‘memory series’ is two-fold: first, to honour the memory of my Grandparents and second, to celebrate my Scottish-Norse ancestry. Technically the work is derived from photographs in oil and encaustic on canvas and panel. The palette is inspired by the cool hues of the North Atlantic Ocean, with the exception of some images from the Northern islands of Orkney and the Shetlands where the light and sunsets can be very dramatic because of their latitude.
Vinland Series - Ancestral Homes Phase III (Vinland Newfoundland)
In my Vinland Series, I created a series of drawings and paintings that were reminiscent of old vellum manuscripts, in which I chronicled the stories of the Beothuk and Norse people at ‘First Contact’, when Beothuk and the Norse first encountered each other around 1000 CE at the L’Anse Aux Meadows site on the northern tip of Newfoundland. This site is considered by some the Vinland of the Icelandic Sagas http://www.pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows/index_e.asp. In these drawings and paintings I have chosen key passages from the Vinland and Beothuk Sagas depicting their first meetings. I then illustrated these excerpts with figurines and artifacts, which I felt reflected both peoples, celebrating their lingering essence from the artifacts http://www.civilization.ca/cmc/archeo/cvh/neuf/v67-28.htm and regalia I studied. I also took the liberty of writing my own “last testament” passages to give a narrative voice to the moments and objects I was depicting. The aim of this work is to celebrate both the Beothuk and Norse legacies ceremoniously and to carry their voices into this century, as their time is ours to learn from. I believe their voices should not be forgotten. I created the Vinland series during my residency at the Pouch Cove Foundation in Newfoundland during the month of April 2005.
A Scandinavian and Scottish cultural lineage research project dealing with home and ancestry.
Responding to and using images and materials gathered from research on historic sites in Scandinavia and Scotland, notably the Island of Gotland, but a many others sites and sources as well, Scott MacLeod has produced a body of work that explores his own northern Scottish identity and its relation to Viking history. The links between these two northern cultures are well established, as for instance on the Orkney or Shetland Islands, but the same is true for the Outer Hebrides from whence MacLeod’s ancestors came to Canada. From north to north to north - Scandinavia to Scotland to Canada - the natural links of geography, climate, build cultural links between northern cultures, this could in part explain the widespread emigration of Scottish peoples to Canada. The Vikings, who traveled so extensively are a bridge linking MacLeod’s ancestral roots in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland with the Nordic races of Scandinavia. The link to Canada is in the early Viking crossings of the Atlantic Ocean by way of Iceland to northernmost Newfoundland a thousand years ago. Interestingly, for a long time our history books failed to recognize the fact that Cabot and Columbus were not the first Europeans to visit North America. Indeed recent evidence of Viking visits in Canada’s north that predates the well-known finds in northernmost Newfoundland are causing contemporary archaeologists to re-evaluate the history of early Viking travel to North America.
Scott MacLeod’s Ancestral Homes Scandinavian and Scottish lineage project has resulted in a series of works exploring such subjects as ancient bronze age sites on the island of Gotland, documentation of a Viking woman’s burial site at Gurness in Scotland, ancient Christian manuscript depictions of Viking ships, and the varied shapes and styles of Viking ships in Scandinavia. While at first MacLeod’s work involved recreating these sites and events in watercolour and ink, this evolved into a series of paintings. These works combined painterly style and abstract motifs with the information gathered but these works are art pure and simple and go further than the earlier illustrative works.
Integrating heritage and history into contemporary art is not so common MacLeod does so and provides proof that heritage studies can help us to understand our identity - which we are - in the present day world. Scott MacLeod’s Ancestral Homes series - some of these are presented as triptychs in which Viking ships form the principal motif - explore the parallels between Scottish and Scandinavian archetypes and symbolic motifs do surface occasionally to make us aware that the borders between Scottish and Viking history were indeed permeable and porous. When we consider racial or national identity in traditional historic terms we usually conceive this as pure or unmixed. What MacLeod’s Ancestral Homes series demonstrate, albeit in artistic terms, is that there never were truly pure races. Intercultural mixing was part and parcel even of the development of distinct northern European cultures and the nomadism of the Vikings is a perfect example of this. As MacLeod states:
“The turn of this century, the question of home strikes me as central to any notion of sustainable living and is of global concern. The Latin root of the word ecology means home, our cultures have again become transient for different reasons. This is why I have always been interested in history. I think if we understand our past, we may begin to understand our present and future. In this way we become historically accountable and become active agents of positive change. If we choose to make this effort to research the past we can prevent future mistakes.”
Using a variety of archaeological and historical sources, adapting these into a variety of visual and painterly expressions, Scott MacLeod explores themes of Viking and Scottish heritage and ancestry. Artifacts and ancient technology are painted representationally in the early documentary works produced for this series and then evolved into semi-abstract motifs. Viking ships, their design and utility as vessels become painterly abstract compositions. By transforming this into a contemporary expression of identity, he has brought some new life and a variety of novel visual expressions and configurations of this search for identity into being.
John K. Grande
John K. Grande’s reviews and features on art have been published in Artforum, Vice Versa, Sculpture, Art on Paper, Fiberarts, Ceramic Monthly, British Journal of Photography, Espace, Public Art Review and Circa. Other books include Balance :Art and Nature (2004), Art Nature Dialogues : Interviews with Environmental Artists (2004) and Intertwining :Landscape, Technology, Issues, Artists (1998).
Ancestral Homes Project – Exhibitions
- 2007 Celtic Memories, paintings of Scotland and Newfoundland, St. Ambroise Cultural Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
- 2006 Avalon Peninsula series, AXIS Contemporary Art, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
- 2006 Avalon Peninsula & Vinland series, Jens Thielsen Gallery, London, Ontario, Canada.
- 2005 Avalon Peninsula & Vinland series, McAuslan Annex Gallery, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
- 2005 People and Images of St-John’s Newfoundland, James Baird Gallery, St-John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
- 2003 Ancestral Homes, Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, Washington, USA.
- 2002 Ancestral Homes & Lanscapes, Thielsen Gallery, London, Ontario, Canada.
- 2002 Ancestral Homes, Swedish American Museum Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA.
I would like to thank the following sponsors
Canadian - Scandinavian Foundation
William Blair Bruce European Fine Art Travel Scholarship
Brasserie McAuslan Brewing
The St Andrew’s Society of Montreal
Canada Council for the Arts
Pouch Cove Foundation
Design and photography
Catalogue Design Tag Team Studio firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography G. Scott MacLeod
Peter McAuslan and Margo Pollock of Brasserie McAuslan Brewing, John K. Grande, Nancy Bleck, Dr. Hans Muller and Dr. Jan Lundgren at McGill University in Montreal, Hanne Odin from Gotlands Knotsmuseum in Visby, Dr. Anna Ritchie from the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, Viking Ship Museum Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, Norwegian Maritime Museum, Bygdoy, Oslo, the Museum of Natural History in New York, Anders Neumueller editor of Swedish Press, Marita E. Ekman editor of Viking Heritage Magazine, Lorraine MacDonald at Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust on Arran Island, Kerstin B. Lane curator at the Swedish American Museum Centre in Chicago, Marrianne Forssblad director Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Dr. Jean Bélise from Concordia University in Montreal, Glenn Torquil MacLeod, all the lovely people of Newfoundland who made my experience as memorable as it was. Special thanks to the people of Pouch Cove, Lori Butler a.k.a. (Red Leader) and family for Newfoundland delights and the tour de l’ile, the Elliot family, Loretta Decker and Birgitta Wallace from Parks Canada the custodians of the L’Anse aux Meadows site, Claire-Marie Gosse from The Independent, Craig Welsh from The Express, Angela Antle from CBC St-John’s, David Marshak and family, Martha Eleen, John Maggio, Linda from the Quidi Vidi Inn, people from The Duke, Leo and the Folks at the Crow’s Nest, Cape St-Francis Elementary School, Mr. & Mrs. Redpath, Angie and Jim Baird, David Bolduc for his Volvo service, Norma Nixon, Maurene White, and Sophie and France Jodoin.