My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean
About the Exhibit
I am creating an exhibit of photographs telling stories of connections between my home state of North Carolina and Scotland – in particular between the Piedmont region of NC and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, including the islands of Skye, Mull, Islay, and the mainland region of Argyll. The history of NC and Scotland are entwined; many North Carolinians have ancestors who came from Scotland. I have chosen the life and places associated with Flora MacDonald as a starting point. She came to America briefly and lived not far from my home, and although she was a loyalist, she remains a folk hero to many. This project involves photography and research on both sides of the Atlantic in order to create a photographic exhibit to be shown in museums both in NC and Scotland.
I often meet North Carolinians who tell me that they are Scottish even though their families have been here for generations. In this body of work I am exploring the very American quest for geographic and cultural identity that often reaches beyond the borders of the USA, manifesting as a longing to be from somewhere. My aim is to visually demonstrate connections between land and people, the past and the present, and how these links affect our thinking going forward.
As with my previous work, I am hoping to discover connections that can be traced back to the 18th and early 19th centuries that continue today, particularly in terms of family histories and traditions. Flora MacDonald's story is only my starting point, giving me clues about where to go to look for other, perhaps less famous and more accurate accounts of connections between the Gaelic and former-Gaelic speaking regions of Scotland and N.C.
Scottish? Scottish-American? Do You Have Materials to Share?
If you have any family papers related to this project - a family Bible, old letters, old documents, etc. - I would be extremely interested to see them. Documents in English and in Gaelic are of interest. If you have NC - Scottish connections, please get in touch!
While at Oxford, I traveled to Scotland as often as I could and fell in love with the Highlands and Islands. When I started my photography degree in 2008, I knew I wanted to do a project about this area and its history. However, at the time I was busy with a full-time curatorship. In addition, I felt that at least initially, I needed to do a more local photographic project to begin to establish my work. Stagville: Black & White, which initially started as a class assignment, became this initial, local project.
When the Stagville exhibit was going to its second destination, The Museum of the Cape Fear in Fayetteville, I did some preliminary reading about the site. At the time the museum featured an image of Flora MacDonald’s shoe buckle. In the moment that I saw the photograph of this artifact, I knew how I wanted to focus my project about Scotland: I wanted to show connections between NC and the Highlands and Islands.
By using as its starting point the life of the legendary Flora MacDonald, rescuer of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the Jacobite uprising of 1745, this project starts with a person many North Carolinians will recognize. In addition, her life, moving from Scotland to a plantation close to my home in the Piedmont region of NC, and back again to Scotland, serves as a concise framework from which to begin. However, although Flora MacDonald is my starting point, she is just that: a place to start. For the exhibit, I want to learn as much as I can about others, whose stories might not be as well known.
First Exhibit Expedition to the UK, Spring 2016
Logically my preliminary research and photographic location scouting began here in NC. In addition, I started to learn Scottish Gaelic by taking the first two introductory units offered via distance learning through the University of the Highlands and Islands at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. With the assistance of individual patrons, Patreon supporters, and an Alice Horsman Scholarship from Somerville College, Oxford, I have been able to spend five weeks in March and April of this year in the UK working on this project. I started in Oxford and London in order to visit Flora MacDonald sites in London, do research in the British and Bodleian Libraries, see a famous portrait of her at the Ashmolean, and get equipped to travel to Scotland.
I brought with me a tent and bicycle panniers and purchased a bicycle in Oxford. Since I had studied in Oxford, I felt this was a comfortable home base from which to obtain, fit, and equip a bicycle. Then, as I had done for my doctoral studies, I traveled by train, bicycle, and ferry, to photographic locations in Scotland, staying in a tent where practical. This method of travel allowed me to see and experience the landscape in a personal way.
This research and photographic expedition resulted in my finding direct connections between Scotland and NC. As with my work at Stagville, my starting points for the photography were landscapes and surviving architecture. In addition to my visiting and photographing many Flora MacDonald sites, I was able to study many manuscripts and printed documents. I even happened to identify a collection of papers as those of one of Flora MacDonald’s sons.
While tracing the life path of Flora MacDonald, I discovered that although she came to NC, most of the Gaels came here from Mull, Islay, and the mainland part of Argyll.
Love at First Sight: My Own Connections with Scotland
This project, "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean," named after the traditional Scottish song, is even dearer to me than my previous exhibit; I feel a much more direct connection with Scotland than I do with Stagville. I fell in love with Scotland the first time I traveled there in 1990. While at Oxford, I traveled to Scotland as often as I could.
I was taught that the artistic process is a spiral, always circling the same subjects and themes. This new work is allowing me embark on a research and photography adventure by bicycle and tent as I did years ago. With this project, artistically and personally I am coming full circle.
My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean Acknowledgments
In addition to my lovely Patreons who provide me with monthly support allowing me to create this and other exhibits (please see Patreons list on this page), I gratefully acknowledges the following individuals and institutions for their assistance, financial and other, specifically with this exhibition.
Elizabeth, Karen, & Bryan
George & Sue Neece
Somerville College, Alice Horsman Scholarship*
Mary Margaret Thorburn
* Many thanks to Somerville College at the University of Oxford and its Benefactors for the Alice Horsman Scholarship to support my research in Scotland and England during the spring of 2016.
N.B. Levels of support have not yet been established for this exhibit.