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Hospitalfield - The Great Experiment

By Lucy Byatt, 28.05.2021
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Louise Galloway of Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh delivers a tree fern to the Fernery at Hospitalfield, Arbroath. Photo by Lesley Martin.

Hospitalfield’s medieval past is evident only in the name and in the lower courses of the garden walls built around this time. Otherwise very little from the 13th century hospital, founded by the Benedictine monks at Arbroath Abbey remains. It was the artist and polymath Patrick Allan (Fraser), who married the last heir of the estate, Elizabeth Fraser in 1834, who created the Scots Baronial Arts & Crafts flourish of red sandstone that we see today. The couple had a clear vision for their North Sea facing estate; complete with vast picture gallery, assembled collections and studio buildings, their plan was to create a grand legacy, a place that would educate and support artists of the future.

Over the next four years, Hospitalfield Trust will invest £11m into the fabric of the historic buildings, replanting the gardens, restoring the studios, mortuary chapel and historic house and commissioning new artworks to create a ‘campus’ for both artists and audiences.

Hospitalfield Picture Gallery. Photo by Ruth Clark.

In practice, this will be an ambitious cluster of facilities where artists and others can live and work and where visitors are warmly welcomed. 

With a programme rooted in the contemporary visual arts, the conversation will continue to widen across the disciplines. A meeting point where many specialisms and forms of knowledge and ideas, cultural and otherwise, are filtered and refined through working and learning alongside others. 

The museum aspect of Hospitalfield will tell the story, long overdue, of the artist, much admired in his lifetime, a great advocate of Ruskin’s Arts and Crafts ideas, Patrick Allan Fraser. His resistance to the industrial revolution and his outspoken texts for the handmade were not against progress but they were against inequality.

Patrick Allan Fraser died in 1890 and the Trust was quickly established to get to grips with the intention of the bequest. From the meetings held at the turn of the 20th century, we can see in the minute books that the plans for the new art school were referred to as ‘the great experiment’. 

This 20th century history is very significant too. Opening in 1902, Hospitalfield Art College became part of a network of other schools established in Glasgow and Edinburgh, then later Dundee and Aberdeen. By 1938 the model shifted to a post graduate school serving all these schools. We continue to this day support artists, through a wide range of residency and commissioning opportunities. A new series of Studio Time commissioning and residency opportunities, given to Mick Peter, Jade Montserrat, Luke Pell, Hanna Tuulikki, Rehana Zaman and Sally Hackett, launches our 2021 programme this Spring.

Lucy Byatt. Photo by Alan Dimmick.

Set against Alan Fraser’s values of progress and equality, the collections and archives will be made far more central to the experience of visiting Hospitalfield as we take our Future Plan forward. As the busy programme settles into the new residential and other working facilities, this reinterpretation of a 19th and 20th century rural utopia, will be a powerful new model within the cultural landscape of Scotland. This is a programme embedded within the local as well as a destination. 

As we redefine this place, with its valuable history emerging for an eternally useful set of original ideas, we really are taking the importance of art and artists very seriously as the starting point for continuing to learn from one another; restoring the wonderful buildings that we already have and building anew the right facilities for a bright future.

Lucy Byatt is Director of Hospitalfield. Hospitalfield’s gardens are now open with a new sculpture commission by artist Mick Peter, restored Fernery and new Hospitalfield Café.