The Here We Are Centre at Cairndow has been involved in a major research project, gathering information on the histories of the houses sin the townland and the stories of the families who lived in them.
This wonderfully imaginative and rooted project, restoring the long texture of a place to its current residents, has been adopted as an exhibition by the Glasgow’s celebrated Kelvingrove Art gallery and Museum.
The exhibition – Our Houses: Their Stories – is described as ‘a biography of 107 houses of Cairndow village at the head of Loch Fyne’.
The project has, over time, photographed the buildings and, with meticulous care, recorded data on their inhabitants since the 1841 census.
The material supporting the exhibition says of houses: ‘The sandstone threshold worn to a curve by generations of boots, the creak of the parana pine staircase, the feel of the light switch, the welcoming hearth, all are intrinsic to a sense of “home” ‘.
The Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, which grant-aided the project, says: ‘This is a fascinating exhibition which brings the history of a community to life through the people that have called it “home”.
‘Cairndow now has a wonderful resource which not only safeguards the personal histories of the houses which make up the village but also provides a platform for learning about the influences which have shaped the community over time.
‘Although the walls can’t speak, through this exhibition, we get a captivating insight to what they might say if they could’.
Both of these statements catch what we can only call the poetry of the inspiration for this careful and revelatory work. They understand the imprint that people and lives over time leave in the places they inhabit, the voices that can still be heard in the mind, echoing down the years with the efforts, the pleasures and the pains of life.
The Here We Are team and their collaborators in the project – Alice Beattie, her daughter, Dot Chalmers, John MacDonald, Nigel Callander and many others – have progressively collected a photo gallery of people who lived in the houses. This has been a two year adventure bringing together material from oral, visual, manuscript and survey sources.
Christina Noble, who directed the project, says: ‘We hope the Our Houses: Their Stories project will be a model for other villages in Scotland. While the work has been tome consuming and often laborious, it is clear that as the bits and pieces come together, suddenly there is a floodlight of excitement and something significant and alive emerges.’
No account of the experience of a process of uncovering the layers of time upon one’s own place could more powerfully invite the curious to come to Kelvingrove between 19th February and 2nd April.
The best proof of the success of their initiative for the Here We Are pioneers will be people taking away their idea and starting similar projects in their own communities across Argyll and the Isles.
This is not only an inspirational project in its own terms but it can be a generative one for Argyll.