THERE are few, if any, traces of the existence of
artistic knowledge or skill to be met with in the history of Gairloch or
among her inhabitants. True some of the ancient weapons display a little
artistic decoration, but these or their patterns may have come from other
parts. One or two silver brooches of old Celtic designs are to be met with
in the parish, and may perhaps be considered evidence of native taste. The
arts of architecture, sculpture, and painting, however, have never been
practised in Gairloch, at least there are no remains that shew it.
In these later years of the nineteenth century an
instance has occurred of an intense love of, and feeling for, the art of
drawing and painting in a native of Gairloch, so remarkable as to call for
special mention here.
rIlie instance referred to is in the person of a young man barely yet "of
age," named Finlay Mackinnon, a crofter at Poolewe. Whilst doing his duty
as a crofter he struggles to progress in art, and has in fact made
painting his profession. Enthusiasm for art is his absorbing passion. He
is a fine well-built and well conducted young man, above middle height. In
manner he is modest and unassuming, and his native Highland courtesy is
conspicuous. He has been educated at the Poolewe Public School, and lives
with his mother at Mossbank, Poolewe.
In the autumn of 1877 I was going out for a sail on
Loch Ewe; the boatmaster, requiring a boy to assist, engaged Finlay
Mackinnon (then a little barelegged lad), who happened to be standing by,
and with whom I was scarcely acquainted at the time. During our trip I got
into conversation with Finlay, and asked him whether he was to become a
fisherman or sailor. He answered, "No." "What have you a fancy for?" I
inquired. The quaint reply in his then rather imperfect English was, "All
my mind is with the drawing."
He afterwards shewed me his childish efforts with
his pencil, and some very humble attempts in water-colour achieved by the
aid of a shilling box of paints ! I started him in a course of
instruction, and Mrs Mackenzie of Inverewe gave him great assistance. He
progressed rapidly. About 1881 it was his good fortune to come under the
notice of Mr H. B. W. Davis, R.A. (who has so splendidly rendered some of
the scenery and Highland cattle of Loch Maree), and Mr Davis kindly helped
him forward, and in 1883 had him to London where he gave him a session's
teaching at South Kensington. Other gentlemen, including Sir Kenneth
Mackenzie, Bart, of Gairloch, the Marquis of Bristol, Mr O. H. Mackenzie
of Inverewe, Mr John Bateson, lessee of Shieldaig, Mr A. Hamond, also
lessee of Shieldaig, and Mr A. W. Weedon, the artist, gave Finlay
Mackinnon material aid, and he was enabled to spend the winter session of
1884-5 at South Kensington.
Some of Finlay Mackinnon's sketches in water-colour
already display considerable merit, and there is every prospect of his
becoming an able delineator and interpreter of the beauties of Gairloch
and Loch Maree.