Standing on the small track that passes for Main Street in Baile Mòr on Iona, a local man named Davy gave me a brief precis of local art history. (The similarities of his inflection to that of Canada meant I was able to easily follow him.)
Iona is associated with two Scottish Colourist painters, Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe. “They liked to paint from Traigh Ban Nam Monach, or the White Strand of the Monks,” Davy told me. Peploe and Cadell first painted on Iona in 1920, returning there most summers.
I have only a vague knowledge of Scottish art history—the Glasgow Boys and the “first Scottish Impressionist,” William McTaggart. However I do recognize their position within the world movement toward plein air landscape painting that included Impressionism, the Heidelberg School in Australia, the Russian Peredvizhniki, and, of course, the Canadian Group of Seven.
I also felt the pull of the magically flat, cool light of Iona. However, I was booked to go to Staffa in a wooden tour boat. This unlovely but fast thing was custom-built for the tourist trade in 1990 using no plans, and it’s tight and sea-worthy.
Scotland is sometimes described as a nanny state, but in many ways it’s content to let people make their own choices in ways that we Americans have lost. For example, I stood along the forward deck of the ship, instead of packed in the hold with the other visitors. There was no mandatory lifejacket lecture and no particular safety devices on Staffa itself. This was a pattern we were to see over and over. Your safety is your responsibility, an attitude we litigious Americans seem to have lost to our great disadvantage.
On the boat trip back to Fionnphort, we were all rather pensive. Very seldom do I feel a strong urge to return to a place, and usually that isn’t shared by my fellow passengers, but the pull of Iona is very strong. Each of us plotted, in our own way, a plan to return. For me, that means a trip with my painting kit.