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Collage Artist Residency Scotland: Castles as Buildings, Metaphors, and Symbols of Power

Updated: Apr 29

In April, I was grateful to be an artist in residence in Sanquhar, Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland. The residency is facilitated by The Kolaj Institute, and asks collage artists to consider Castles as Buildings, Metaphors, and Systems of Power. During the week-long residency, myself and 8 other artists participated in workshops / lectures focusing on contemporary collage practice and navigating an art career. We got the opportunity to host Community Collage Night at A’ the Airts Cultural and Community Center in Sanquhar as well, and spent a lot of time walking the town and visiting with the ridiculously lovely local residents in the pubs.


Sanquhar castle ruins

We explored the ruins of Sanquhar Castle on the edge of the town, and toured Drumlanrig castle in nearby Thornhill which is a current, active home to Duke Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott and his family. Our tour guide at Drumlanrig castle was impeccably professional and repeated throughout the tour, “In each room are treasures. Invaluable treasures.” 


Approaching Drumlanrig castle

Each of the artists were inspired by the two castles in different ways. I was struck by the austere, imposing presence that they commanded on the pastoral landscape, bright green and peppered with sheep and tiny new lambs. To me, the castles appeared as a very literal symbol of the violence / militarism, patriarchal rule, wealth hoarding / acquisition, and white supremacy of nobility. Though they are captivating and beautiful, castles are also symbols of how those values contribute to ruling classes across the world in present day, and throughout history. I had never seen castles before in person, and it was indescribable to see them in these two states: one in skeletal ruin, and the other packed full and opulent.


During our time in Sanquhar, each artist completed collage works addressing the themes that surfaced for us while exploring the castles, staying in the town, and getting to know the local people. We will continue to work with our ideas for a larger project that will be realized in 2025.


"The Cannibal Earl of Drumlanrig"

The collage that I created while in residence was inspired by both the vertical and severe aura of Drumlanrig, and by an urban legend that details a 10-year-old earl murdering and cannibalizing a kitchen staff member in 1707. This story fascinates me because it is still perpetuated today, over 300 years later, but it likely never truly happened. It's a piece of lore that is so unbelievable, and yet because of the consuming and brutal nature of the nobility and capitalist systems, it is almost too perfect a metaphor.


I used a knitting pattern, British pounds, acrylic paint, vellum, and other found paper to create this collage. I removed most of the text from the paper in the work using sandpaper, but there is a visual artifact that text was there at one point. I'm excited to continue working with that idea - that there are many peoples' stories that are written out of history, and that shapes how we understand the world. When the resident artists presented our works on the final day of residency, a few members of the Sanquhar community came to watch, and that was a very special experience. Afterwards, I asked one man who came to listen if my piece was offensive or upsetting. He answered, "No, not at all. I think sometimes, especially in small communities like ours, we cling too tightly to our histories. It's good for us to have outside perspectives, this is good for us." That meant so much to me. This residency was a very powerful experience for me. I loved working alongside the other artists, who come from varying backgrounds, locations, and practices. Getting to connect with and get to know the local Sanquhar residents was unforgettable; the town and the characters there reminded me of my hometown in so many ways. And honestly, it was so refreshing to have a solid week to focus on some work without the rigorous schedule of my daily life. I'm looking forward to seeing what takes shape for myself working with these ideas, and also following the other resident artists as they continue to create work about castles!

Resident Artists

Bethanie Mangigian





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