AN ARTIST and administrator who became a pivotal figure in the traditional and wider music and arts scene in the north of Scotland and beyond, Caroline Hewat was for many years arts development manager for the Cromarty Arts Trust. She was also at various times manager at Balnain House, Inverness, during its period as the “Home of Highland Music”, North of Scotland development worker for the Traditional Music and Song Association, and more recently was on the board of Fèis Rois while, from the conception of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections, she co-ordinated many hundreds of singing and instrumental workshops right up to 2016’s festival. As her colleagues on the Cromarty Arts Trust said in a recent tribute, “Musicians and artists from all over the world knew Caroline, and loved her for her enthusiasm and her genuine friendliness.”
As arts development manager for the Trust, Caroline, who passed away in December 2015 after a short illness, was responsible for such popular events as the Harp Village, the Crime & Thrillers Weekend, Stone Lettering Workshops and a host of other events, classes, concerts and exhibitions. She also ran community choirs in Muir of Ord and Rosemarkie. She had an infectious zeal for learning and, throughout all her organisational activities, maintained her career as a painter, her vivid canvases inspired by Highland landscapes as much as by the cityscapes of New York, and exhibiting throughout Scotland and beyond to Iceland.
Caroline Ann Hewat was born in Aberdeen in 1949. With her brother, Ian, the family moved to Horseshoe Bay, Vancouver in the early 1950s and stayed there for more than a decade before returning to Aberdeen when Caroline was a teenager. She attended Gray’s School of Art in the city, where she met her husband-to-be, Alan Hewat. She didn’t complete her course, leaving to have her daughter, Corrina, in 1970, then she and Al moved to Edinburgh where they had their second child, Jade, in 1976. Caroline continued painting and sculpting while bringing up her daughters.
Al was offered a job teaching English at Alness Academy, which brought the family north in 1979. Right away she became involved in championing music at the local primary school, which resulted in violin lessons for the pupils. Moving on to work at Raddery School on the Black Isle, which catered for youngsters with social and emotional issues, she found herself returning to the music making – singing and playing guitar – which she had pursued with friends when in Edinburgh.
Her commitment to music was consolidated in 1993 when she joined the staff of Balnain House, an 18th-century mansion refurbished as a “Home for Highland Music”, ending up as its manager until it closed in 2000. Balnain was a venue, library, session bar, information point and music school, its schedule including “Come and try” workshops organised by Caroline. She was extremely proud of what it became and deeply saddened at its closure.
It was during her time at Balnain that she was invited by Colin Hynd, festival director, to co-ordinate workshops for the planned Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, starting with a selection of instrumental and singing workshops then broadening them out to cater for schools during the week and the general public at weekends. To date more than 185,000 children have gone through Celtic Connections workshops.
“She believed,” says her harpist daughter Corrina (herself a Scots Trad Award winner as best tutor in 2013) “that everyone should give it a go. Challenge them to try something new, and they might just like it and have a good time.”
After Balnain closed, Caroline took her Edinburgh-raised daughters to Vancouver to revisit her old home there. Returning to Scotland, she decided to complete her degree, which she did, with distinction, at Elgin College of Art, where she also exercised her “enabling” skills to collect and auction doodles by well-known artists and musicians throughout the UK, raising funds for her fellow students to go on study trips to Iceland, New York and Orkney. While at Elgin she took on the job of North of Scotland development worker for the Traditional Music and Songs Association.
She started exhibiting her paintings across Scotland, including at Celtic Connections. A prolifically creative artist, working in everything from oils and acrylics to photography, stained glass and mixed media, she particularly loved working on a grand scale, writing: “The freedom of being able to move paint round a canvas is positively exhilarating. The challenge for me is to portray the sheer restless energy and constant life force of a place, while allowing a suggestion of vulnerability. Travel always provides me with a great source of inspiration, as does living on the beautiful Black Isle.”
Her final exhibition was at the Loft Gallery in St Margaret’s Hope, Orkney, co-exhibiting with Richard Levens, who had been one of her fellow-students at Gray’s all those years before.
Living within the community on the Black Isle, working from the Arts Trust’s Bank Street offices in Cromarty, she threw herself into her management role, supporting musicians, artists and writers with studios, residential work and initiating activities including the annual Harp Village, the Crime and Thrillers Weekend and workshops catering for everything from stone carving to ukulele playing. She was responsible for fundraising and involved in acquiring back Cromarty’s 18th-century brewery building as a venue, B&B and meeting place for the Trust.
Corrina writes: “Caroline was all about the community, strengthening relationships with the folk who lived there, the connection to the land, the history, the ever-changing landscape through supporting artists, creating art, giving art a place to grow and inspiring art in many forms. She was an amazing woman. And so likeable too, with a big smile that lit up a room and a laugh to match. She was glad to be told of her Service to the Community award, although was shy in being so recognised: ‘Och, I’m just doing what I love doing!’”
A trust is being set up in Caroline’s memory to help support artists who live, work or input creatively into the Black Isle. Further details will be available soon. For information on how to donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org