Margaret Tait1918 - 1999 (80 years)
Name Margaret Tait  Born 11 Nov 1918  Gender Female Died 16 Apr 1999 Kirkwall, Orkney  Person ID I10400 My Relatives Last Modified 16 Oct 2019
Father Charles William Tait, b. 11 Nov 1883, Kirkwall, Orkney , d. 28 Nov 1967 (Age 84 years) Relationship natural Mother Mary Isbister, b. 1883, d. 11 Nov 1964 (Age 81 years) Relationship natural Family ID F4027 Group Sheet | Family Chart
Family Living Last Modified 16 Oct 2019 Family ID F4026 Group Sheet | Family Chart
- [Pirie Orkney.FTW]
Arts Journal film reviewer CATRIONA PAUL takes a retrospective look at the films of Orcadian poet, artist and film-maker Margaret Tait
Born in 1918 in Kirkwall, Orkney, poet, artist and film-maker Margaret Tait spent much of the next eighty years studying, travelling or working overseas both in the UK and further afield. However, there is little doubt that she always regarded the island as home, basing her studio there, and choosing Orcadian people and places as the subject of much of her work. A retrospective of her films at this years Edinburgh International Film Festival reveals an artistic and cultural collection of enduring interest.
Educated in Edinburgh where she qualified as a doctor, later serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps in the Far East during the war, then working as a locum around the UK, before living as an artist in Edinburgh and a film student in Italy all this time, Buttquoy House in Orkney remained her permanent address and somewhere she returned regularly. The remoteness of the island provided an environment in which her creativity flourished independent of the male-dominated, traditional film industry. However, distance and independence meant that Taits 30-odd films have not been widely seen beyond screenings at a handful of film festivals.
The retrospective of work shown at the EIFF represents the culmination of a long-term project to restore original film stock which have deteriorated over the years. A film exhibition will launch in London on 16 November before going on tour nationally and internationally. Two programmes of films will show the first including film portraits of Hugh MacDiarmid, amongst others, and film poems, made both in Rome and Orkney. The second programme focuses on people and the places they live.
The collection continues with Happy Bees (1955), intended to be an evocation of what it was like to be a small child on Orkney; when, one (wrongly) remembers, it was sunny all the time and everything was bursting with life (MT). Both pieces are accompanied by traditional music, performed by the Orkney Reel and Strathspey Society, adding to the evocative nature of the films.
"The remoteness of the island provided an environment in which her creativity flourished..."
The significance of Margaret Taits work is two-fold. Her willingness and ability to explore the medium of film to communicate and create meant an alternative stream flowed alongside commercial film-making. But perhaps her most enduring legacy, especially for the people of Scotland, will be her work as an ethnographer recording and honouring a way of life that has already changed.
Landmakar (1981) and Big Sheep (1966), (shown at the EIFF but unfortunately excluded from the touring programme), are two of Taits longer works. The former focuses on the Orkney crofter Mary Graham Sinclair, Taits neighbour at Aith. Big Sheep was filmed in Sutherland, (where Tait lived for a time), and echoes with the memory and impact of the clearances whilst documenting life there in the 60s. Other work records changes in Edinburgh, On the Mountain, and back in Orkney, Aspects of Kirkwall: Some Changes is a series of five films made between 1954 and 1981.
Margaret Tait died in 1999, aged 81. Her husband, Alex Pirie, deposited her films and negatives with the Scottish Screen Archive. Their subsequent restoration and screening reveals both a remarkable artistic and cultural legacy and a fascinating individual.
A Margaret Tait Chronology
1918 11th November, born Margaret Caroline Tait, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland. Parents Charles Tait (d.1967)
and Mary Isbister Tait (d.1964), brothers Maxwell (1917-1979), William Isbister (1920- ), John A.S.
(1922-1990), Harald I. (1924-1958)
Family home in Broad Street, Kirkwall
1923-1926 Kirkwall primary school
1924-1954 "Permanent" address, Buttquoy House, Kirkwall, re school years, university, war years, post war
1926-1934 Esdaile School, Edinburgh
1930's Taking photographs of family and friends and places, Scapa, Eynhallow, Skaill, Ingsay, Redbanks,
Longhope, Skara Brae, Yesnaby, Eday, Kirkwall
1935 Experiments with different exposure times for several photographs (interiors, two self portraits)
1936 Studies medicine Edinburgh University. Staying at 59 North Castle Street, Blacket Place, Bank Street,
1941 Qualified in medicine, MB.CH.B, at Edinburgh University
1943 BSc, Edinburgh University
1943 Joins the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), serves in UK
1943-1945 Serves in India. Visits Kashmir, Agra, Delhi
1945 Serves in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Subsequently compiles photo album of visits to Kashmir, Agra,
1945-1946 Serves in Johore, Malaya, visiting Singapore
1946 26th March sailed for home from Singapore on the "Winchester Castle"
April on Orkney
Visits Adelaide Petersen, Stavanger, Norway
Working in Bristol (hospital duties)
To Edinburgh, living at Ormidale Terrace, no. 46 where "I was an ex--service H.P. [House Physician] at
"Sick Kids" Royal Hospital for Sick Children"
1947 Summer holiday in Paris, and then Italy visiting Florence, Assisi, Perugia, Venice, Como, Milan
1948 Visits Lake District
Lives in London staying at at 36 Parliament Hill NW3 while "job--hunting"
Working in Shoreditch, living at 93 Shepherdess Walk
In the USA. Visits Washington DC (with parents)
July home on Orkney
1948-49 Locums in South of England including spell as assistant to uncle's practice, Windlesham, Surrey
Living at Holly Cottage, School Road, Windlesham
1949 July/August locum in Pontrhydyfen, Glamorgan
1950 April returns to Perugia. Studies at Universita Italiana per Stranieri
1950-52 Studied film at Centro di Cinematographia, Rome, Italy
1953 Founds Ancona Films with Peter Hollander, Rome, Italy
1954 Tenant at 91 Rose Street, Edinburgh (until 1973), The Rose Street Film Festival, August
195462 Locums UK
1955 August, 2nd Rose Street Film Festival, Edinburgh. Films screened Calypso, A Portrait of Ga, Happy
Bees, Orquil Burn, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo, by Margaret Tait, Sometimes a Newspaper,
and Shapes, by Peter Hollander, Affisioni (Posters) by Luigi Bazzoni and Mario Fenelli and, Dimitri
Works in Black Wax.
1960's Living in Edinburgh, East Sutherland, Kirkwall
1964 A Poet In New York, sequence of pictures based on Lorca's poem exhibited as a small independent
show at 91 Rose Street, during the Edinburgh Festival
1965 Living at Slow Bend, Helmsdale, Sutherland (until 1973)
1968 Living at Buttquoy House (until 1975)
Marries Alex Pirie, 9th December
1970 Retrospective at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
1975 Moves to Aith, Sandwick, Orkney
Work exhibited at the First Festival of Independent British Cinema, February, Bristol
Mike Leggett and Annabel Nicholson visits Orkney, September, (Buttquoy House).
1977 Tour of South West England organised by Mike Leggett. Screening at London Film Makers Co-op
1979 Poet With a Camera, Spectrum, BBC Scotland arts series, 30 minute programme about her work
Work screened at Third International Festival of Avant -Garde Film, London
Late 1970's to 1990's a small number of showings at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney
Aerial, Colour Poems, Place of Work, Tailpiece, enter distribution with London Film Makers Co-op
(listed in Distribution Supplement no.3)
1982 Work screened at 3rd International Festival of Film and Television in the Celtic Countries, Wexford,
1983 Margaret Tait; Film Maker, television documentary directed by Margaret Williams televised with
Where I am Is Here, Channel Four Television
1984 March - 1999 Orquil Studio. A place of work
1987 Films By Margaret Tait, compilation, transmitted on The Eleventh Hour by Channel Four
Television, includes Hugh MacDiarmid A Portrait, A Portait fo Ga, Colour Poems, and Aspects of
Kirkwall; Some Changes
1994 Living at Cruan, Firth, Orkney
1995 Ute Aurand visits Orkney, July
1998 Hugh MacDiarmid A Portrait, and Ariel, included in the film programme Film Poems, National Film
Theatre, London, which subsequently tours
1999 16th April dies at home, Firth, Orkney
4th July A Tribute To Margaret Tait, film programme, Lux Cinema, London
2000 26th April Visionary Histories: Maya Deren, Marie Menken, Margaret Tait, film programme, Lux
May. Alex Pirie deposits films and negatives with the Scottish Screen Archive.
October, retrospective with three programmes of short films, Places of Work, Land Makar, Film
Poems, and Blue Black Permanent, National Flm Theatre, London
2001 Garden Pieces, included in a film touring programme taking the name Garden Pieces
Compiled by Peter Todd with thanks to Alex Pirie. November, 2002.
- [Pirie Orkney.FTW]
- [S8] Pirie Orkney.FTW.
Date of Import: 30 Aug 2007
- [S8] Pirie Orkney.FTW.