Chicago Scots Celebrate Scottish Heritage



By Elizabeth Dunlop Richter



On his first trip to Chicago, Phil Long was delighted. Walking around the city, he declared “it’s a city that is very rich in extraordinary buildings…and has a strong sense of what’s visually important.” Architecture and design are Phil Long’s passion. As the Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland since 2020, he has responsibility for a full range of Scottish heritage from the craggy peaks of the northern Highlands to the sophisticated Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Hill House. On their first stop in a four-city U.S. trip, Long and his wife Annie Campbell Long enjoyed a full range of Chicago’s architecture and artistic offerings, organized by the Chicago Scots, his enthusiastic hosts dedicated to all things Scottish and Illinois’ oldest nonprofit organization.

The Longs’ visit had begun with a weekend stop in Oak Park to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio and in Hyde Park to tour Wright’s Robie House. Given the similarities between the designs of Wright and Scottish designer and architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a particular interest of Long’s, I asked him if the two knew each other’s work, both influenced by the then popularity of Japanese design. “Obviously they were contemporaries…they might have through publications, but Macintosh never travelled…There’s a possibility, it would be interesting to look into,” he observed.

Frank Lloyd Wright chairs photo: artfixdaily

Charles Rennie Mackintosh chairs xx

The tour of Chicago included a packed schedule on Monday, April 5, when the Art Institute, the Driehaus Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) were on the agenda. Chicago Scots President and CEO Gus Noble, Chicago Scots Board of Governors member Ginny Van Alyea, and Kirstin Bridier, Executive Director of the National Trust of Scotland, USA, accompanied the Longs.

The morning whirlwind tour of the Art Institute comprised collections of medieval art and armor, decorative arts, the Impressionists, and modern paintings and sculpture led by curators Jonathan Tavares, Gloria Groom, Ellenor Alcorn, and Emerson Bowyer. Special note was made of Scottish pieces in the museum collection.

Jonathan Tavares points out 18th century Scottish pistols

18th century Scottish pistols, noteworthy for their all-metal construction.

(L to R) Curators Emerson Bowyer, Ellenor Alcorn, Jonathan Tavares and Gloria Groom with Phil Long, Annie Campbell Long, Gus Noble, Ginny Van Alyea, Kirstin Bridier with Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day

Curator Gloria Groom discusses Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte

The afternoon featured a stop at the Driehaus Museum, where a travelling exhibit of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh had been planned but had to be cancelled due to COVID.

Driehaus Museum entrance hall displays Gilded Age extravagance.

The afternoon concluded at the MCA, where the group saw a special exhibit of letters from Indian soldiers serving the British crown during World War I, accompanied by an audio component of readings of the letters, poetry, and music, commissioned by the Edinburgh Art Festival 2016.

The Longs and Chicago Scots colleagues peruse letters in the Memorial to Last Words exhibit at the MCA

That evening, Long shared the work of the Trust with members of Chicago Scots. Interviewed by Chicago Scots Board of Governors member Ginny Van Alyea. Long focused on the perception of Scotland abroad through its art and design and on contemporary expressions of Scottish heritage. Many Americans have been influenced by the romantic poetry of Robert Burns and the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott. Commenting on the bucolic photo on the Visit Scotland website, Long noted that “it’s not about the art galleries or the cities, it’s about the pull of the Highlands…we see this still expressed in all sorts of terrific ways…Outlander…who’s a fan of Outlander?…it was filmed on Trust properties.” Many hands went up from fans of the Netflix time-travel series in which a World War II nurse is taken back to 1743, where she falls in love with a dashing Highlands warrior.


National Trust of Scotland Chief Executive Phil Long in conversation with Ginny Van Alyea, Chicago Scots Board of Governors member.

Members of Chicago Scots learn about the National Trust of Scotland.

Chicago Scots members Lisa (L) and Cary (R) Malkin compare notes with Board of Governors member Clark Fetridge.

Annie Campbell Long and Tobin Richter discuss the Isle of Barra in the Western Hebrides.

Kirstin Bridier, Executive Director of the National Trust of Scotland, USA, talks with Ginny and Alby Van Alyea.

At its annual Feast of the Haggis and its celebration of Robert Burns’ birthday, Chicago Scots raises money to support Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care, its facility for seniors in North Riverside. Chicago Scots President and CEO Gus Noble was honored last year with the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) award for his service to Scottish culture in the United States. Phil Long was given the same honor in 2020 for his founding leadership of the first museum dedicated to Scottish art and design, the V&A Dundee, an affiliate of the
famed V&A London. Its dramatic design was said to be inspired by cliffs on the eastern edge of Scotland. Long was appointed its director in 2011.

Architect Kengo Kuma outside the new Dundee V&A photo: Jeff J. Mitchell

In his talk to Chicago Scots, Long described the broad scope of the National Trust for Scotland’s responsibilities which encompass not only the built environment of stately homes and castles but also the natural environment. “We have coastlines with over 400 islands with habitats for over one million seabirds….240 miles of mountain footpaths to maintain…11,000 archeological sites that we’re responsible for…beautiful gardens…eight national nature reserves… the birthplace of Robert Burns….300,000 artifacts of art and design…”

Although the Trust’s budget of roughly £44 million ($57 million) is smaller than our National Trust for Historic Preservation’s budget of $151.8 million, its per capita budget is dramatically higher, given Scotland’s population of about 5.5 million compared to 332 million estimated for the U.S. The National Trust of Scotland is particularly impressive for the breadth of its work, including the natural features not in the portfolio of its American equivalent. Both are private charities, relying on donations and grants to pursue their goals.

Drum Castle photo: National Trust of Scotland

Craigievar Castle photo: National Trust of Scotland

Cliffs of Staffa, an island in the Inner Hebrides photo: National Trust of Scotland

Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands photo: National Trust of Scotland
Phil Long wrote in The Scotsman in 2021, “The sheer variety and scale of our portfolio means it can be hard to grasp the magnitude of the Trust’s responsibilities, but that is its wonder; the Trust is exceptional as an independent charity (free to speak out) in Scotland in caring for the built and the natural, the future of both of which is substantially in human hands.”
The next day the Longs continued their journey to Washington, DC; Boston; and New York, sharing the impressive heritage of Scotland and absorbing more cultural offerings of the U.S. Meanwhile, it’s easy to imagine that the Chicago Scots who heard Long’s engaging talk were checking calendars to see when they might book their next trip to Scotland.