MacKinnon, Archibald (1850–1935)
At 14 Macinnon attended evening classes at Glasgow School of Art while he worked as a message boy and apprentice engineer in the city. He returned home to Campbeltown in 1886 as an art teacher at the local school. A year later in 1887 MacKinnon painted a life-size depiction of the Crucifixion on the wall of a cave on Davaar Island in Campbeltown Loch. The work was discovered by a passing yachtsman, who is said to have fainted when he struck a match and saw the figure of Christ in the gloom. When the townspeople learned of the painting, they thought a miracle had brought the town a money-spinner. Archibald MacKinnon, however, put paid to the miracle theory when he admitted he had painted the figure, albeit inspired by a dream. Shortly after admitting to the cave painting, he absconded from the town, apparently worried about the consequences of having used the school’s materials to carry out the work.
For a time he was in Liverpool, working at the Cammell Laird shipyard, but he next decided to become a full-time artist and settled in nearby Nantwich. Here he took up residence at 7 Laburnum Avenue with his wife Mary Sophie and daughter Dorothy May. His neighbours at Laurnum recall him as being a pawky, kenspeckle man, very Scottish, and apparently somewhat henpecked. They remember him shaking carpets in the back garden while his wife cried. “Harder! Harder!” from an upstairs window. Mrs. Mackinnon was a prim and proper person, neat and always well dressed. Their daughter, Dorothy May, owned a wool shop in the town. Mackinnon’s paint brushes were made with hair from his wife’s head. In the 1913 street directory of Nantwich, Mackinnon is listed as an artist, but he does not appear in the professional section with the doctors and lawyers. An early commission in Nantwich was a portrait of Thomas Bateman, chairman of the town’s Board of Governors. The picture was considered very life-like, but, as with so much of Mackinnon’s work, has now disappeared. However, occupying pride of place in the lounge of the Lamb Hotel is a painting of his depicting a scene of the street outside, in an earlier century, complete with red-coated horseman on a white prancing steed.
Mackinnon returned to Campbeltown to restore the Crucifixion in October 1902, and again in May and June 1934, this time at the invitation of the Town Council. His expenses were paid from the Common Good Fund. Thiry-two years had elapsed since the old man had been in the town and it was obvious to the great throng who watched him disembark from the Gourock steamer that he was deeply moved. The visit was extensively covered in the Press throughout Britain and every cinema newsreel carried the story of his return. On 6th June 1934, an inaugural ceremony was held at the cave attended by the provost, magistrates, town council, moderator of Kintyre Presbytery and the local Roman Catholic priest. The following year Mackinnon died in Nantwich, aged 85, and is buried with his wife and daughter in the town’s Middlewich cemetery. The grave is now unkempt and the headstone fast becoming illegible. In the 1950’s the cave painting was again restored, this time by Hugh McInally, art teacher in Campbeltown Grammer School, who took the sensible precaution of placing a strip of lead above it to divert water which was running down the wall.
The few Mackinnon paintings which remain are faintly naive in their execution, but with a certain innocent charm. Two of them– “Campbeltown Fair in the Main Street 1880” and “St. John’s Night in Campbeltown” — hang in Campbeltown museum.