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John Devlin's Dreams of Cambridge
Dreams of Cambridge by John Devlin
John Devlin let his imagination run riot with his Dreams of Cambridge sketches

In the middle of an island in Nova Scotia, Canada, John Devlin has created an idyllic version of Cambridge and Oxford Universities.

But, Canadian-born John has not actually built this dream structure. It began as the idea of a damaged mind coping with psychotic episodes.

Therapy came in the form of sketches of the colleges, as a reminder of John's days as a student in Cambridge.

These Dreams of Cambridge were shown in June, 2010, at King's College.

At the age of 25, John Devlin was studying theology at St Edmund's College in Cambridge.

John Devlin
John needs to take medication to keep his depression under control

Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, his fledgling architecture career had changed direction when he decided to move to the United Kingdom to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood.

While a student, John began suffering psychotic episodes and was eventually admitted to the acute care unit of Fulbourn Hospital.

Lost vocation

His deteriorating mental health forced him to return to Canada where he continued to receive hospital treatment for depression and psychosis.

"I had to give up plans for the priesthood as my bishop said my illness meant I did not have a vocation," explained John.

It was during this period that he decided to put pen, pencil and crayon to paper, and relieve his feelings of homesickness and his yearning to return to Cambridge to finish his studies.

He said: "As I had a bit of free time on my hands while convalescing, I decided to spend it sketching an 'ideal' Cambridge to be built on an artificial island in Nova Scotia.

"I fixed upon King's as my favourite college (although I had studied at St Edmund's) and decided to embellish the buildings there in my imagination."

Dreams of Cambridge by John Devlin
The sketches helped to pass the time after John became ill

Most of the sketches were drawn between 1984 and 1988. John drew an amazing 360 pictures of his imaginary, idyllic island-based college.

Twenty-two of these were exhibited at King's Art Centre at the University of Cambridge during the early summer of 2010.

'Inflated imagination'

John Devlin has not returned to the UK since his ill health forced him back to his home in Nova Scotia.

He continues to suffer periods of depression and admitted that he will need medication for the rest of his life to keep his symptoms under control.

However, this has allowed him to live a relatively independent life and to continue writing and drawing. He also volunteers at the provincial art gallery.

Talking about the sketches shown in Cambridge, he said: "I now see with the wisdom that time (and health) brings, that the College is just fine the way it is, where it is.

"All these were the products of an inflated imagination," he explained. "But putting them on paper helped to heal the homesickness.

"I hope that as a record they may have some slight artistic value or beauty."




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