I was lucky enough to be asked to take part in a residency at the Scottish Sculpture workshop in Lumsden last October. The project, Naked Craft Network (NCN) brings together 5 Scottish based makers and 5 Canadians. This international project takes the best of contemporary Canadian and Scottish crafts. Makers from these two countries are united to celebrate the shared sense of northern resilience as both of them rest to the north of a southern powerhouse. Contemporary craft builds upon traditions and heritage that are placeholders that aid in defining our identity and cultures. ‘Through this project we are interested in how craft practices, which are often rooted in local communities and traditions, engage with a sense of place and heritage within the context of contemporary economic and marketing requirements.’ For both Canada and Scotland, craft plays an essential role in the cultural and creative industries, providing communities with important financial frameworks as well as being a catalyst for strengthening the connections between creativity, place, landscape and identity
In my current work I have been developing a collection of underwear in response to my Shetland heritage. It is interesting that to this day Shetlanders say they are ‘maakin on dir sock’ when knitting any article. Socks were originally knitted and traded with Dutch fisherman. I want to look at the sensual and feminine side of underwear, in Shetland it was traditionally made for warmth and income. Shetland women have known many hardships, working hard to keep families together and forever this links to fishing and sea, loss and hope. I have chosen underwear not to shock but because it is about what we reveal and conceal, about our strength and weakness. It used to be so important in Shetland for warmth; protection and women would make the most beautiful delicate knitted spencers adorned with ribbons, socks, hats, and gloves. They did this not out of vanity but as acts of love. I am also interested in sailors, fisherman and trading, the love tokens that they would bring home. Delicates silks and china from afar. I would like to create a narrative in print and stitch, which tells this story of men in a feminine medium.
When I came to Lumsden I decided I wanted to extend on my themes of identity and heritage but to take advantage of the chance to work with new materials.
I began by researching and as I had brought a box of ‘trinkets’ with me I wanted to look at love tokens and superstitions. I was fascinated by the foundry and the idea of pouring bronze. I found an article written about a bronze horse figurine found in the walls of a ruined kirk, a church, in Shetland. These charms were left in the walls of churches in the belief that they would cure ailments. The horse would have been one of the most precious possessions at the time and as they had no other means to cure the animal, charms were put there to cure the horse, or to ward off evil spirits. It had been found in a square stone pot.
I also looked at the Shetland ‘haaf’ fishing. The word ‘haaf’ is Norse for open sea. Fishermen form 1740 to 1890 would stay in seasonal fishing villages in remote areas of Shetland. They lived in simple huts, all that they had was space to mend nets and play board games.
I’ve been preoccupied with this idea of passing time. That every moment lived is a moment lost. So I decided to make bronze figures based on the idea of curing ailments, but these figures are to become like chess or game pieces. The idea of these pieces is that of the hope of every Shetland woman when her man goes to sea, ‘to keep him safe’. The majority of able-bodied men made their living from the sea and thus were absent from home for long periods of time. So men were treated as precious, women were ever conscious of the fragility of life at sea. My bronze figures are representative of the idea of superstition, passing time and the idea of objects used to protect.
I also got the chance to work in ceramics, something I discovered I love the feel of. I made pots to represent the box that the horse figurine was found in. I love the idea of the vessel and what it may contain, a vessel also being a term for a boat. These I decorated with naïve drawing of boats, although the idea may be extended to be actual boats. Like the effigies a ‘witch’ once hung in her croft house and told the fishermen that they would have no fish if they did not deliver fish to her.
For the touring exhibition I would like to continue along these themes, I would like to create a series of boat effigies, ‘vessels’ and containers for the superstition objects. A game of passing time, the boats would have sails with narrative done in haute couture embroidery. The boats are also representative of shifting place and identity, the movement between places and development of identity through that.
I was washing in the yard at night
the firmament shone with course stars
the star beam is like salt on an axe
the full barrel is frozen
The gates are locked
and the world is so honest and stern
I doubt if one could ever find
a base of fresh canvas as pure as a truth
A star thaws in the barrel like salt
and the ice cold water is blacker
death purer, trouble more bitter
and the world more honest, more terrible
– Osip Mandelstam –