Maritime Heritage - Orkney

Battery Observation tower at Hoxa Head
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
‘One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of the many vibrant artworks produced during the workshop.
One of four paintings collaboratively created by the participants.
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ABOUT THE WORKSHOP

During November 2007, staff from RCAHMS and the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness teamed up with the artist Sarah MacLean to look at the maritime heritage of the Orkney Isles. We were joined by members of the local community, including pupils from Northwalls Community School on Hoy.

The workshop ran over the course of five days, visiting Stromness, South Ronaldsay and Hoy; participants could choose which days they wanted to attend.

With Sarah, the participants were invited to consider the contemporary significance of the islands’ rich and diverse maritime past. These ideas were expressed through hands-on creative sessions. Everyone who came along to the workshop succeeded in creating their own artworks - either individual pieces or contributing towards a large communal work.Art experiments at the workshop.

Creating their artworks.
^ Creating their artworks.

A reflection of Orkney’s relationship
^ A reflection of Orkney’s relationship with the sea.

 

Art experiments at the workshop. >

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION

As a springboard for their creative inspiration, we brought with us some items from the RCAHMS collections relating to Orkney and its relationship with the sea.

This diverse range of material included early nineteenth century engravings by William Daniell showing views of Orkney; historic construction drawings of lighthouses; RCAHMS survey drawings of First and Second World War military sites; survey photographs; and mid twentieth century visitor guidebooks.

This image of a fishing boat near Pierowall Village, Westray was one of the many images from the RCAHMS collections shown at the workshop. SC459728

^ This image of a fishing boat near Pierowall Village, Westray was one of the many images from the RCAHMS collections shown at the workshop. SC459728

LOOKING FOR INSPIRATION

Looking to the archive material for inspiration. ^ Looking to the archive material for inspiration.

The archive material was of great interest to the participants. One of the group, Jorgen Anderson, commented:

 

“Orkney is a magical place with so much heritage that acts as an inspiration to delve deeper into its history and folklore through archive material and creative expression. This workshop stimulated the need to know more!”

THEMES TO EXPLORE

The workshop was divided into four distinct themes. Each one was explored over the course of a day, with each day held at different locations across the islands. The themes covered a variety of perspectives on what makes up Orkney’s maritime heritage.
They included:

Boats
For this day we were based in Stromness, where we looked at shipping, fishing and emigration.

A photograph of Stromness taken around 1900.
^ A photograph of Stromness taken around 1900. SC1078184

The town of Stromness grew during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries due to the colonial trade ships that sailed around northern Britain. Stromness forged strong ties with the Hudson’s Bay Company of Canada, whose ships would stop there to stock up on provisions as well as collect any willing emigrants looking for work or adventure.

THEMES TO EXPLORE

War
Exploring the physical evidence through the remains of two world wars on Orkney’s coastline, the participants considered the many military sites still visible. These included coastal batteries and the key naval and air base of Scapa Flow, representing the sea as a battleground and the strategic significance of Orkney during wartime.

Outside Influences
Working with primary and secondary pupils from Northwalls Community School, Hoy, this day of the workshop focused on outside influences on the Orkney Isles. This included the oil industry, one of the most important sources of employment and revenue in the islands today, tourism and visitors to the Isles, as well as how the pupils viewed the future of their island.

Danger at Sea
The final day and theme to be explored brought us back to Stromness and the Pier Arts Centre, where the participants considered lighthouses, their structures and their important role for sea-farers and islanders alike. There are several lighthouses located around the Orkney coastline and Sule Skerry, based about 40 miles west of Orkney, is the most remote of them all. Standing tall at 88 feet, it was built between 1892-94.

A participant concentrates on her artwork.
^ A participant concentrates on her artwork.

Expressing the themes through paint.
^ Expressing the themes through paint.

METHODS AND TECHNIQUES

As well as drawing and painting, participants had the chance to try their hand at a few other art techniques.

Some people experimented with collages, cutting up and rearranging the archive material – copies, of course!

The group also tried monoprinting. This involved rolling out printing ink onto a flat surface and then drawing onto paper lain on top. An alternative effect was created by drawing into the ink with a sharp implement (such as a knitting needle) and then laying down the paper afterwards.

All these different methods resulted in a variety of stunning pieces, capturing an essence of Orkney’s maritime heritage.

Adding the finishing touches
^Adding the finishing touches
to this striking painting.


Creating a monoprint reflecting the legacy of war in Orkney.

 

 

 

Creating a monoprint reflecting the > legacy of war in Orkney.

WORKING TOGETHER

Participants could complete artworks during the course of one session, but those coming to several sessions had the chance to build up a more complex piece over the week. This was achieved through layering different images and techniques within the same piece of work.

As well as these individual pieces, each day of the workshop resulted in the production of one communal piece by all the group members.

These four communal works formed panels in a large-scale installation piece. The final structure consisted of a wooden frame, each side fitted with one of the four panels. Sarah also created four oiled drawings inspired by the workshop themes – illustrating a ship, lighthouse, coastal battery and Flotta oil works. These were fitted into the panels over the workshop drawings, with a light source placed inside the structure to create a translucent effect.

One of the communal drawings
fitted into its frame.

The finished installation piece, showing two of the panels.
^ The finished installation piece, showing two of the panels.

< One of the communal drawings fitted into its frame.

ON EXHIBITION

Friday evening saw the unveiling of the artworks in an exhibition held at the Pier Arts Centre.

A variety of displays were on show. All the individual pieces created during the course of the workshop had been digitised and these were projected with a pulsing flash giving the dynamic effect of a lighthouse beam.

The installation work containing the communal panels was the centre piece - lit from within it glowed to reveal the layers of images. Hanging on the gallery walls was one piece by each participant.

One of the finished artworks ready for display.

 

< One of the finished artworks ready for display.

 

The exhibition provided a great opportunity for the wider community to see what had been taking place over the week and, of course, admire the outcome.