August 2009 Newsletter

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News from Shetland.org

Welcome to the August 2009 edition of the the Shetland.org Newsletter. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this Newsletter or via the contact page on the website.

Shetland Enjoys Two Years Of Reunions

As we reported last month, Shetland will have a Hamefarin" in 2010. Many events are planned and it's expected that those with Shetland connections will head to the islands from all those communities worldwide where Shetlanders have settled, including New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, the USA, Canada and – closer to home – every other corner of the British Isles.

We mentioned that the Shetland Museum and Archives has launched an appeal for artefacts relating to emigration; that has now been extended to include photos of Shetland place names overseas, which will also feature in the exhibition. Ian Tait, Curator of Collections, said: "We know of a few Shetland place names in foreign countries and are sure there must be more. If anyone has photos of these we would be very interested to hear from them. These may be road signs or landmarks with a Shetland name you have discovered and taken a snap of." If you have images, artefacts or documents that may be suitable for the exhibition please e-mail Helen Whitham at the Shetland Museum and Archives at info@shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk.

As an example, we have a snapshot of the Clunies Ross Street sign in Sydney Australia. John Clunies Ross (1786-1854), a sea captain and adventurer born in Weisdale, Shetland, went on to become the self-proclaimed "King" of the Cocos Islands, starting a dynasty that endured, astonishingly, until 1978. Other members of the Clunies Ross family were to make their mark in Australia, among them Sir Ian Clunies-Ross (1899-1959), John Clunies Ross" grand-nephew, who was a noted veterinarian and government adviser. The BBC News story 'Coral Kingdom' has more on this remarkable tale.

Looking to the present, though, celebrations are already in hand. 2009, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, is the year of Homecoming Scotland, when the nation welcomes back some of those whose families emigrated from our shores, often when times were tough and sometimes as the result of evictions or "clearances". Events celebrating Scottish culture and achievements are taking place all over the country, including Creative Connections, which runs in Shetland during the first week of August. An annual gathering, it offers summer schools in fiddle playing, contemporary textiles, writing and storytelling, along with a major art exhibition on which we report below. Meanwhile, one of those involved in promoting the Scottish Homecoming has a Shetland connection; the family of Shirley Manson, once lead singer of the band, Garbage, has roots in the village of Hillswick, on Shetland's rugged north-western seaboard, as this article in the Scotsman explains.

Exhibitions Show Breadth of Shetland Artists" Creativity

Shetland is home to many practising artists and makers, but Shetland-born creative folk are also at work elsewhere. Two major exhibitions during July and August demonstrate the range and quality of their work. One of them – linked to Homecoming Scotland – builds on the theme of diaspora. During July, Da Gadderie at the Shetland Museum and Archives hosted "Crossing Waater", a touring exhibition by the group of artists living in, or linked to, Shetland that make up Veer North. The exhibition originally opened in Denmark, at the Farum Kulturhus and subsequently transferred to the Inchmore Gallery just outside Inverness; some of the exhibits can still be seen in the archive section of the Inchmore Gallery website. Given the title of the exhibition, it is no surprise that a bond with the sea pervades the exhibits, which move through painting, drawing, craft, ceramics, sculpture and moving images. The paintings, which make up the greater part of the collection, range from the vivid abstracts of Kristi Cumming to the account of a rock pool, in typically stunning detail, by Brian Henderson. In between, there are luminous, evocative and dramatic seascapes by Anne Bain, Ruth Brownlee and June Redman; cadenzas of line and colour from Paul Bloomer, Lesley Burr and Christine Mitchell; and images of seabirds from Peter Biehl and Howard Towll. James Bruce Thomason's series of paintings marks the solo voyage of Betty Mouat, who in 1886 was carried alone to Norway in an open boat after the crew (who had been taking her to Lerwick from Shetland's south mainland) went overboard in rough weather. Some of the other work includes wonderful charcoal drawing by Mairi MacDonald, notable sculptural work using found material by Lois Walpole and Jen Hadfield, Roxanne Permar's intriguing film and exquisite ceramic work by Frances Wilson.

Throughout August, as part of Homecoming Scotland, an exhibition called "Diaspora" is being held at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, about twenty minutes" drive north-west from Lerwick. Diaspora features four artists who left Shetland to live elsewhere, and four artists who have settled in Shetland. The four artists who moved away are Robert Ollason, Alex Malcolmson, Lillian Tait and Katherine Laidlay. Robert Ollason" s work reflects his time in Africa and a number of his animal studies are included in this exhibition. Alex Malcolmson, who has spent the last 30 years running a very successful gallery in Yorkshire, has been creating box constructions made mainly from wood, carved and painted; his remarkable life-size swan, duck and diver have fascinated visitors to the Bonhoga show. After studying art and design, Edinburgh-based Lillian Tait took a course in art therapy and says that this has influenced her work; she paints principally for the "sheer joy of the process". Katherine Laidlay's work is mainly figurative, sometimes expressing a mood, an emotion, sometimes a visual response to a question or thought; her preferred medium is charcoal. She lives in Dundee.

The four artists who have moved to Shetland are Peter Davis, Gail Harvey, Ruth Brownlee and Kristi Cumming. Peter Davis is inspired by Shetland's "elemental landscape, pared down to essentials" and he has practised mainly in watercolour; his colour washes are wonderfully done. Gail Harvey visited as a student while studying art in Glasgow and came to love Shetland's landscape and people. Her work features the islands in all weathers and seasons. Ruth Brownlee came to Shetland in 1998 and her beautifully-lit seascapes are greatly admired, capturing the many moods of the islands" coastal edge. Kristi Cumming is actually a returning Shetlander who left when she was a small child and returned to live permanently three years ago. Her vibrant palate captures Shetland's land, sea and sky in an abstract, dramatic style. All of this work, spread over two floors in the gallery, makes for a remarkably diverse show.

Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag Launch New Album

Shetland is known world-wide for its traditional music, which is very much alive in the hands of an astonishing number of young bands and individual players based both in Shetland and elsewhere in the UK. One of these bands is a veritable "supergroup", formed in 2005. The line-up can include up to ten of Shetland's top musicians but can be varied a little according to venue. The name, Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag, conveys the blend of Shetland, Nordic and Celtic music that they play. In recent years, they have appeared not only in Shetland but also in Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the north of Scotland and aboard the restored sail fishing vessel, Swan. They feature a full rhythm section as well as traditional fiddles and they are guaranteed to go down a storm. The new album is already winning lavish critical praise, as this Scotland on Sunday review indicates.

At Last: Rhubarb Recipes

There must be few Shetland gardens that don't have a healthy crop of rhubarb, which thrives in the islands" climate. What has been lacking, however, is a book of rhubarb recipes. Now, author Mary Prior has stepped in to fill that gap and her book, Rhubarbaria, has been much anticipated by Shetlanders. The book is published by Prospect Books of Devon as part of their "English Kitchen" series, but might well be considered a Shetland book, thanks to its strong local connections. Many recipes come from local sources such as the Fair Isle newsletter, and the author acknowledges the help of local people including Shetland archivists.

Mary Prior divides her time between Shetland and Oxford, and is also the author of Fond Hopes Destroyed, a history of breach of promise cases in Shetland. As a historian, she has not only compiled recipes; she also charts the history of rhubarb, describing how it was used first as a medicinal root and eventually as a foodstuff. In her introduction, the author describes how her fascination for rhubarb developed when she came to Shetland and saw it growing “with an uninhibited luxuriance” in every garden and around abandoned crofts.

More Good Food News

If you're attending this year's Edinburgh Festival, there's a chance to visit the Shetland stand at Foodies at the Festival, held this year in the parklands of The Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse between Friday 21st August and Sunday 23rd August.

Preparations are also underway for the 2009 Shetland Food Festival, which is to take place in early October.

Ann Cleeves Recalls Fair isle

Ann Cleeves" series of crime novels, which will extend to four volumes, draws heavily on her first-hand experience of the islands. In this piece, published recently in the Times, she relates her very first encounter with Shetland, when she migrated north from a London bedsit to cook for birdwatchers at the Fair Isle Bird Observatory. As she explains, this tale had a happy - and romantic – ending.

Whale And Dolphin Watchers Rewarded

We make no apology for returning to the subject of Shetland whale and dolphin watching, especially as July saw a group of 100 Killer Whales appear off the island of Vaila. There were several Killer Whale sightings elsewhere and a variety of other species was seen, including White-sided Dolphins, Risso's dolphins, Minke whales and Humpback whales. As this Guardian article confirms, Shetland is one of the best places to encounter these amazing creatures. There are accounts of sightings and some photographs on the Nature in Shetland website. Our photograph, by Jon Dunn, records a recent close encounter between a White-sided Dolphin and passengers aboard Dunter III, a local wildlife cruise vessel.

Mystery Of Gunnister Man To Be Explored

On 12th May 1951, two Shetlanders were cutting peat near Gunnister, Northmavine, when they came across the remains of a body buried in the peat. Whilst the acidic conditions in the peat had ensured there was little left of the man other than some hair, fingernails and bone fragments, it kept his clothes and other items well-preserved. His death was dated to around 1700 and the artefacts have provided many clues about his life. However, over 50 years after his discovery, mystery still surrounds the Gunnister Man. Who was he? How did he die? Why was he buried in a peat bog? The conference aims to explore these questions, illuminate the period in which he lived and provide evidence from similar burials elsewhere in Scotland. New information about the artefacts, discovered while carrying out research to create a full set of replicas for the exhibition, will also be presented. The Gunnister Man artefacts are being displayed in the Museum and Archives from 12th September to 1st November. A booking form for the conference is available from the Shetland Museum and Archives, tel. (01595) 695057 or e-mail: info@shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk. The closing date for bookings is 28th August, but early booking is advised.

Thousandth Cruise Ship Docks

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines" 28,000 ton Boudicca has been at the centre of celebrations, becoming the 1,000th cruise liner to visit Lerwick. On the first Sunday in August, the large ship was accompanied by water-spraying tugs as she entered the port and tied up at the Holmsgarth quay. The Lerwick Port Authority laid on a reception in Hay's Dock, the restaurant at Shetland Museum and Archives, and there was then a further reception aboard the vessel. The 800 passengers were on a short cruise from Leith to Newcastle via Lerwick and Bergen.

There was also an opportunity to visit the Lerwick birthplace of Arthur Anderson, who co-founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, nowadays known as P&O. Anderson was, as well as being a successful businessman, a philanthropist who endowed the Widows" Homes in Lerwick, founded the Anderson High School and undertook other projects in the islands.

Tall Ships" Races: Preparations Begin

Every summer, between 70 and 100 tall ships from up to 20 countries compete in the Tall Ships" Races. The route varies from year to year, but the underlying purpose of the event remains the same. The organisers, Sail Training International, aim to give more than 5,000 young people the experience of taking part in a unique event that combines calls at a number of ports with sailing between them. Some legs of the race are competitive, whilst others – called "cruises in company" – are intended simply to offer a relaxing trip. The ships aren't all large "square-riggers"; the minimum waterline length is just 9.14 metres. However, at least half of any crew must be aged between 15 and 25.

The Tall Ships" Races first visited Lerwick in 1999 and plans are taking shape for their next visit from 21 to 24 July 2011. In particular, work is under way to develop a Cruise in Company leg of the race, which will be non-competitive, between Greenock and Lerwick. Shetland is leading work with Scottish ports in Argyll and Bute, the Western Isles, the Highlands and Orkney to offer the crews a variety of activities if they visit these ports en route. The organisers are also looking for sail trainees from these areas who may be interested in joining ships for the experience of a lifetime during the races. In Shetland, five guest harbours are involved in the Cruise in Company, at Fair Isle, Scalloway, Unst, Yell and Whalsay. They will offer the crews their best hospitality, music, local food and drink before the ships arrive in Lerwick for four days of activities. There's more information about the races on the Tall Ships Races Lerwick website.

Museum and Archives Continue To Draw Visitors

The remarkable success of the Shetland Museum and Archives in attracting visitors has been sustained over a second year. Visitor numbers for the first year of opening (June '07 – May '08) were 88,799 and for the second year 82,867. This reduction of just 6.7% is accounted for by the large number of visits immediately after the Museum and Archives was opened. More than 181,000 visitors have walked through the doors of the Museum and Archives since it opened in June 2007, a figure that has surpassed all expectations.

Shetland Community Support New Centre

People in Shetland have a track record of giving generously to charitable causes and the latest appeal has proved to be no exception. The CLAN House in Aberdeen provides comfortable accommodation for those accompanying patients receiving cancer treatment and a new house is to be built at an estimated cost of around £2m. In just a year, the appeal has raised £375,000 from the Shetland public, which amounts to around £17 for every man, woman and child in the islands. A huge variety of events has been organised, the most spectacular of which was probably a version of "Strictly Come Dancing" in which local celebrities, paired with expert dancers, competed. At the event, people voted with £1 coins and the evening raised a remarkable £20,000. The Shetland Charitable Trust has donated £250,000 to the appeal and NHS Shetland is giving £25,000, bringing the grand total to £650,000. Organisers say that they're delighted with the response.

Sea Swimmers Boost Charity Funds

Shetland has many attractions for visitors, but the local tourism organisation doesn't usually promote the islands as a sea swimming destination. That said, there is something of a tradition of sea swimming in the islands. Before the first swimming pool was built in the 1960s, children learned to swim in the sea and one former Convener of Shetland Islands Council took a dip below his west mainland home on every day of the year. Nowadays, with no fewer than nine state of the art pools across the islands, there is no pressing need to immerse oneself in waters that seldom reach 14??C.

All credit must therefore go to two young women, sisters Shona Moncrieff and Kristina Simpson, who recently undertook a sponsored swim to raise funds for a local social enterprise company, COPE, which helps people with disabilities lead fulfilling lives. Their journey, made on one of the few cooler and windier days of what has been an excellent Shetland summer, took them almost two hours, crossing from the Shetland mainland to their home island of Whalsay. As well as cold water, they also had to contend with the strong tides in the area. However, they are delighted to have taken on the challenge, especially since it appears to have raised at least £3,000.

As we reported last month, COPE's former General Manager, Frank Millsopp, has been awarded an MBE and, since he is now working abroad, his post is being advertised; more details are on the COPE website

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