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Creative Craft Skills On Show At Bonhoga

by Alastair Hamilton -

The variety and quality of craft work produced in Shetland is remarkable, and some of it is currently on show at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale. It’s always a pleasure to spend some time there, not only because of what’s on display but also because one can sip tea or coffee in the conservatory, enjoy chef Bo Simmons’ light-as-air lemon polenta cake (or other delights) and look out for the occasional heron or otter by the stream. It’s sublime.

In the past, the gallery has hosted a very wide variety of work from local artists or those practising farther afield. This year, though, three successive exhibitions focus on applied art and craft and its role in Shetland’s culture and economy. Each will feature the work of six artists and the work is for sale. This first one is immediately appealing, featuring furniture, jewellery, fabrics and more, in a room setting.

Esme Wilcock’s jewellery catches the eye. Some is individually cast using moulds shaped from Shetland beach sand, resulting in pieces that are unique. Some uses seashells, usually a type of cowrie known in Shetland as a grotty buckie; and some is made from fragments of glass or ceramic material found on the beaches near her home in the northern village of Hillswick, framed in silver. All of it is beautiful.

Shetland’s knitting and weaving tradition is known world-wide, so it’s no surprise that the exhibition features work by two textile designers.

Joan Fraser is particularly known for impeccably-knitted, finely-detailed scarves. She studied art and design in Aberdeen and knitwear design at Shetland College, then set up her luxury textile business, Fraser Knitwear. Her designs – in pure Shetland wool, lambswool and cashmere – are very much influenced by the Fair Isle tradition. However, she has also developed her own patterns and motifs, resulting in sophisticated, classic designs that are at home anywhere.

It’s no surprise that the exhibition features work by two textile designers

Emma Geddes also has textiles on display. Her company, Aamos Designs, takes its cue from the Shetland weaving tradition. Based in Burra Isle, Emma has been producing colourful hand-woven fabrics for more than twelve years, following her graduation from Glasgow School of Art. Her vibrant pieces are used for both fashion and interiors; the work on display includes wraps produced as part of a collaboration with the Bristol Weaving Mill.

Gillian Bridle has lived in Shetland since 2016; she sailed here, and lives on, her own boat. Gillian’s design and illustration business – Gilly B – is based in a rented studio in the village of Scalloway. Her background is also in textile design, which she studied at Manchester University, but she has moved into illustrative design, using bold Shetland imagery in paint, collage, paper cut and shadow box. Her lampshades are particularly striking.

Several Shetland craftspeople work in wood and one of them is Cecil Tait; his firm, Paparwark, operates from Bigton, in the south mainland. Cecil specialises in bespoke, hand-made furniture and homewares, often individually commissioned. He began his studies at Glasgow School of Building and Printing and continued in High Wycombe. The work on display ranges from small candlesticks and bread boards to two beautifully-executed chairs.

Cheryl Jamieson runs her business, Glansin Glass, in our northernmost island of Unst. Her fused glass work has a large following in Shetland, whether in the form of pendants, earrings, plates or ornaments. Some of her pieces combine glass with driftwood. Her inspiration comes from the landscape, the changing seas and skies, or Shetland’s heritage and culture. All of the work is designed, cut and fired in her Unst studio.

This is, to be sure, an impressive show of craft skills, but it’s only a sample of the excellent work being produced in Shetland. Many other artists and craftspeople have established themselves in the islands and quite a few of them have moved here from elsewhere in the UK or farther afield. The creative community is flourishing and expanding, with the Shetland Arts and Crafts Association providing support and organising the annual craft fair.

We can look forward to seeing more in the planned future shows at Bonhoga. And there’ll be cake, too.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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