Local makers feature in another Bonhoga exhibition
by Alastair Hamilton -
The Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale , little more than 20 minutes’ drive from Lerwick, has a record of hosting a very wide range of art and craft work, from abstract installations by UK artists to displays of the very best from local makers. These days, the focus, particularly during the summer months, has shifted towards applied art and craft, while Shetland Arts’ visual art programme pushes the boundaries elsewhere, for example in the work of photographers that’s currently on display at a building site in Lerwick.
For those makers – who have often included craftspeople or artists who’ve chosen to settle in Shetland – the gallery offers a platform on which to make a real impact. For the general public, including visitors, the summer series of three “Shetland Made” exhibitions is an excellent opportunity not only to see what our craftspeople are producing but also to take something home.
Shetland Arts’ Retail Manager Angela Smith said: "We are very excited about this opportunity for Shetland makers. We are half way through our three year showcase programme now and it’s fantastic to see how the makers are taking advantage of this opportunity, with many developing and creating new work".
Six more of Shetland’s finest makers are involved in this show, which features jewellery, textiles, ceramics and homewares.
Moving clockwise around the gallery, it’s Helen’s work that we first encounter. She’s a local artist and designer whose work is rooted in respect for the knitters and designers of Shetland’s past. The preciousness of that past is marked by her use of fine and sterling silver in her jewellery. Knitting, learned in childhood, came first; but she later developed metal-working skills, which she can now use to create elegant, contemporary silver jewellery as well as other kinds of applied art.
Working from home in the north of Shetland, she seeks to celebrate and commemorate Shetland’s history and heritage, some of her work arising in response to individual commissions. She has exhibited nationally and internationally as well as in Shetland.
Julia Downing: Just Shetland
Formerly a theatre nurse in Warwick Hospital, Julia is one of the many craft makers who have been drawn to Shetland, in this case after early retirement. Now based in the south mainland and trading as Just Shetland, she traces her interest in spinning and weaving back to the first time she saw a woman using a spinning wheel. “I was transfixed and I knew immediately that I had to learn that skill.” Now, she has fourteen spinning wheels and three large floor looms.
When developing weaving projects, she draws on observation of patterns and marks in the landscape, evidence of “human or animal presence, the force of nature or simply the effects of the passing of time.” As she says, “working with fibre that I spin into yarn, sometimes dyeing it, and then weaving it into cloth has become a deeply rewarding way of life.”
Bill, formerly Head of Ceramic Design at Glasgow School of Art, has chosen to come back to Shetland in retirement and has his own studio in Voe, in the north mainland. He’s interested in making things that are specific to a place and the influence of Shetland’s culture and environment are very clear in his work, not least the beautifully-crafted puffin vases.
He’s been exploring the possibility of using local resources, too, including clay and soapstone. Soapstone (also known as kleber in Shetland) has been in use in the islands since the Bronze Age and it seems to have become a major industry in Viking times, when soapstone items were exported.
Quite a few of Shetland’s visitors arrive in the islands on yachts and Gilly B was one of them; but she chose to stay, and now has a studio in the village of Scalloway, Shetland’s ancient capital. Her training was in textile design, which she studied at Manchester University, but her focus now is on illustrative design. She has developed a range of prints and homewares, including striking lampshades, that use a range of media including paint, collage, paper cut and shadow box.
Gilly says that, on walks, she sketches and photographs her surroundings. “Ideas come and go. I distil my impressions until designs emerge. I am drawn, in particular, to the places where people come and go: bustling piers, quays, sheds and boats. Maybe I am just nosey, but it’s from observing these places that my designs begin….the discovery that my creations connect with people delights me”.
Rosalyn Fraser: RoLo
RoLo is a textile business in the central parish of Tingwall that was set up by Rosalyn Fraser, who grew up in a crofting and fishing family on the north-eastern island of Whalsay. Like many youngsters, she learned to knit as a child and she’s never lost her passion for making, which extends to crochet, knit and needlefelt. She eventually began to use her mother’s old hand frame knitting machine and her business simply grew from there.
Rosalyn uses only Shetland wool in her work, which takes its inspiration from Shetland’s very rich textile heritage, including of course the Fair Isle tradition. However, she works in a contemporary vein too, employing simpler designs. She uses a varied colour palette but the show includes several cushions that include just two colours.
Margaret’s studio workshop is in Fladdabister, a hamlet in the south mainland just ten minutes from Lerwick, where a landscape featuring old croft ruins and a wealth of wild flowers has inspired many local artists to open a sketch pad. Her influences include “the weather, the changing moods, colours and shapes of the sea, the flotsam and jetsam of objects washed up on the shore and the windblown grasses in the fields.”
Margaret also found that her passion for knitting and design flourished after she moved to Shetland more than 30 years ago. Like many others, she studied contemporary textiles on the highly-regarded course at Shetland College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands. She went on to start her own business and came full circle when she began teaching students at the college. This latest collection, Seascape, includes hand-knitted pieces that evoke the islands' seas and coastline.
If you’re visiting Shetland, Bonhoga should certainly be on your itinerary, and not just because of the art and craft work in the gallery. There’s a great conservatory café by the Weisdale burn and the gift shop has a nice range of work, plus cards and books, from Shetland and the rest of the UK.
If you’re visiting later in the summer, the last Shetland Made display will run from July until September. Bonhoga is open every day during the summer, from 10.30am – 5pm Monday to Saturday and 11.00am – 5pm on Sundays.
Posted in: Creative Scene