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More outstanding makers’ work on display at Bonhoga

by Alastair Hamilton -

Once again, the Bonhoga Gallery, in Weisdale, is displaying some of the best of the craft work produced by the many talented makers living and working in Shetland. Each of these exhibitions features up to six local artists, designers and makers and all the work on display is for sale. During the summer, there will be three different displays, so visitors have the opportunity to take home something very special.

The current show includes work by five makers. Two work in textiles, two make jewellery and one is a potter.

The textiles on display come from Morwenna Garrick and Joan Fraser

Morwenna hails from Sandness, on the westside of the Shetland mainland. She studied textile design at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Arts and Design in Dundee and she went on to lecture there on woven textiles. She came back to Shetland in 2014 and set up her own business, establishing a weaving studio in Sandness.

She began by making blankets but nowadays also makes many other pieces; the Bonhoga display features cushion covers, lampshades and jewellery items as well as blankets. She clearly has an eye for colour and loves to experiment. The Shetland wool she uses comes from Jamieson’s Spinning Mill, also in Sandness, but she sometimes uses other fibres, including cottons and silks.

Like Morwenna, Joan Fraser also studied and worked for a time outwith Shetland, in her case at Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, graduating with an MA in Art and Design. Back in Shetland, she undertook further study of knitwear design at Shetland College before setting up her business, Fraser, in 2012.

Joan looks to the traditional Fair Isle patterns for inspiration, developing a deep understanding of their evolution, but has created her own style, in which elements of Fair Isle are used in her own contemporary designs. Her classic scarves and other pieces are sophisticated in conception and equally at home in country or city settings. She works in pure Shetland wool, lambswool and cashmere.

Jewellery-making is well-established in Shetland, with a number of makers and firms active.

Jayne Kelly is another graduate of Gray’s School of Art, in Craft and Design, and these days she teaches art and design, so her jewellery-making is done in her spare time. Like other artists and craftspeople working in Shetland, she draws inspiration from the local environment and from the islands’ ancient and modern history. However, she is also influenced by travel and so other cultures help to inspire her pieces in terms of texture, pattern, colour and form. She sees jewellery as not merely decorative, but also – as it has been down the ages - as a symbol or token of love, power, status or identity, be that religious or ethnic. It may also be a talisman carrying hopes of good fortune.

Working mainly in sterling silver, Jayne uses a range of techniques in her work, including hammering, stamping, soldering, enamelling and casting. Some pieces are one-off; others may be made in small batches. The results are certainly distinctive and beautiful.

Coleen Thomson began making jewellery in 2014 and her work has rapidly gained a following. Her workshop is in Yell, one of Shetland’s northern isles, where she was born and brought up. She, too, works mostly in sterling silver, with inspiration from Shetland’s landscapes, coastlines and culture, with the changing weather and the islands’ wonderful light also very influential.

Coleen has developed a number of different collections. Some are clearly Shetland-themed but others are bold and abstract. She calls her business Yala, from the name of Yell in Old Norse.

Pottery, too, has found a place in Shetland’s creative palette and the work on display comes from the North Roe pottery, established at the northern tip of the Shetland mainland by Sharon McGeady.

Again, she is drawn to local influences in her work, particularly the crofting landscape and the lives of those who work on the land. She uses templates and textures from items found around the croft, for example old hand tools, textures of cloth, or rope from a traditional basket (known as a kishie). These are rolled into the clay sheet, which is then formed into the piece. She allows each item to warp gently as it dries, giving it an organic and very individual character.

The colour palette is also very distinctive; mostly very muted, with lots of greys and browns, but also occasional turquoise, evoking the sea and the moorland. A beautifully-executed glaze ensures that every piece is durable and practical in daily use.

Shetland has always had a strong craft tradition but, these days, it extends well beyond the wonderful Fair Isle knitwear and extraordinarily delicate lace that have won admiration for centuries. If you’re visiting Shetland and are looking to take home something that captures the essence of our islands, there’s a remarkable range of fine craft work to be found. Most of the islands’ many makers participate in the Craft Trail.

On the other hand, perhaps you’re a maker who would love to join an expanding and diverse creative community here in Shetland, just as a number of others have done over the years. If you’d like to set up in business, there’s no shortage of helpful advice, best sought through our Business Gateway.

Either way, the current show at the Bonhoga Gallery is well worth a visit. It runs until 19 May, and there will be two more ‘Made in Shetland’ exhibitions during the summer. You can find out more about what’s on offer at Bonhoga on its website. That includes a great, conservatory café with really good teas and coffees and irresistible cakes (including, I reckon, the best Bakewell tart I’ve ever tasted), together with light lunches. All in all, it’s irresistible.

All in all, it’s irresistible

Posted in: Creative Scene

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