The Shetland Open: a rich palette

by Alastair Hamilton -

This year’s Shetland Open exhibition at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale features applied art and craft from a number of makers, some of whom are well-known but others less so. All of them are connected to Shetland by birth, education or residence. The prize-winners from this year’s exhibition are invited to participate in a group exhibition to be presented next year.

The range of work is impressive, embracing woodwork, jewellery, textiles, basketry, vegetable leather, pottery and glass, with some mixed media pieces too.

Largest of the items in wood, and one of the prize-winning entries, is Eve Eunson’s Leogh Chair, made from reclaimed walnut and iroko. Eve hails from Fair Isle and the making of this chair, her first woodworking piece, is linked to a research project she’s begun. She plans to explore the island’s chair-making tradition, which relied largely on recycled timber. In this case, the frame is made from an old table top.

There are two ‘creepies’ in the show. A ‘muckle’ one by Gibbie Pottinger is made from recycled elm, larch and beech, whilst a smaller one by George Henry, the St Ninian’s Creepie, uses agba.

One of the pieces of jewellery on display, Stooed, made by Helen Robertson, was inspired by the old practice of marking sheeps’ ears to signify ownership. She used sterling silver, fine silver and enamel to create it.

Esmé Wilcock’s prizewinning entry, The chaos that is my bench, was inspired by the detritus (if sterling silver and 9ct gold can be so described) that she sometimes finds has taken over her workbench. She recycled these remnants, melting them down and then casting the elements of the piece in local beach sand. The rings were hand-made and soldered.

Jayne Kelly has entered a small but beautifully-formed and detailed Seahorse Cuff, made in sterling silver. It’s readily adjustable to fit the wrist of the wearer.

In this show, textiles come in many forms. Dr Deborah Briggs was a prize-winner with her woven wall hanging, Fair Isle Sunset, which uses very fine metallic sewing thread for the warp and lace weight one and two for the weft. She compares the design with Fair Isle knitting, in that it uses two colours in one row of the structure. The colours echo the hues and shades of Shetland’s wild flowers and the sea.

Two more wall hangings, by Sue Horne (a sunset) and Jane Baker, take inspiration from Shetland landscapes.

On a rather larger scale, Rosalynd Mair has created A Story Through Stitch using Shetland wool, 2 ply and gold synthetic yarn. It was knitted by machine and hand, with giant knit on arms and poles, and there are small crochet details, too. It tells the story of three generations of women makers.

Barbara Dinnage’s Little Yellow Book is a tapestry that forms part of a submission she will be making next year for the Spinners Weavers Dyers Certificate of Achievement.

Julie Irvine’s piece, Mirrie Muzzle, is needlefelt using 100% wool and Julia Nairn’s piece, Symbister, is made with woven, mixed yarn.

Marcia Galvin won a prize for Urban Lines, two scarves with designs inspired by the lines found in an urban landscape.

With an eye to winter, Tomas Toth’s Kulo v Hrnci, a ski mask with hat, is made from 100% Shetland wool.

Nielanell Kalra is well known for her innovative techniques and this show includes her Haar Blanket, made from silk, merino, cotton and Shetland yarns.

Emma Louise Hopper has contributed a digitally embroidered floral sweatshirt to the exhibition and Diana Mosure’s Soulful Dress is in synthetic satin.

Rachel Jutkova was offered a residency at Jamieson and Smith, a local wool brokers, and her piece, From the Workshop, was created in 100% Shetland wool and hessian.

One of the more entertaining exhibits is Paula Chapman’s composition using sheep’s wool and German Shepherd hair. Served on a foil plate, it’s called Pasty with a Hare in it. Another is Anna Zalekesina’s Shetland Pony, hand made with 100% Fair Isle and Shetland tweed, and filled with recycled wool scraps.

Sharon McGeady has entered a hand-built ceramic sculpture made with iron-bearing stoneware clay, with layered glazes. It is, she says, “part of a journey in exploring the profound effect light and water have on rock. From the tiniest pebble in a rock pool to the roaring waves on a cliff face, our perceptions change with the light, creating jewels from even the dullest stone.”

Mixed media entries include Kath Webster’s intricate Forget Me Not, Lucy Wheeler’s multi-layered, diaphanous representation of Herring Girls and Susan Pearson’s Bookend, made from polymer clay, papier maché, glue and acrylic paint.

Beach materials were the ingredients for three entries, Fionn Arnett’s sculptural Homeward Bound, Keira Thomson’s Peerie House and the prize-winning Da Gairdins, Sand, Eela, by Lynn Ritch.

Lynn says that her piece is a “joyful result of two common Shetland pastimes, ‘scrannin’ and makkin do”. Apart from paint and thread, it’s made entirely “from washed-up banks ‘wid’, ‘claes’ and other ‘hellery’ found on the beaches across Shetland.” An eela competition is a sea angling contest but in this case the fish is being sought by a frog in the pond at the gardens at Sand, an area of woodland in the west mainland.

Cheryl Jamieson, a glass artist, has entered The Suspense of Unknowing. She says: “The title of this piece was suggested to me in a rather tongue and cheek manner, but it turned out to be a very apt description of kiln-formed glass, as you never quite know what you’re going to find when you open the kiln.”

Lisa Sumner’s Treskelion Satchel is unusual, in that it’s made from natural vegetable leather. It’s been hand dyed and hand stitched using traditional tools.

Last but not least, there are three examples of basketwork in the show. Those by Samantha Dennis and Mark Maudsley are made from Scots oats and twine, whilst Lisa Johnson’s uses pampas grass with a hand-knitted insert in felted Foula wool.

All in all, it’s a very enjoyable display of work, bringing together professional craftspeople, students from Shetland College and those who simply enjoy exercising their ability in applied art and craft. We can now look forward to next year’s exhibition, when the prize-winners’ display will give us a better opportunity to appreciate their skills.

The show is just one of the reasons to visit Bonhoga. There’s an excellent gift shop that features a range of local and imported art and craft work, some interesting books and a great selection of cards. Downstairs, the conservatory café offers delicious snacks and on my visit in mid October, patrons were enjoying a sunny and calm afternoon on the terrace overlooking the stream.

The Shetland Open runs until 3 November.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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