By Laurie GoodladNovember 19th 2020

Shetland-based artists draw so much inspiration from the world around them and the ever-changing landscape, wildlife and rich lore of the isles.

As we move into the darker months of winter, the landscape takes on a new hue as colours mute, shadows emerge, and the light becomes even more ever-changing and dramatic. This is also the time of year that, in the past, people would draw together to share stories and tales from our folklore.

The rich folklore, even today, inspires and captures the imaginations of local craft producers, and none more so than Trowie Knowe Crafts. Trowie Knowe draws inspiration from the tale of trows that repeatedly appear in our folklore. Trows are creatures, similar to humans but smaller and uglier who lived in the hills, particularly the heathery peatlands inland from the sea. They would only come out at night to work mischief in the human world. If a trow were to get caught out by the rising sun, it would turn to stone before it was able to get back to its underground layer. Trowie Knowe Crafts captures trows and sells them in little jars for people to keep – these make excellent gifts and explore a multitude of trowie themes. They have also recently opened a Trow Fridge – similar to the cake fridges found across the isles – selling trows and trowie gifts. For those who can’t attend the fridge for fear of the trows or geographical location, you can order from Etsy from the safety of your own home!

Another maker who is inspired by the trowie stories is Ann Marie Anderson, author of children’s books and creator of Peerie Ooricks, hand-felted crafts. You can see her creations on Facebook and buy her books, packed with local lore and dialect online from the Shetland Times Bookshop.

Traditional life in Shetland is still very much celebrated, and none more so than the image of crofting and crofting life in the past. The ruined crofthouses dotted across the landscape act as reminders of this subsistence past that was prevalent in Shetland until the mid-20th century.

The iconic Shetland crofthouse inspires much of our creativity with artists such as Mike Finnie, Anne Bain and Avril Thomson Smith conveying them to paper and canvas, each with a unique and distinctive style.

Greencroft Shetland is the home of the Shetland ‘Crofthouse Planter’ and ‘CandleCroft’, miniature traditional crofthouses that can be transformed into planters for the garden or cosy tealight displays in the home. These eye-catching crofthouses make the perfect gift for Christmas, whether potted or bare, lit or unlit!

For those who are partial to unique pieces of jewellery, Yala Jewellery Shetland create beautiful designs featuring the enigmatic crofthouse and much more besides! Yala jewellery is designed and produced in a small workshop on the island of Yell and is very much inspired by the landscape around us.

There is a unique tradition of furniture making and design in Shetland, and every crofthouse would have been furnished with distinct pieces; restin’ chairs, Fair Isle chairs and all the various household implements you would expect to find in a country kitchen. Despite the lack of trees, people would gather driftwood to create homely pieces of furniture. Today, this tradition of creating furniture lives on in Bigton. The Shetland Collection by Paparwark Furniture is inspired by the traditional furniture of a 19th-century crofthouse. These beautifully crafted, timeless pieces are sure to look good in any modern home.

Place and people are also a feature in the work of many designers, and people are often named after the place they come from, and this is an integral part of what Burra Bears convey in their iconic Shetland Teddybears, made from recycled knitwear. Each unique, Fair Isle bear is given an identity, inspired by a person and a place. Established in 1997, these bears make the ideal gift and companion.

The people who worked, and continue to work the land – crofters – have also inspired a whole collection of soaps from the Shetland Soap Company. The Crofters range offers a crisp, clean and refreshing blend of lemongrass, rosemary and lavender, guaranteed to wash away any of the smells of the byre!

It would be wrong of me not to include Howard Towll and Paul Bloomer, both artists working in Shetland, who draw inspiration from the landscape and, in particular, the wildlife and birds that can be seen throughout the isles. Shetland has a tremendous number of both indigenous and migratory birds that pass through, making the natural world a varied subject of study.

Paul Bloomer (whose Flight painting is featured at the top of this post) says: “Shetland is a place where artists can dare to dream. The landscape gives a different concept of time that is in tune with the seasons. The contrasts between simmer dim light and winter dark fuels creativity.”

I have picked these creators as I have a piece from every one of them somewhere in my home and they all, individually, bring me great joy, especially as the nights darken and the winter closes in.

The annual Craft Fair is an event organised by the Shetland Arts & Crafts Association that showcases the best of Shetland’s creative talent. Despite the Craft Fair not being held in Clickimin this year, shoppers can still buy many of these arts and crafts online and support local businesses. Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale are also hosting a socially-distanced Christmas Craft Fair in the weeks running up to the festive. You can book your slot online via the Shetland Arts website.