Thursday, June 30, 2016

fishing news - 30th June 2016

Fishing News
Skipper - Joe (my husband)
Crew, Me, Mick (my dad) and Cullen (my brother)
Cullen caught the most fish today!
Launched from Dwarwick Pier, Dunnet (south side of Dunnet Head)
Cheese sandwiches, coffee, chocolate biscuits and tangerines - everything eaten and drunk.
Drift from Chapel Geo to Dwarwick Pier.
Catch - a box of fish - flounder, gurnard, mackerel, ling and haddock.
We usually fish from Brough Pier on the north side of Dunnet Head - so our catch today was quite different. 

Fish for tea - only minutes from sea to table - with my mums new potatoes.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

Fishing News - back home and out at sea.

Fishing News
Skipper - Mick
Crew - Joe and me
3 cheese sandwiches - on wholemeal
one flask of coffee - with milk and sugar
3 packets of crisps - 2 salt and one salt & vinegar 
Tackle lost - one weight (that was me)
Launched from Brough Harbour.
Drift - Langapo to Sinigeo then to Dunnet Head Lighthouse.
Pentland Firth.
Todays catch - half a box of fish and one yellow wellington boot.

And I got to wear the skippers hat for a while today!
The rest of the crew - my dad, Mick and husband, Joe.
A string of mackerel!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Sumburgh Lighthouse, Shetland - artist in residence - May 2016

I’ve just arrived home,  after a month in Shetland as artist-in-residence for Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitors Centre.  My mum, Liz O’Donnell, also an artist, travelled with me to explore the islands rich heritage, and take time out to paint.  And what an advenue it was, absolutely stunning. We were so lucky with the weather,  I didn’t once need my waterproof trousers!  All of the staff at Sumburgh Head were brilliant, they couldn’t have been more helpful,  particularly Angela Hunt, who managed to think of every little detail whilst juggling many requests!

The week before I arrived in Shetland I’d been on a botanical illustration course at Kew Gardens in London, keen to continue this detailed observational work, I decided to focus my time looking at lichens. And so began a month of staring at rocks!  Well, not every day,  I had other missions to complete, including hiding a few hundred paper boats around the Island, indoors, in public spaces, for you to find. On our first day on the island, we strung up a few hundred in Shetland Museum main foyer.  They were so taken with them, that they will be on display until end August (or maybe even longer if no-one has a head for heights to cut them down!)
You might be wondering what the paper boat fun is all about?  It all starts with a flower and a whale, inside each paper boat, along with my contact details,  it reads: 

South to North.
Mystery of the Magellan Daisy and Whalers. A native flower of South America, it grows in abundance in Orkney, Shetland and Caithness.  One theory is that whalers brought it back to prove they’d been south.  Senecio smithii  AKA Magellan daisy /Patagonia daisy.

North to South. To the finder of this paper boat:  Do join in the fun.  Scottish artist Joanne B Kaar is collecting folklore connected to the sea and ancient whaling journeys.  Do you have any stories to share?  You can keep this souvenir found in Caithness or post it as far south as you can. Contact Joanne, who will log all paper boat finds their journeys and your stories.
There are 250 paper boats, hidden indoors, in shops, cafes, museums etc, not littering the landscape, waiting for you to find them in Shetland. Although the Magellan Daisy doesn’t flower until the end of June and into July, I did manage to find it growing in many locations, including Eastshore, Sandness, and  Boddam.   My paper boat fun extends to Iceland, Finland Orkney, Western Isles and Caithness. Some paper boats have already been found and their location blogged!  Have you found a paper boat?

So taken with the unsolved mystery,  I designed a portable museum about it, with drawers to pull, flaps to lift, & sound, each revealing nuggets of information as you explore.  It proved to be a hit with schools and visitors to the lighthouse.  Pupils from Dunrossness,  Nesting and also Ollaberry primary schools all had fun with it.  One visitor in particular, Andy Ross from Global Yell,  was so taken with it, that we’ve arranged for it to stay with him for quite a few months at the Global Yell studio for visitors and locals to see.  A perfect location, as the Magellan Daisy also grows next to their studio!  I met with Andy in Lerwick, under the paper boats, during my last week on the island, to had it over.  I’m just delighted it has found an admirer and temporary home on Shetland,  who knows, maybe more info will be added to the mystery.
A paper boat fundraiser I did a few years ago, prompted Kit Mowat to get in touch, as she was one of the contributors.  Although we’d never met, Kit had been following my projects and new I was coming to Shetland.  Kit and her husband Ewen treated us to a picnic and tour of Fethaland , the haaf fishing village, a place we would never have found on our own. 

We also searched the tidelines for Loki’s candles, thanks to info from Sally Huband of Bixter. Loki’s candles are curls of thick birch bark, thought to have been washed ashore from the colder climates in Canada. 
Now back home, Loki’s Candles, sit on the windowsill, my treasures from Shetland.
Paper boat blog: 
Global Yell:  Andy Ross, Creative Director, GlobalYell Ltd Shetland,
Shetland Museum:

Sumburgh Head Lighthouse and Visitors Centre: 

Iceland - Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School - building a turf house.

If I reached out, I could almost touch the arctic circle.

The arctic circle is at  66° 33´ 39" N
Sauðárkrókur.  The harbour has vast areas covered with wooden fish drying frames.
The nearest town to where we were staying:
Sauðárkrókur is at  65°44'24"N

My Background
I live in Dunnet, on Dunnet Head, Caithness, Scotland, only 2 miles from where I grew up in the village of Brough.  I have been self-employed for over 20 years. My artwork takes inspiration from our heritage.  As both participant and instigator of arts and heritage projects and collaborations I have worked in Taiwan, South Korea, Iceland, USA, Estonia, and also exhibited in Japan, Germany, Spain, Australia, Sweden and Finland.  Most recently as keynote speaker at a conference ‘Using Crafts to tell a story’ in St.Johns, Newfoundland for Intangible Cultural Heritage department at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador. 

Keen to learn traditional skills, research local stories, learn about conservation and care of objects, I enjoy finding inventive ways to attract new audiences while adding new information to artefacts of which little is known.

Caithness Horizons Museum
Caithness Horizons Museum is home to three national important Collection: 1) Early Medieval sculpture which includes Pictish symbol stones and Viking rune inscribed memorial stones, 2) the herbarium of Victorian Natural Historian Robert Dick (1811 - 1866) and 3) the history of the Dounreay Nuclear Research Establishment.

The Museum recognises that it's staff do not have the skills to make all of these Collections accessible to the public so it has a policy of developing external artists and scientists as volunteers and collection advocates in order to enable it to interpret its Collections fully. Study visits assist both Museum staff and volunteers to make valuable connections with like minded organisations for the benefit of making the collections as accessible to as wide an audience as possible. I work  in collaboration with Joanne Howdle, curator at Caithness Horizon Museum, to share info, skills, conservation techniques and  methods of interpretation through a series of craft and art based projects with adults and children at the museum, which best fits their ethos, funding applications, programme of activities.

As a result of my research on the Caithness Horizons Robert Dick (Baker and Botanist of Thurso 1811-1866) pressed herbarium collection, I was invited to give a presentation about my work for the Botanical Society for Scotland at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh and exhibit in the John Hope Gateway Gallery at RBGE. I received an Iconic Artists In Iconic Places award from Museum Galleries Scotland and Creative Scotland through Caithness Horizons Museum, enabling me to create a portable museum, a hands on experience which tells the story of the Robert Dick  pressed herbarium collection, including conservation. I have since been commissioned to make portable museums for  Cumbria Archives and Strathnaver Museum.

Iceland 2016 - Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School
Click here for their website
Click here for their facebook page.

Turf houses - site of the course- Iceland 2016.

Caithness Horizons Museum wishes to make links with similar institutions in Iceland as Vikings from Caithness were amongst the first settlers in Iceland,  and Caithness is mentioned in several of the Icelandic saga, so there are direct historical links.  The Museum  also wishes to undertake projects that help to interpret the intangible cultural heritage of the Viking Age in Caithness. 
  With much thanks to the energy and enthusiasm of Bryndis Zoega      
and Helgi Sigurðsson,  the turf house building course provided the perfect opportunity to learn traditional skill with experts in their field at the Fornverkaskolinn Heritage Craft School (a partnership between the Carpentry Department of the Northwest Iceland Comprehensive College, Skagafjordur Heritage Museum and the Tourism Department at Holar University College).

A hands on experience,the course re-enforced how important it is to get ‘dirty’ to really appreciate the skills used in turf house building.  Starting with the details of how to find the right kind of turf by looking for specific plants and grasses, to looking at the different shapes of turf needed to build with, their names – with local variations, the tools required and making tough decisions on which buildings are to be conserved/repaired/rebuilt with limited resources.  Such is the passion for these traditional buildings, work continues when funds run out.

Alchemilla Alpina growing in Iceland.
This grows where there turf is good for cutting into blocks for building
Alchemilla Alpina - a pressed herbarium sheet -
collected by Robert Dick baker and botanist of
Thurso. 1811-1866. Now in Caithness Horizons Museum.

One of the pages from ‘Flora Islandica’.
Botanical illustrations - most are life size.
Alchemilla Alpina.
This grows where there turf is good for cutting into blocks for building.


The peat landscape of the Caithness ‘flow country’ could be mistaken for the north of Iceland. The pressed herbarium collections in Caithness Horizons are a link to our past, showing how the landscape has changed.   Inspired by their collection, I have started my own pressed herbarium, documenting the plants growing on my own 6 ½ acres of un-grazed land, a mixture of peat, clay and soil. Interested in the scientific uses of herbariums, I used archival papers, and tapes. The labels document all vital information making sure the herbarium sheets will be of scientific use in 100yrs + time. A snapshot of time. 
Lupine - Iceland 2016
A beautiful blue covered many areas of Iceland, the Alaskan lupine.  The lupine was introduced to Iceland in 1945, as a means to add nitrogen to the soil, and also help reduce erosion.  An alien introduced plant, it has spread and has become a threat to mosses and other native plants. During a visit to a fish tanning workshop, our tour guide explained they had tried to use the lupine as a dye, but it faded too quickly. Lupine has however been used successfully in the dying of wool, and was available in many of the shops in Reykjavik.  A book, with pages each A3 size, displayed on a stand in the lobby of the hotel we stayed at for our last night in Iceland, was an object of beauty. ‘Flora Islandica’ showcases Eggert Pétursson's botanical drawings of 270 Icelandic vascular plants.  Most are life size, with one plant per page illustrated.
Fish skin.

Earlier this year I attended a botanical illustration course at Kew Gardens in London, and like the turf house building, it’s was only after the hands-on experience, I fully appreciated the skill, time and patience involved.

I'm cutting turf - Iceland 2016.

Turf - Iceland 2016.
I grew up on a croft, digging peat for fuel. A traditional skill in decline.  A few years ago, I organised a ‘peat experience’ workshop, in collaboration with Mary-Anns cottage and Castletown Heritage Society.  Locals volunteered to teach the traditional skills of peat digging. The result was a new peat-stack for Mary-Ann’s cottage, a living history museum, built in the 1850’s and farmed by the same family for 150 years. Open to the public in the summer months , the peat is burnt on the fire for visitors to experience.  Peat digging is strictly controlled. Peat digging rights come with either the house or land you own.  The workshop opened up the experience to all. 

It was a surprise to learn that one of the turf houses on the site at Tyrfingsstaðir where were working, was last inhabited as recently as 1969. On the outside, turf walls. Inside still partly clad in wood.  There were remnants of the last occupants, string tied to an internal partitioned wall once used as  a child’s swing, flakes of paint that decorated the rooms and a solid fuel cooker. I have a solid fuel cooker, and burn peat – it’s a love hate relationship!  A dragon in the corner that flares up when the wind blows (which is quite frequent!) Cooking, heating and hot water in my house are controlled by the weather.  Bread is baked more often in winter as the cooker is hot and never left to go out, not just over night, but weeks.  As part of the restoration programme in Iceland, they are looking for a working cooker, the same as the original – do you have one?! 

Wood is a rare commodity in Iceland. Wood from Russia, drifting in the oceans for many years before being cast ashore in Iceland provided salt seasoned materials. Salt helped to preserve the wood. The high salt content also made it attractive to livestock, chewing the wood in the process. This salted driftwood is still used in turf house repairs and reconstructions, but it is purchased from a dealer. The turf buildings also show ware from animals using it as a scratching post. Traditional Caithness furniture was also made from driftwood. In Shetland, you’ll find ‘Loki’s Candles’, curls of birch bark, which have drifted from Canada and Labrador – the bark had been analysed and deemed to have come from a colder climate than Shetland. An excellent firelighter, named after a norse god. I found a few Lokis candles last month in Shetland. They also drift ashore in Orkney and Caithness.
Hofsós is one of the oldest trading ports in northern Iceland.
Skagafjordour Heritage Museum
Skagafjordour Heritage Museum was a delight, “….shows temporary exhibitions which illuminate e.g. the interaction of individuals with their social environment. Exhibits include four tradesmen’s workshops of the twentieth century….”   Within living memory, the museum continues to collect stories connected to the area and the tradesmen’s workshops from visitors and family members. Objects in storage are also on display, making for an intriguing mix of curiosities.  Earlier this year I was invited to help with ideas for interpretation at the Bonne Bay Cottage Hospital Museum in Newfoundland “…

display of original artefacts from the cottage hospital - the incubator for newborns, surgical instruments, the doctor black bag, laboratory equipment and more! Listen to stories of doctors, nurses and support staff, patients and the communities…”   Storage of objects not on display was becoming an issue, with many items in duplicate. We looked at open storage solutions, making kits of objects for outreach and display in the area to entice visitors in, disseminate information as well as inviting artists to help with interpretation and make new work inspired by the hospital, to broaden the audience. As the building changes use from hospital (it only closed in 2002), it’s hoped that stories will continue to be collected. 


   Guðný Zoëga: Guðný is the Head of the Archaeology Department of the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum.

Upstairs at the Skagafjordour Heritage Museum, we had a close encounter with a few skeletons – found while building the accommodation we stayed at! 

Fish drying frames in Sauðárkrókur Iceland 2016.
I have a few on-going projects, all inspired by heritage, and many connected to the sea. I  have started to make connections far and wide. Mittens.  With the discovery that Icelander, Leif Erikson landed in Newfoundland, I incorporated the ‘journey’  through a series of mittens. As artists in residence in Woody Point, Newfoundland, for the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador, I incorporated their traditional woollen fishermen’s mitten designs, each with its unique shape (jig/trigger mitts, lobster mits, nippers and stalls and thrummed) with the ancient Norse textile technique of nalbinding which pre-dates knitting. I used modern fishing twine purchased in Woody Point instead of wool. While in Iceland we visited the huge fish drying frames and a fish tanning workshop. In Newfoundland the ‘stages’ (wooden platforms for drying fish) and fishing rooms were at every outport. At one of the museums we visited in Iceland, I saw a traditional Icelandic fishermen’s mitt, it had two thumbs. While on a metal gate in the centre of Reykjavik, a series of ‘single’ gloves decorated the gate spikes, with a sign tied to it which read ‘ Single Gloves – Speed Dating’.
I now have a ‘kit’ to make a ‘single’ Icelandic inspired two- thumbed mitt from fish skin (cod), fishing line , lopi plotulopi (unspun wool which will felt easily), purchased in Iceland.
It will take time to weave in what I’ve learnt in Iceland. If you care to keep tabs on this journey, do follow my blog.    
Everyone is busy.

Bryndis Zoega cuts the cake! Tea-break for the turf house builders.

And lastly, cakes, they have to get a mention!  Who knew Icelanders had such a passion for cake!  Now there’s a project – Caithness Horizons Museum holds the Robert Dick Collection – BAKER and botanist of Thurso 1811-1866. 
A day off!
Attending the course in Iceland.
   Anne Schmidt

Mitchell Fotheringham

   Oliver Goddard

Jon Wartnaby -  Culloden

Linda Weber - Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Becky Little

Hannah Brown - interpretations manager
and me: Joanne B Kaar 
 This education programme was funded by Erasmus+. ARCH are the project promoters and Byggðasafn Skagfirðinga is host partner.