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It’s a New Year and several new projects to carry through to 2020

This is the post excerpt.

Several ongoing projects will be finished in the next month and then two new ones.  Cris and I are finishing the revisions to the second edition of The Traditional and Religious Arts of Asia and, at the same time, I am updating two online introductory art courses for the School of Art.  Those will be finished this month.  If you have been reading this blog, you will also know that I am set to arrive at Hospitalfield in Arbrough, Scotland for March.  For the past six or so years, the amount of ceramics that are fired has disturbed me.  My beginning class of wheel throwers makes hundreds of cylinders, 15 cm high and 9 cm wide, to finally get the 40 they submit.  The goal has been to get them to see these as being ‘not precious’ and to recycle the cylinders that are ‘unworthy’.  It is difficult to imagine an archaeologist digging up our material culture in 1000 years and finding this ceramic work.  My last group of students really embraced this, and I was so proud of them.  In keeping with that and the theme of transience, the work that I will make and leave along the coast of the North Sea will not be fired. These are studies of the changing light during the day for the time I am at Hospitalfield.  The works will disintegrate over time, a metaphor for the passage of time, birth and death.  I will be using textile dyes, watercolours, and stains.  This is very exciting.  And in the spring a new studio will appear on our property in Winnipeg, a transition from my reduction of duties at the School of Art, to once again just being a studio ceramist.  So looking forward.

Ceramics Arts London

Serendipity.    The meaning is:  “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”  That is precisely what happened to me when I wound up leaving Scotland a couple of days early.  Yesterday was the last day of this major exhibition of the very best of British ceramics, 90 artists in one space, Granary Square, with select lectures along with workshops and firings at The Kiln House close by.  I could hardly believe my luck!  Several of the artists I have known for some time and was delighted that Lisa Hammond was there.  Hammond was the driving force behind Adopt a Potter and was one of the speakers on my panel talking about the need for training and apprenticeships at NCECA, 2014, in Milwaukee.  Since then she has been awarded an MBE in 2016 and took on the massive task of turning buildings at Stoke on Trent into Clay College.  She still maintains her studio, Mayes Hill Pottery, where she produces soda fired functional ware and beautiful shinos on traditional Japanese forms.   The wheel-thrown jugs, bakers, and mugs made at the Mayes Hill Pottery and soda fired are traditional British shapes.  From the crowds at her booth, they resonate entirely with the public in attendance.

 

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Ceramic Review recently contained an article on the work of Midori Takaki.  Midori says that her work is a reflection of her life experiences, real or fantasy – to this clay sculptor the difference is irrelevant.  Midori grew up in Japan but now maintains a studio in Canterbury.  She always believed that the things her mind imagined would mean she would become a writer but, instead, and lucky for us, she translates those images using clay to create intimate figurines and wall masks that are unmistakably hers.  In her blog, she says that she creates these fantasies in miniature at night in place of keeping a written journal.  I am happy to say that one of her delightful rabbits has now found a home in Canada!

 

Akiko Hirai’s booth was virtually empty Sunday morning.  Over the past year and a half, Hirai has received a lot of press being included in all of the significant exhibitions with articles focusing on her practice including Ceramic Review.  Her work encapsulates what is typically a Japanese vessel, imperfect, asymmetrical, and grounded in nature.

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Anna Silverton uses porcelain to focus on pure wheel thrown forms.  No decorative surfaces here!  One of the significant things about this exhibition is the variety of the work that was shown, the juxtaposition of the crustated surfaces like those of Hirai and the clean surfaces and perfect lines of Silverton.  There was something to please everyone who walked through the door.  What was evident in the ceramics of each of the artists was the verb:  crafted.  Regardless of the methods of creating the work or the surface decoration or not, every piece was meticulously made with great attention to detail.  Nothing sloppy here.

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Hanna Tounsend combines printmaking and ceramics to create vessels that explore the layered landscapes, seascapes, and the weatherworn surfaces of the British coastline.  Tounsend has a studio in Leicester.

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Yuta Segawa creates miniature vessels.  Trained in Japan and China, Segawa now has his studio in Wimbledon.  Each of the tiny vessels is thrown on a wheel, a challenge that Segawa readily engages in to stretch the limits of “what a human body can make on such a small scale”.

 

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This has just been a teaser about the amazing ceramic talents of British ceramists.  I have wanted to attend this exhibition for a number of years and my wish came true this year.  For anyone wanting to catch next year’s show, Google Ceramic Art London for the dates.  You can order tickets online.  There are food and drink inside but with your wristband, you can come and go as you please.  It is a good opportunity to come in the morning, have lunch in one of the many restaurants in the Grange or the Coal Yard area.  The closest tube station is London King’s Cross.  It is about a five-minute walk.  I suggest coming early.  You will get a booklet with a short bio of each of the artists and the number of their booth.  The crowds are not so big around 10 am and this will give you an opportunity to talk to any of the artists whose work intrigues you.  As a result of my visit this year, I will travel to visit Midori next year in her studio in Canterbury!  I can’t wait.

 

Farewell Hospitalfield

I think that we all knew that saying goodbye after working, creating, laughing, eating, and exploring together for a fortnight was not going to be easy.  Friendships were formed, ideas exchanged and debated.  At the very beginning, it felt like there was a thread that had already woven the nine of us together.  Without exception, everyone is concerned about the environment, and our impact on it and all agreed, at one time or another, that the natural environment of Hospitalfield was having an effect on our work, intended or not.

Three highly intelligent and creative young women worked inside the historic house while the other six of us were in the historic studio.  I only wish there had been more time to get to know these young ladies a little bit more.  Ruby de Vos spent her time working on her dissertation for the University of Groningen inside the main house.  Her research examines the embodied temporalities of toxicity in contemporary art and literature.  Ruby had previously studied Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam, and we found ourselves at the dining room table talking about the work of Mieke Bal.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Ruby about her findings, but I am grateful for our discussions about climate change and how the young people in the Netherlands are protesting the impact of climate change.  We both smiles when the news reported about students around the world walking out of school to demonstrate how important it is to this generation to find a way to reverse the impact or at least halt in and the utter dismay in the politicians who are climate change deniers.

Emily Furneaux studied Critical Fine Art Practice at Brighton University.  She now lives and works in Glasgow where she uses video, sculpture, installation, and drawing to create narratives that weave together truth and fiction.  Emily’s work currently deals with her healing and the impact of mental health on a person.  She was busy working on a project that will be shown in Glasgow.  Emily is one of the bravest young women I have met, meeting her demons head-on, accepting the trauma that has occurred, and using it in a positive way for her art and for her reaching out to others who have been in similar situations.  “Place and environment” work to inspire this young artist and no doubt Hospitalfield will take its rightful place at one time or another.  I will always be grateful for our very candid conversations.  Emily’s work has screened across the UK and as far away as Lithuania.  Holly Argent is an artist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She uses various materials, often looking for strategies to utilize the fragmentary nature of archives to tell and re-tell narratives of artistic legacies.  Emily has taken the lead on a project focused on ‘Women Artists of the North East Library’.  In doing so, she is creating a resource that will contribute much to the untold stories of the history working in that area of the UK.  I wish that I had more time to talk to Holly but was so glad that she ‘ran’ to get into the group photo before I had to leave.  Holly was the recipient of the Luby’s Legs Artist Bursary (2017-18) and the Forshaw Rome Residency from Newcastle University at The British School at Rome (2017).

 

The middle section of the main studio was shared by Katy West and Lizzie Watt, both from Glasgow (OK, Katy is originally from Dublin).  At the very beginning of our residency, Katy was supervising the delivery of her electric kiln which she promptly plugged in.  That is one of the great things about the UK – the voltage of the plugs easily accommodates a kiln!  Katy studied ceramics at The Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art, London.  Since her graduation, she has worked as a designer, and a curator propelled by her interest in the history and meaning of objects.  Katy is currently a Lecturer at Glasgow School of Art.  Her list of commissions and curatorial projects is impressive.  From the beginning, it felt like Katy was in a marathon race.  Little did I know (til later) that this was an exceptional time for this mom with children aged 5 and 7.  It was an opportunity for her to get back to her roots in ceramics, to have a period without the responsibilities of her family and away from her work.  She is currently working with the students and faculty of Glasgow School of Art to revitalise their first-year programme.  That is a big task!  Katy could have selfishly protected her time, but that doesn’t seem to be her way at all.  She has a beautiful sense of humour and is generous in sharing her knowledge.  A good example was her teaching Lizzie how to make moulds!  Here she is discovering that my new coat fit her perfectly!  Fantastic woman with great charm.

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Lizzie Watt has one of the most infectious laughs and like Katy, has boundless energy and curiosity.  She is a collector of ‘stuff’ and ideas all the while experimenting with the process.  At times her area of the studio looked like a debris field but, then again, so did Katy’s so busy were they with mixing plaster and dying materials.  Lizzie was particularly interested in making natural dyes.  She had borrowed a book from the library, The Wild Dyer, that led her to collect the pits and shells of our avocado salad one day.  Did you know that the combination of skins and seeds makes a stunning pink dye?  I didn’t either.

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Watt is known for her kitschy works in miniature.  Her bio in the Hospitalfield Residency list says that she:  “borrows imagery and ideas from archaeological and scientific discoveries to explore the messy intermingling of human and non-human timescales. Ideas about these relationships are manifested in Watts’ work, not through linear narratives, but instead in sculptural debris, fascinating objects, and in films and animations which focus upon isolated and enchanting behaviours”.  Like all of us, she drew inspiration from Hospitalfield and the stories and events that came up during our two weeks together.  This morning, she presented me with a “Dressed Herring” because of the story I had relayed to her after she had taken Lucy and me to the museums in Dundee.  It is an object that I will always treasure and encapsulates Watt’s playful attitude entirely.

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Kikki Ghezzi had the last studio in our building.  From Milan but now living in Brooklyn, she not only introduced me to various ways of working with a needle and thread to create imagery that was anything but simple but she also cooked a wicked Italian dinner for us one weekend.  In her studio at Hospitalfield, she sewed and dyed a body of work that will ultimately go to the National Museum of Women’s Art in Washington, DC.  Other pieces are destined for the Italian Consulate in DC where Kikki will also be blessing a tree as part of her artistic exchange.  Using only thread, silk, linen, and natural dyes, Ghezzi creates artist’s books with meticulous embroidery using beet dyes for the colour.  She was working on a larger piece, hanging in the wind to dry that is anchored in her experiences as a woman.

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It goes without saying that the two people who shared the end studio with me were the ones that I came to know the most.  Like all the others, Allan Whyte and Lucy Barlow are immensely talented.  Allan is heading off to Berlin for a three-month residency, and Lucy is shortlisted for the Olympic Park Public Art Competition.   Allan and I spent hours talking about everything, but the one thing he gleaned was how proud I am of my granddaughter, Elysha, and her principals about animal cruelty, Veganism, and the environment.  Allan works with deprived inner-city youth in Glasgow, and he sees first hand what poverty and a lack of love can do to children.  They are so lucky to have someone so empathetic to help them, those young men.

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Lucy has her interview this coming Thursday, and I cannot imagine a better artist to take that project on.  Lucy and I became fast friends, sharing many conversations on our evening walk about the garden about the challenges of being an artist, stopping to raise a family, and returning to one’s practice.  That is precisely what Lucy is doing, and she has many, many years to make even a more significant impact on the world of public art and installations.

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And last but never least, four individuals who worked very hard to make certain that our residencies were such a success:  Lucy Byatt, Director of Hospitalfield and her adorable Whippet; Scott Byrne, General Manager who wore so many hats I lost track; Cicely Farrer, Programme and Communications Officer who made sure on a daily basis both before and after our arrival that all was well; and Simon Brown who juggled Vegans, Vegetarians, and Carnivores, always smiling.  We thrived on the most amazing local food, still healthy and delicious.  All of their background work, devotion to the visual arts, and to Hospitalfield made this two weeks in Arbroath meaningful.  All of us were grateful for their care and attention.  As we depart, we join the illustrious artists who have come before us as Hospitalfield Alumni.

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Dunnottar Castle

I had written about Dunnottar Castle earlier in my blog when I planned to go and visit.  I did finally find the time today to take a run up the coast.  As I got closer and closer the skies opened and the rain began to fall.  Those clouds that look blue were actually black and the rain had made the trail to the castle – very steep in either direction – pretty much impossible unless you had really good hiking boots with grip.  The admission fee is 7 GBP and it appears the castle is open every day of the year from at least 10:00-16:00.  In the summer it is open longer.  I can only imagine the small car park filling up quite quickly.  The castle bulletin board actually suggests parking in Stonehaven and hiking up to the castle.  There is a caravan with tea and coffee and sweets before the path leading to the castle.

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The views from the hills around are absolutely breathtaking.

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I suggest that you take the A92 from Arbroath and drive through the scenic villages.  You could stop for lunch at Lunan and also take in the lovely beach area there on the same visit.  The fields between Montrose and Stonehaven are full of daffodils being grown for market and amazing sheep!

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Lunan Bay and Red Castle

I missed a trip the other week to Lunan Bay, one of Scotland’s longest and most beautiful beaches about ten minutes north of Arbroath on the road to Montrose.  Today, there was a break, and it seemed like a good time to go.  The sun was out, and it was 14 degrees C.  From Arbroath, Lunan Bay is about a 15-minute drive.  A word of warning if you go.  The iPhone directions actually tell you to turn right about half a mile early.  To get to the lovely dunes and the sea, you need to drive right into the heart of this small hamlet.  You will then see the signs for the beach and its parking.  The drive takes you through farming land and cow pastures with the beautiful red Highland Cattle with their sweeping horns. Lunan Bay is one of the few remaining areas in Scotland where salmon netting takes place.  They have apparently been catching salmon here since the 15th century.  Up until the 1960s, the salmon fisherman lived in bothies, little shacks near the beach, and would only go home to their families at the weekend.

As you near Lunan, look off to your right and before you get to the actual village,  you will see Red Castle.

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Red Castle has a tragic history, and today it is mostly in ruins, ready to fall down.  It was built in the 12th century for King William of Scotland to defend against the Viking invaders who had been coming to the shores of Lunan Bay since the 10th century.  It is called the ‘Red Castle’ because it is built of red sandstone bricks.  The castle and the surrounding lands passed down to several individuals.  Ingram de Balliol married the wife of the late Walter de Berkely.  Together they rebuilt the castle, and the castle is said to have remained in their hands until their grandson, Ingram, died childless in 1305 and it was passed down to Henry de Fishburn.  It came into the hands of Robert the Bruce who gave it to the Earl of Ross in 1328.  It is awhile til the saga happens.  In 1579, Lady Elizabeth Beaton who owned the castle at the time fell in love with and married James, the son of Lord Gray.  Well, James fell in love with Lady Elizabeth’s daughter, and she throws him out.  James Gray joins with his brother Andrew of Dunninald, and for two years they try to take the castle.  They were ultimately successful by burning them out.  Since then they say the castle went into decline.  There are some images on the website Scottish Places that show the castle in the 1950s with its roof intact.  Today, as you can see it is almost entirely in ruins.  I did not know, but there is a footpath that will take you right up to the castle to see the keep.  I might try that tomorrow!

Lunan House has rooms to let.  It is close enough that you can walk down to the beach.   You might also be able to get a meal here.  On weekends before April 1, there is a cafe near to the beach parking, and I understand it is open daily once the visitors begin to come.

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I had an exciting event happen on the drive back to Arbroath.  I wanted to take photographs of the Highland Cattle, so I was driving slowly along a lane that was about 1.5 cars wide (small cars!).  The car in front of me had a pheasant leap into its windscreen.  Well, this reminded me of our old friend, Alf Waddingham from Grantham.  He told us the rule:  If you kill the pheasant you cannot take it but the next person can.  We often thought he might have scared them out of the ditches into the lanes to get hit as he always came home with 4 or 5.  Well, today, I pulled an Alf.  I don’t think the chef was that thrilled when I brought the beauty into the kitchen, but I am hopeful someone working on the estate will like it and take it home.  The colours on this bird are just amazing, and it was quite sad, actually.  That said, I have every intention of plucking those tail feathers.

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And tonight Lucy came to fetch me so I could see the ‘Worm Moon’.  It is apparently a Super Worm Moon that is occurring with the spring equinox.  It will not happen again until 2144.  This is the first time that a super worm moon has occurred since 1905.  The farmers used to say that the first full moon in March was when the soil had warmed up and the worms would wake up and come out of the ground.  Apparently, it will be brilliant at 2am!  Here it is starting to rise.

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Hospitalfield, Day 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.

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Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?

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Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.

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And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…

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And then there are the mushrooms…

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All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.

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So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.

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And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.

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There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.

Hospitalfield, Day 8

Inside my kiln at home is approximately three dozen perfectly formed, balanced, light in weight porcelain bottles with chattering.  There are boxes of less than optimum bottles broken up.  I couldn’t decide whether to really go for the colour which at the moment seems to be a range of greens and blues or blue-greens using stains.  For the past six months or so I have personally been put off by glaze.  Nothing seemed to capture what was in my head and that is where Hospitalfield comes in.  When I applied to be a Resident Interdisciplinary artist here, I had no idea if I would be accepted.  The ration of applicants to those accepted I have found is very low.  One in twenty individuals.  I am in great company.  My studio mates are amazing.  Lucy Barlow is shortlisted for the First Plinth public art award for Olympic Park in London.  I am really sending off the best wishes for her.  She has to finish her final presentation to the jury in a few days, so she is working on her project here and tackling that as well.  You can check out her art at lucybarlow.art      Lucy is re-entering the art world after raising her boys, and she is doing some fantastic work.  Allan Whyte also shares my studio.  He’s all over social media.  One of the things that Allan and I have learned together is that the sound recording from the iPhone is just pretty darn good.  He is working on finishing up a commission for Glasgow and is recording sounds and working with some interesting recycled materials.  Check him out, too…and of course there are five other amazing people who I will write about later including Kiki who happens to be a fantastic cook as well.

But the point I am getting at is this.  By choosing a residency that had nothing to do with ceramics I have grown immensely in these eight days.  It isn’t just stepping back in time, sitting here in this fantastic historical room with the paint and wallpaper peeling away in places that have inspired me but it is the sea.  I have never lived by the sea.  The east coast of Scotland is flat.  In fact, it is a bit of a cosmic joke because it reminds me of Manitoba!  Flat.  I did say flat, right?  Just in case you don’t believe me, those really high hills that are the only thing Scottish Tourism sends out – well, they are on the west coast of Scotland.  The work that I am producing is my first reaction to this house and to the sea and the light.  The featured bottle still has a lip that is smoothed out, and the joins of where the moulds met have been smoothed but that is now all gone.

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We had rain and blowing rain and snow when these were made and these huge clouds trying to push the sky backwards.  Today the sky was white, and the sea was blue.  It is ever-present.  When the chill is down to your bones even though you can see the daffodils blooming in the garden, it is because of the sea.  When the slip in your mould doesn’t dry like it does in Manitoba in the winter, it is the sea.  Damp.  Moss.  Cold.  And yet, I would not give up these eight days for anything.  I highly recommend anyone considering a residency to step outside their comfort zone and challenge what they have been doing.  For me, anyway, it has allowed me a time to be free, to be playful, to react to something and someplace.  Magical.

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The sea is just beyond the kitchen garden beyond the walls of the house.

For years it was the life of this village.  And today, if you meander around the harbour, you can find ‘Smokie’ stalls.  If in Manitoba you are expecting smoked sausage, you might be right, but here in Arbroath it is smoked fish.  There are five or six places.

Just a funny historical fact.  The people in Dundee used to have a tradition.  They would not eat herring, but on New Years, they would wrap red herring in little paper clothes and hang them outside to bring good luck.  It is called ‘Dressed Herring’, and it didn’t matter if the fish was smoked, salted, or dried.  You could also purchase them ready clothed at some of the market stalls in town.  They even made acceptable gifts I am told!

And with that little tidbit, I will close this blog today.  I am looking forward to the weather being balmy on Wednesday, and I am going to sneak out of the studio and take you on a trip to two of Scotland’s beautiful castles.  Keep your fingers crossed for the excellent weather arriving!

Scotland, Day 7 The McManus. Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum

Our second stop, highly recommended by my old friend, Hazel, was the McManus Museum yesterday.  For those thinking about going, entrance is free.  This is a great place to take a family, lots of things for children to do and photography is allowed in all of the galleries unless it is a special exhibition.  For those who cannot climb stairs, there is a lift and a cafe with a gift shop.  The McManus is right in the centre of Dundee.  A lovely place to visit with lots of shops about.

The building was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and it has been the heart of the city’s culture since it opened in 1869.  Scott was a leading architect of the Gothic Revival style.  He was born in 1811 in Buckinghamshire.  At the age of sixteen, in 1827, he moved to London where he trained as an architect under James Edmeston.  Scott became enamoured with medieval Gothic and began travelling across Europe to see the buildings firsthand in the 1840s.  Gothic Revival as it was in the 19th century drew its inspiration from the architecture of medieval Europe with its pointed arches, trefoils, and naturalistic foliage decoration.  Scott was knighted in 1872 for his contributions to British architecture.   The following year he became the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects.  Scott dies five years later; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The McManus Museum was initially known as the Albert Institute.  It was designed by Scott with building commencing in 1865.  The structure was finished three years later in 1868.  Initially, it had a library on the ground floor and a public hall on the second.  Additions were added by David Mackenzie II (1832-1875) in 1872-74, and William Alexander (1841-1904) in 1887.

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The first floor has several galleries including Dundee and the World, The Victorian Gallery, The Long Gallery, the 20th century Gallery, a revolving exhibition entitled ‘Here and Now’ and the Creative Learning Centre.

Dundee and the World showcase the international and maritime collections centred on world trade.  Dundee was known for its business in jute and its whale hunting.  Today along the coast of the North Sea corporations drill for ‘black gold’ or oil.  The tour guides tell you that long before people had any need for this oil, they used oil from plants.  Around 1700 someone discovered that oil from whales would soften jute and leather, could be burned as a fuel and could be made into soap.  The boats carried crews of between 40 and 70 men who chased the whales in the North Sea and harpooned them.  They would be tethered to the side of the ship where strips of blubber would be cut off and rendered to extract the oil.  That was stored in barrels and sent back to Dundee.  It is believed that the very first whaling ship to leave Dundee was in 1753.  The early whalers travelled as far as the North Atlantic and the Arctic.  Overhunting meant that by the 19th century almost all of the northern whales were dead.  But the demand for oil did not stop, and Dundee whalers would travel to the South Atlantic to hunt.  In 1872 Dundee was the most crucial whaling centre in Britain with catches of about 200 whales per year.  The community prospered.  Sails had to be made, ropes were needed, men to load and unload and to work on the ships.  In fact, ships had to be made.  Whaling stopped in 1912 as the number of whales had significantly declined and made it uneconomical.  Whale oil was also being replaced by new oils including paraffin that was extracted from shale.

In its heyday, whale bones were used for lamp oil, cutlery handles, and lubricants while the baleen was used to stiffen corsets, for parasol ribs.  The spermaceti from the head of the sperm whale provided the wax used in candles, cosmetics and medicines.  The blubber or whale oil was processed for softening the jute in Dundee.

Other traditional Dundee industries included wool.  The fibres were sent to the Netherlands to be dyed.  Leather processing including processing the hides from Scottish cattle to make belts, shoes, gloves, hats, saddles, and harness.  Shipbuilding was, of course, a big industry.

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One startling exhibition was of two ‘Branks’.  Branks were used from the 1600s onwards.  They were also known as ‘Scould’s Bridles’ and were iron contraptions put on the heads of women accused of slander or sweating to prevent them from speaking.  They were then led through the town!  They were said to have originated in Germany and the Netherlands.

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There is a lovely model of the city.  Notice the church and all of the cramped quarters.  When the jute mills were working you could not see the city from across the Tay, all of the fibres mixing about.  And then there was also the pollution from the coal fires.

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The children seemed to love the area that might be classified natural history as much as I did.  There were hawks, Golden Eagles, rabbits of all sorts.

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The Victoria Gallery was staggering.  It is precisely what you imagine the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy would look like with pictures stacked one on top of the other.  It was a bit overwhelming.

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Restaurant recommendation for the day:  The Bellrock in Arbroath.  The fish (cod and haddock) are fresh every day, and if you think you have had great fish and chips, you need to try this place.  It will cost you a tenner (twice as expensive as in Canada but twice as good). And because of the amount you get could be easily shared!  On Sunday there is a buffet but the best fish is ordered off the menu.

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