Bressay Lighthouse Residency (1)

It’s always a worry when you’ve been planning something for over a year that it’s not going to live up to that much anticipation. I’m pleased to be able to say that is not going to be the case for my stay at Bressay Lighthouse in Shetland.  Just over a week in to my month’s stay and it has exceeded all my expectations.  The location is fabulous! My accommodation and working space are great with views over Bressay Sound.

View from studio space at Bressay Lighthouse, Shetland 2017

View from studio space at Bressay Lighthouse, Shetland 201

I’m here to research Shetland’s Arctic whaling heritage, and there is a great deal.  The Archive staff at the Shetland Museum and Archive have been so helpful and welcoming, pointing me in directions and at resources I would never have found on my own.   I’m trying to divide my time one third researching, one third travelling round the islands to photograph key whaling related locations and one third in the studio space at the lighthouse working up ideas in fabric.

So far I’ve been looking at Shetland whaler agents Hay & Co account books in the archive.  These beautifully written ledgers are a financial credit and debit record of the transactions Hay & Co had with the whalers.  So it gives details of what they bought, what they were paid, how much oil money they got etc.  Items purchased fro, Hay & Co included food and clothing. Clothing included mitts, gloves, stockings, gravats (scarves) and shirts.  They were also buying tea, coffee, sugar, rum, whiskey, tobacco (and pipes).  Some of the Shetland men arranged for wives and mothers to be able to draw on the company stores for provisions. These details bring the 19th century whale men closer and gives me an insight into their lives. 

Hay and Co 1853 ledger page from Shetland Whaler Laurence Twatt

Hay and Co 1853 ledger page from Shetland Whaler Laurence Twatt

The Shetland Museum holds and displays a range of period clothing and equipment the whalers would have been familiar with.  Drawings of some of these objects and the text from the ledgers are some of the initial imagery I’m working up in my wonderfully spacious studio space.

It’s not all been work.  I saw Martha Wainwright perform at Mareel, Lerwick’s Arts Centre (and my new favourite place for coffee).  And I’ve seen a whale.