Must be the Weather (III)

In recent years I have been fortunate to see and photograph some of the old Arctic whaler log books held in Hull History Centre and Hull Maritime Museum. I have then used my photos to transcribe the entries.  I’ve been fascinated as the individual voyages unfold, reading of the frustrations of the captain not catching whales when other ships had, the tragedies of losses of sailors and ships, the arctic whaler traditions and initiation ceremonies.  But as the word cloud illustrates, there is one overriding interest – the weather.  And that isn’t really surprising.  Even with our technology arctic weather can be unpredictable, and it can be very dangerous.  An 18th Century whaling captain had to rely on his experience and a thermometer.

Truelove 1860 log book word cloud

Truelove 1860 log book word cloud

Being able to predict the weather in the short term was important, for example to ensure that the sails were configured in the fastest/safest way.  But also combined with the location of the ship these observations of weather and the status and position of the ice lead to a body of knowledge and experience that could make a Captain a better whaler (whales often fed along the edge of the arctic ice cap).  The observations in these log books fascinate me, you get a real feel for the day to day operations and concerns of the whalers.   

The information in whaler log books both in the UK and US are being used to stretch arctic weather and ice records back further than modern records allow.  In this was scientists have a larger data set and time period to observe the patterns of arctic weather.  An example of this work can be found at the Old Weather Project https://whaling.oldweather.org/#/about . 

Whaler Truelove nr Davis Straits

Whaler Truelove nr Davis Straits

The word clouds generated by my log book transcriptions are interesting, but one of my long term aims is to use these resources in some way to draw the historical weather and ice observations and the huge amount of contemporary meteorological and climate data together in some way. Given that I am predominantly a textile artist this will be an interesting challenge…

Must be the Weather (II)

In the autumn of 2014 I booked a last minute fortnight trip from Bristol Avonmouth up the coast of Norway and back. It was a great trip, I saw the northern lights (awesome), the Alta petroglyphs (stunning), the first snow of the season in Honningsvag (magical), the military museum in Narvik (sobering), the receding Svartisen Glavier (sadly receding), stave churches, troll walls, sea eagles, a seemingly endless procession of beautiful scenery and a swan dissection for children in Stavanger Museum.    

Retreating Svartisen Glacier, Norway

Retreating Svartisen Glacier, Norway

A really great trip. 

Then we sailed out of Bergen to head back to Avonmouth.  We knew from the weather forecasts pinned up near reception and from the captains midday updates  that it might be a bit blowy, it turned out to be the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo. 

Battling against high winds and rough seas it soon became obvious we weren’t  going to make it back to Avonmouth on time (I say we, I spent most of that two days in my cabin trying not to be sick with varying degrees of success).  Once in the Irish sea we spent a day sailing up and down the relative calm of the leeward coast of the Isle of Man.  The plan was to land at Liverpool and transfer us back to Avonmouth by coach, but the pilot couldn’t get out to us and it was too rough for the tugs anyway, so we waited it out until we could get into the Mersey. 

Stormy weather aboard the Funchal 2011

Stormy weather aboard the Funchal 2011

 

Some of the passengers moaned (some always do) but there was an air of stoic resignation mostly.  This was something no one had control of, could control.  We just had to wait for the weather to change, which it did eventually.  Even then over a day late the swell was so great that it took several hours and a couple of tugs to manoeuvre us into position.   

 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-29700909

Must be the Weather (I)

One of the defining things about being British is our obsession about the weather.  It is a safe topic of conversation and a source of constant interest. But our climate is also generally benign so it’s rarely more than an inconvenience (more of that in another post…)

 For the last few years an important component of my practice has been sea voyages to Arctic whaling destinations. I am the first to admit these were all late booked bargain cruises on smallish ships. But they were sailing from England and back and mostly in summer months.  One thing this does give you is an appreciation of distances – how big the sea is and how it feels to sail for days seeing no land, no other ships, just the sea and the wildlife. In parts of the ocean even wildlife sightings are sporadic.  I have spent hours at the front of these ships sometimes with wildlife enthusiasts and experts (who have almost universally shared their knowledge generously) and sometimes alone seeing nothing but sky and water until the water takes on the illusion of undulating solidity and it feels like you could walk on it.

Magdalena Fjord, Spitsbergen

Magdalena Fjord, Spitsbergen

In the summer of 2011 I sailed to Spitsbergen in the high arctic.  This included 10 days of constant daylight. Experiencing the disorientation of no normal day and night cues and the sun in the north was unsettling.  I was quite glad I had a cheap cabin with no window/porthole so at least I could sleep in the dark.  The rigour of the day being divided into watches would have been vital for the early whalers and walrus hunters. 

It was also a good introduction to the weather in the high arctic. Particularly the fog so thick it nearly prevented us from sailing into Magdalena Fjord but lifted in time for me to see my first wild walrus and my first glacier, calving into the sea, and so persistent that it enabled us to sail quite close to Bjornoya Island but fail to see anything except the tell-tail rise in the number of sea birds. 

As it happens 2012 was a record year of low arctic sea ice.  In fact it held the record for a bit. Arctic sea ice and weather in the arctic are important components of global climate and a great deal of measurement and analysis of the climate is now happening in this once forbidding and hostile place.

Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

Ny Alesund, Spitsbergen

I was fortunate enough to visit Ny Alesund, the research base on Spitsbergen and the northernmost functioning civilian settlement in the world.  I saw the various research centres of the countries working there (and a weather balloon being released).  Huge amounts of data is being collected at places like this and being fed into climate models and analyses.

 

Visiting the Iconic Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Last week I was privileged to get up close to the iconic Cambridge Museum of Zoology Fin Whale skeleton during its rehang.  The museum is currently closed for redevelopment but the Collections Manager Matt Lowe invited me down to see the whale in its final stages of restoration.  The whale’s new position is suspended from the ceiling of a new double height glass-walled building which will form the entry to the museum.  It has been cleaned and conserved and looks great. 

Up close with the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Up close with the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

 I was able to get up close and personal to the skeleton (at a few points I had to be careful not to hit my head on bits of it!).  Nigel Larkin, a freelance conservator and reassembler of such things, kindly pointed out some of the interesting pathology visible on the skeleton particularly the breaks in the ribs which had healed.

Over a cup of tea in the department I was introduced to Dr Adrian Friday, retired Curator of Vertebrates, who last rehung the whale 20 years ago and as I had brought some of my whale textiles with me we all had an impromptu game of guess the species from the whale flipper skeleton! 

I have been fortunate and seen fin whales in various places (Shetland, North Atlantic. Gulf of St Lawrence) and although I appreciated they were large I never really got a sense of their size viewing them in the sea with no reference points for scale.  Standing under the skeleton at a point which would be inside the animal’s huge body I really got a sense of the enormity of the creature.  I can see why train loads of Victorian day trippers came to Norman’s Bay station to view the body when it was washed ashore at Pevensey Bay on the South Coast. 

Inside the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

Inside the Fin Whale at Cambridge Museum of Zoology

I also reflected that the skeleton only tells part of the story of what the whale would have looked like alive.  Its sleek streamlined body, dark above and pale below, with a great tail not apparent at all in the skeleton.  The tail would be outside the building as it is now positioned, the huge flukes covering the beautiful reclaimed slate of the outer wall.

 There is still time to support the rehang of the skeleton

Raise the whale donation page-

http://www.museum.zoo.cam.ac.uk/

This is my version of the fin whale flipper

http://www.carolinehack.com/five-whales-series

I can’t wait for the museum to reopen next year.

 

Whaler Disko Bay Account Book

An important component of my art practice is research. It informs and nudges my work.  Accuracy in some ways is vital to me, as is the ability to play with imagery, text and other found content.  Quite often I will collect something with no real reason or plan for its use, but am guided by a gut instinct that it may be useful sometime (or it’s just too interesting not to investigate).  And so I found myself at Northumberland Archives at Woodhorn last week hand transcribing a whaling ship account book from 1786.

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

I went there in the spring to see their Poppies display (which was very moving) and got chatting to an archivist about whaling heritage in the North East (as I do). We found an enigmatic entry in the collection database  ‘Account Book of the whale ship Disko’ It was from the ship Disko Bay and from 1786. I was able to view it that day, but unfortunately due to copyright issues unable to photograph the beautifully written copper plate entries.  I made some notes and was determined to come back next time I was passing.  Unfortunately I live 280 miles away.

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

My transcription of a page of 1786 Whaler Disko Bay Account book from Northumberland Archives

I finally made it back last week sandwiching it in between a visit to Edinburgh and my weekend at Cornucopia Festival. Prepared with a new notebook and lots of sharp pencils I managed to transcribe 14 pages.  Fortunately my experience with whaling log books meant I could read most of the writing with little difficulty and understood most of the terminology.

I’ve listed some of the most noteworthy entries below and added a couple of photos of my handwritten notes

To an anchor of gin £1/6/-

(a Dutch term anker? 38.75 L or 45 bottles)

To plates and dishes  £-/6/6

To an Indenture for John Linney  £-/6/3

(yes the indenture was less than the plates and dishes)

To a pilot out of Stromness £-/12/6

To boys washing £-/7/6

To cleaning the surgeon’s instruments  £-/5/0

To coals for boiling oil £1/1/2

There are also payments to rat-catchers, coopers, painters, carpenters, brewers, butcher, boat builders, braziers and all sorts of other interesting things.  And rather poignantly

To J Beaton’s board & funeral £4/9/2

At the moment I’m not sure what I’ll do with this treasure trove of information, but I’m sure it will be useful one day!

At Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn

At Northumberland Archives, Woodhorn

Woodhorn is a great place and well worth a visit. Not only does it house the Northumberland Archive, but it’s a mining museum at a disused pit head. There are displays about pit life both above and below ground, a display of miners’ banners, a gallery of Pitmen Painters’ art, a good shop and lovely cafe (OK, yes, I really like the place – but it is very good!).

 http://www.experiencewoodhorn.com/

Cornucopia Festival at Burton Constable 2016

Last year, when I was just starting my artist in residency at Burton Constable, I was “in residence” for the weekend of the Cornucopia Festival.  For three days whilst the sun shone and music played I sat in the barn with the sperm whale skeleton and talked to festival goers about my work. I had a fantastic time.  In the evening when the barn was locked up for the night I could wander round the festival, chat to stall holders listen to music, have something good (and reasonably priced) to eat and generally chill out (not a thing I generally do).

Evening at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable 2016

Evening at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable

I finished my residency in April this year with an exhibition, but loved the place (and particularly the staff and volunteers who had all made me so welcome) so looked for a good excuse to return.  And so last weekend I found myself at the Cornucopia Festival, with the work that I’d made as a result of that residency.  This time I was in a stable block with other artists, and yet again the sun shone and yet a again I had a fantastic time.

In the stables at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable 2016

In the stables at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable 2016

I took my sewing machine and in the (very few) quiet times when I was not talking to people I worked on some sample pieces. These were also good conversation starters.  On my table I had my handling collection of stuffed whales and textile pieces that people and particularly children appreciate being able to hold and investigate and ask question about.  I also hung the two touch panels of textile samples showing the techniques I use in my work that were so successful in the April exhibition.  And I took my Moby Dick bunting of course, which was much admired.

Textile Samples made at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable 2016

Textile Samples made at Cornucopia Festival Burton Constable 2016

Burton Constable is an amazing place and truly a hidden gem.  The Sperm Whale skeleton is worth the visit alone.  The beautiful stables, the Capability Brown landscaping and the magnificent Hall itself are all individually reasons to go.  Add to that a great café, shop and brilliantly helpful and knowledgeable volunteers and guides. And I haven’t touched on all the great stuff for kids. Go visit!

http://www.burtonconstable.com/

http://www.cornucopiafestival.co.uk/

The initial residency was part funded through the Arts Council England Grants for the Arts and the Friends of Burton Constable.

Wondrous Whale

BCEWondrous

Wondrous Whale

Wondrous Whale.  Sewn whale skeleton, screen printed map, quilted textile. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick and door panels in the Chinese Room in the Hall. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

Bower

BCEBower

Bower

Bower. Screen print. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick, Moby Dick Chapter 102 Bower in the Arsacides, the Red Frieze in the Gallery in the Hall and a pub sign. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

Gigantic Fan

BCEGFA

Gigantic Fan

Gigantic Fan. Layered screen printed fabric. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mention in Moby Dick, and the journey the whale skeleton took from Tunstall on the coast to Burton Constable Hall.

 

The close up detail shows the map in white that shows both these places. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

BCEGF

Gigantic Fan (detail)

 

Sir Clifford’s Whale

BCESir Cliff

Sir Clifford’s Whale

Sir Clifford’s Whale. Screen Print.  Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick and door decoration in the Chinese Room in the Hall. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.