Category: Blog

The Arctic Whaling Year

I’m just back from an amazing trip to Dundee for the installation and opening of my exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’ at the Verdant Works.  The exhibition has been over a year in the making, but much, much longer in gestation.   As I have been researching British Arctic Whaling I have pondered the idea of doing a series of work linked to the development of the British Whaling trade.  When Dundee Heritage Trust offered me the opportunity to have an exhibition in their Verdant Works Gallery with a lead-in time sufficient (just!) to make a new body of work for that space I took the opportunity to produce a cycle of works, stand-alone pieces that would also tell a story together.  Each work is inspired by a particular aspect of whaling, but is informed by my travel and research, so I can incorporate personal content.

British Arctic Whaling was a seasonal industry with ships leaving British Ports in the spring to head to northern arctic waters to catch whales, returning in the late summer before the ice retuned.  The cycle of work starts with ‘Victualling’, the process of getting the supplies needed for the voyage, using details of accounts from the University of Dundee Archive.  Then Calling At Shetland where the whale ships picked up more supplies and extra men. My Shetland Residency in July 2017 researching at Shetland Museum and Archive provided the text and my photograph of one of the museum buildings.

The development, through both economic necessity and innovation, of early spring sealing trips along with the fantastic collection of early photographs at the Dundee Art Galleries and Museums the inspired the triptych Sealing’ showing the ships and sailors on the ice.  Some of the rituals and superstitions of the whalers are used as the basis for the Cape Farewell including Neptune coming aboard to initiate the new sailors with a joke razor (from the one on display at Hull Maritime Museum).  The hazards and locations of arctic whaling are depicted in ‘Stoved!’, ‘The Whaling Grounds’ and BesetJute is inspired by the architectural features and story of the location of the exhibition – the Verdant Works jute mill in Dundee, where whale oil and water were used to soften the jute fibres prior to processing.  The final piece ‘Right Whales Historically Regarded’ uses the heart-breaking image of an unborn right whale foetus hanging under its mother, itself hanging over a range of the harpoons and other implements we have used to decimate Right Whale populations, including ship strikes and ghost tackle, causes that are currently driving the Northern Right whale towards extinction.

Verdant Works Exhibition Display case and works

Verdant Works Exhibition Display case and works

In addition to the 9 works, there is a display case containing a harpoon, kindly loaned by Dundee Collections Unit, whale baleen, from the Dundee Heritage Trust Collection, a set of 1927 Whaling Cigarette cards from my collection and two of my whaling related artists books (in concertina format so the books can be read in their entirety).  Some of the sample pieces I made in preparation for this exhibition have been collected onto two panels with labels describing some of the techniques used, available for visitors to touch and examine.

Verdant Works Exhibition Touch Panels

Verdant Works Exhibition Touch Panels

I think the exhibition achieves what I set out to do, to tell a story of British Arctic Whaling through a cycle of artworks, supported by information panels describing the aspects of the industry that inspired each panel and with real artefacts of the industry.  Although the exhibition was made for the space at the Verdant Works with new location specific works could enable the exhibition to travel to other venues to tell their stories of Historic British Arctic Whaling.

Commission for Whalebone pub

My artist statement currently states that “I make work inspired by Moby Dick and British Arctic Whaling, inspired by my travel and research. I am aware that this is quite a niche practice, but I carry on regardless, and for once this approach has paid off!

The White Hart in Downham Market, Norfolk has been returned to its original name of the Whalebone by its new owners Wetherspoons (a UK chain of pubs) and as part of their redevelopment of the pub they were looking to commission some related art. Their designer found my web site and thought I might be just what they were looking for. Because of my research I knew enough about whaling and Norfolk Whaling heritage to be able put the Whalebone in context. So, I set myself the interesting challenge of making something that explained Arctic whaling around the 1800s (when the pub had last been called the Whalebone) but understood that this was a pub and restaurant so couldn’t make it too explicit and gory. The added complication was that I only had a couple of months for some focussed research and then to design and make the piece, which turned out to be the largest textile piece I’d made to date.

I was already working on related imagery for another exhibition and in a short space of time I’d looked at a range of sources. I was aware of the illustrations in William Scoresby’s Account of the Arctic from 1820 and a wonderful circular map of the known arctic from a journal written by his surgeon on one of his earlier voyages. I had also been looking at and thinking about arctic panoramas.

Whaling Grounds Whalebone textile commission

Whaling Grounds Whalebone textile commission

A composition soon emerged of the semi-circular map showing the whaling grounds at the top and the arctic species of whale hunted at the bottom would sandwich a panoramic image of whale ships. The panoramic image would include whaling ships, arctic landscapes, icebergs, and some scenes of whaling. To make this a more personal design I used my drawings of the Spitsbergen coastline (early arctic whaling grounds) from my trip there in 2011, and some of the icebergs were inspired the ones I saw off Greenland in 2014. Two roundels containing images of the products of the whaling, a whalebone corset (from one I saw at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter in 2014) and a whalebone arch suggesting the one at the original whalebone pub based on one still visible in Kings Lynn.

Once the design was finalised it was transferred to the three main pieces of fabric and the making begun. I used several techniques, fabric painting, freehand machine embroidery, quilting and layering coloured sheer fabrics to give blocks of colour. Once the components were sewn together it measured 48 x 36 in (122 x 91 cm).

I was invited to the soft opening of the pub in March 2018 and enjoyed a delicious meal with a great view of the work!

Having a drink overlooking my work

Having a drink overlooking my work

The 22nd Moby Dick Marathon at New Bedford Whaling Museum

Arriving at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Arriving at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

The Moby Dick Marathon at New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts is a (near) continuous read of the novel over 24 hours Saturday to Sunday of the first weekend of the year by a range of Melville enthusiasts, and is in it’s 22nd year.  For the last couple of years I have followed the event via social media and the live webcast, and this year I was lucky enough to be selected to read.  You are notified less than a month before the event, and so I had a late December flurry of booking flights, hotels, busses etc.  I stayed in New Bedford for a week giving myself a couple of days to go around the museum itself.

Over the years the event has grown and there are a range of events and activities around the actual reading of the book.  Several of these (Stump the Scholars, Chat with the Scholars, Extracts) involve a group of people labelled Melville Scholars who are the committee of the Melville Society Cultural Project (Bob K. Wallace, Timothy Marr, Wyn Kelley, Mary K. Bercaw Edward, Jennifer Baker and Christopher Sten).  I had met Bob and Wyn at the International Melville Conference in London in June 2017 where I presented some of my Moby Dick inspired art including my work “Cetology” (which the Cultural Project  subsequently purchased for their collection).

Pre Marathon Dinner at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Pre Marathon Dinner at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

At the Friday night Pre-Marathon Dinner, Movie and Discussion I was fortunate enough to sit on a table with some of the Melville Scholars and the film maker and his family.  Although jet lag was kicking in I had some great conversations over dinner and my whale inevitably made an appearance.  An unexpected treat was that some of the books that formed my Cetology series had been put out in a display cabinet and were mentioned by Bob Wallace in his speech before the film (I was made to do the stand up and wave thing).  I was particularly keen to go to this event as the film being shown was David Shaerf’s Call Us Ishmael.  A documentary about peoples’ relationship with the book.  I had seen some of the film previewed at the Melville Conference and had found it funny and moving.  The full film did not disappoint.  Coming from a country where few people have read Moby Dick and fewer are enthusiasts, it really spoke to me about its effect on people, particularly visual artists.

I had booked a taxi* from the hotel and offered places to two other participants I met at the hotel (Allie reading at 8.55pm Saturday and Greg reading at 3.10am Sunday).  This turned out to be a great move on my part as the promised return taxi didn’t turn up and Greg ubered us back!

Arriving in good time to the museum on Saturday Morning I registered as a reader and got my blue wrist band and badge. I had chatted with the Melville Scholars who were staying at the same hotel as me, and they expected me to have come up with a tricky question for Stump the Scholars where, divided into two teams, they compete answering questions from the audience.  I had suggested that I might be thinking about particularly English bits of the book (the Burton Constable Whale and the Enderbys), but in the end I asked them a more light hearted and speculative question.

Stump the Scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Stump the Scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

At the same that Stump the Scholars this was going on there was a children’s mini marathon, where children of all ages read an abridged version of the book.  A family staying at my hotel had a couple of children who were reading in this.

After Stump the Scholars we progressed to the huge gallery containing the half scale model of the whaleship Lagoda where the Melville Scholars read Extracts before the Marathon Proper kicked off with Loomings.  And yes, as soon as I heard those opening lines “Call me Ishmael” I may have shed a tear or two!

At the appropriate time the reading decamped across the road to the Seamen’s Bethel for Father Mapple’s Sermon etc and hymn singing. I watched this via the live web cam in the Museum’s theatre (space in the Bethel is limited and I hadn’t entered in the lottery to get a seat).

I attended both of the Chat with the Scholar Sessions (on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning).  As someone who has never formally studied Moby Dick I found these sessions fascinating, and thought provoking including questions regarding Melville/Moby Dick and Narcissism, the Moby Dick Opera, significance of orphans, Islam and sailors pidgin English. I took notes!

Tia Maria's opposite the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Tia Maria’s opposite the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Two events on Saturday Afternoon I missed were the Portuguese language mini Marathon and the Artist Demonstration by Jacob Mark who designed the poster for this year’s Marathon.  I did visit the pop up Cousin Hosea’s Chowder House and the Decanter Taproom where beer, chowder and Portuguese kale soup were on offer from local restaurants and breweries.  The lovely kale soup was from Tia Maria’s opposite the museum. This was the only other place I managed to visit apart from the museum the week I was in New Bedford (blizzard, snow, icy) sidewalks) where I enjoyed the Portuguese sausage, home fries and rodelas (and lattes).

Oh yes, and at approximately 6.25 on Saturday evening I got to read 5 minutes of Moby Dick.  A little after that we moved to the Museum Theatre again to watch Culture*Park’s performance of Midnight on the Fo’c’sle (chapter 40).  A great way to break things up a bit and tackle this multi-voice chapter.  I didn’t stay up all night (and never intended to).  I got a lift* back to my hotel with Allie who read at 8.55pm.  And me and my jet lag had an early night.

I didn’t make a particularly early start to Sunday and so missed the 8am malassadas, provided by Inner Bay Café, but very gratefully got a lift from Wyn Kelley*. After the second Chat with the Scholars we gathered in the Harbour View room with fabulous views of the Acushnet river and New Bedford Harbour for the final chapters.  As I took a seat the book was being read in German (a feature of the reading is that readings in several different languages were interspersed thought the marathon). And then we rushed towards the climax with Mike Dyer reading the epilogue (Yes, I blubbed), and then Bob Rocha giving out the thanks to all those who had supported the event and reading the honour roll of those hardy souls who had stayed up for the entire evening.  And then all the goodbyes to the people I’d met and chatted too over the weekend.  Wyn had offered to give me a lift back to the hotel before heading back to Boston so I had lunch with Bob Wallace and Wyn (at Tia Maria’s) before she dropped me off.  I was amazingly tired and was glad to be able to rest for the remainder of the day (and watch the Sunday wild card weekend NFL games).

It was an incredible experience, my third Moby Dick Marathon (having read in two in the UK) but a very special one.  Everyone I met involved with the event and at the museum before and after seemed to share my passion for the book and the whaling heritage on display at the museum and I left with new friends and a wealth of new inspiration.

*In case you are wondering why, having stayed in a very nearby hotel I spent the weekend getting lifts and taxis.  On the Thursday a blizzard dumped a load of snow and this was followed by very cold temperatures.  The sidewalks were very icy and whilst walking back the to the hotel on Friday I slipped on the ice and hurt my knee so didn’t want to risk any other injury and minimise usage of the bruised joint.

Arctic whaling and the Shetlanders

There are many places nearer to my home in Norfolk than Shetland that have material about Britain’s Arctic Whaling Heritage so why spend a month Shetland researching it?  Well, I got to be artist in residence at Bressay Lighthouse for the whole month of July with a huge studio space to start to develop work in response to my research (thanks to Shetland Heritage Trust). I travelled round the islands visiting and photographing key whaling related sites and spent a lot of time in Shetland Museum and Archive in Lerwick, which I knew from previous visits was a great place.  So I think the reasons are understandable! It was a very long drive though. 

What was Shetland’s role in Arctic Whaling?  From the late 1700s ships from places like Hull and Peterhead picked up crew from Shetland (and Orkney) in the spring and returned them in the autumn. The Shetlandmen were generally excellent mariners and crewed the small boats that went after the whales in the seas around Greenland and Spitsbergen.  They were also cheaper to employ.  

Agents in Shetland hired the men and dealt with all the financial arrangements.  These included the basic daily pay and the bonuses of oil money.  It also included selling things to the Shetland men that they would need for the voyage.  Items such as tea, sugar, clothing and other kit they might need. This was supplied against the expected wages.  In some cases family members (e.g. wives or mothers) were also able to acquire items such as tea and sugar during the period the ship was away. These accounts were written in annual ledgers and for one Shetland company Hay & Co a number of these still exist.

Working on whaling documents in Shetland Archives

Working on whaling documents in Shetland Archives


The Shetland Museum and Archive hold a collection of documents – letters, lists and ledgers from Hay & Co and they let me look at them and photograph them.  These documents, particularly the ledgers bring this industry alive for me.  Although the ledgers are formal business records they allow glimpses into the lives of these men through what they purchased (or didn’t eg tobacco and spirits).  Occasional written notes – a date of a death and who outstanding wages was to be paid to, or my favourite – a cryptic note against one Hercules Ridland  “Mark this chap that he does not go again” (I checked the following year’s ledger and he did go again, on the same ship!). 

Hay & Co 1865 Accounts for Arthur Yell of Walls

Hay & Co 1865 Accounts for Arthur Yell of Walls

I’ve been interested in the Hull Whaler Diana for some years. I have blogged about its nightmare voyage in the arctic in 1866, forced to overwinter in the arctic leading to crew death due to scurvy with a higher proportion of the Shetlandmen affected. Hay & Co did not act for the Diana, but I wondered whether I could find any of the Shetlandmen on earlier voyages and I found a few in the years before.  Of particular in interest was Arthur Yell of Walls who sailed on the Polar Star the year before in 1865.  Examining the lists of things he had purchased prior to that voyage – things like Boots, So’ Wester etc I suspect that might have been his first voyage and so it would seem he died on his second whaling voyage.

Shetland Hay And Co Receipt

Shetland Hay And Co Receipt


And what of Hay & Co?  I will admit it took me a few days before the penny dropped.  The Museum’s café is called Hay’s Dock, the Museum and Archive is a new build surrounded by an old Quay and dock buildings – Hay’s old location! But then I discovered that the Buildbase Builders Merchants adjacent to the Museum site and spread across a range of buildings old and new is the current incarnation of Hay & Co.  I had a look round the shop and even made some appropriate purchases – some sisal rope and a pair of workman’s gloves.  You cannot imagine my joy when I saw the receipt still had Hay & Co on the top. 

Shetland and its Whaling Heritage

My practice, built around British Whaling and Moby Dick is rather niche. Generally I have to explain the whys and wherefore of the British whaling trade to people when I discuss my work.  It’s been very different during my month in Shetland. The most common response to my describing my work to the locals has been ‘oh yes, my grandfather went to the whaling’ followed by an anecdote or the disclosure that there is a bag of whale teeth in their attic.

Museums in Lerwick and Scalloway have excellent whaling displays. The Shetland Archive has lots of whaling related material across the various phases of Shetland whaling related activity.  There are accounts and ship lists for the Shetlandmen crewing Arctic whalers from Hull and Peterhead and other British whaling ports.  There are descriptions and photographs of the hunting of pilot whales by driving them onto beaches carried out until the early 20th century.  Newspaper reports and other information about Shetland based Norwegian whaling stations from the early 20th century bring the conflicts of interest and protests alive, and archives including oral history recordings and photos of the Antarctic whaling in the mid-20th century.  There are also some of the most patient, and helpful archivists I have ever come across.

A significant number of Shetlandmen went to the Southern Hemisphere whaling based in the Falklands or South Georgia on ships that hunted whales in Antarctic waters up until 1963.  These young men went for the money and the adventure.  A few seasons in the harsh and unforgiving but beautiful South Atlantic could generate enough money for a man to build a house or commission a new fishing boat when they returned to Shetland.  This injection of money into Shetland was an important economic driver in the 1930-60s.

Shetland South Atlantic Whaler Memorial, Lerwick

Shetland South Atlantic Whaler Memorial, Lerwick

There is an understated and quietly moving memorial in Lerwick harbour to the Southern, Antarctic Whaling.  As it says on the memorial

Erected by the Shetland ex-whalers Association in tribute to all the Shetlanders who, from 1905 to 1963, worked in the Antarctic with the whaling fleets of Chr. Salvesen & Co. Leith.

Through the 1930s depression and post war austerity, money earned at the Antarctic Whaling sustained many families and helped stem the flow of emigration from the islands till the fishing industry improved in the 1960s and the oil industry arrived in the 1970s.

“They did business in great waters and saw the wonders of the deep”

Shetland South Atlantic Whaler Memorial Plaque

Shetland South Atlantic Whaler Memorial Plaque

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.

Melville at Kings 2017

At the end of June the Eleventh International Melville Conference took place at King’s College in London.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to talk about my work at the British Library as part of this event. A range of artists including writer Philip Hoare, film maker David Shaerf, curator Michael Hall and actor/director Shelley Piasecka talked about and showed how Melville had influenced their work.  

Caroline Hack, 2nd left, on the panel at Looking for Melville at the British Library

Caroline Hack, 2nd left, on the panel at Looking for Melville at the British Library

I focused on my recently completed work Cetology based on Melville’s classification of whales by book sizes. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my work with an audience who would understand the context of my practice and appreciate the nuances without explanation.  But it was also a chance to meet some of my Melville heroes. Kind people who have supported my endeavours and authors of books that have been important sources of inspiration and knowledge.  It was also great to meet newer twitter contacts and put faces to now familiar names as well as getting to see the work of other people for whom Melville has been a significant influence.  

Looking back on what was one of my most memorable afternoons of my creative life I know that the ripples from it will continue spread, contacts made strengthened and new opportunities for collaborations, new works and travel will arise.  

Cetology (II)

Cetology - 12 handmade books based on Herman Melville's whale classification from Moby Dick

Cetology – 12 handmade books based on Herman Melville’s whale classification from Moby Dick

Cetology – A series of handmade books based on Melville’s classification of whales in Moby Dick

I’m unaware of any artist who has tried to tackle Melville’s bookish classification system for whales in this way.  Having finally managed to complete them I’m pretty sure why!

As a printmaker and maker of artists’ books I was drawn to Chapter 32 Cetology in Moby Dick during my first reading of the book in 2001.  But at the time the idea of making art in the format of books about a book didn’t feel right.  Fast forward 15 years and I had a vast array of personal experience of seeing whales, visiting whale and whaling related collections in museums and so had a large resource of my own to draw on.  I was looking for a subject to turn in to a series of artists’ books and this seemed ideal.  Due to the way I work I know that the books will not be the final iteration of the work. This is just the first stage.  The books and content will be scanned, photographed, digitally printed on fabric and other materials. Layered and recombined with other imagery in other scales, formats and materials to take the work further in the future.

Page from Cetology Folio Sperm whale

Page from Cetology Folio Sperm whale

In Cetology Melville classifies whales by book size, Folio for the large whales, Octavo for the mid-sized whales and Duodecimo for the dolphins.  At first this is straightforward, although he uses old names for the species.  For the Folio whales - Sperm, Right, Finback, Humpback and Sulphur bottom (blue) are at least all identifiable.  But he throws in the Razorback, which nowadays is generally accepted to be the same as the fin whale.  I got around this by using it as a way to introduce the Sei whale.  I was lucky enough to see some Sei whales off the Azores on 2015 and was pleased to be able to incorporate some of my personal experience of them.

Cetology The Orca problem

Cetology The Orca problem

Things started getting tricky with the Octavo classifications - Grampus, Blackfish, Narwhale, Thrasher, Killer.  Which are Orca, Pilot, Narwhal, Orca, Orca. Yes, that’s three Orca, which isn’t very useful. And it could have been four because Orca are also called Blackfish, but more traditionally this is used for pilot whales (phew!). Some common species are omitted all together – particularly the Northern Bottlenose whale (which I particularly wanted to include) and the ubiquitous Minke. And then we got to duodecimo. The Huzza Porpoise, the Algerine Porpoise, the Mealy-mouthed Porpoise.  Yep, basically made up dolphins!

I knew when I started that it was going to take a lot of ingenuity and my best Melvillian inventiveness to make the whole thing work as a unified series of books.  When I started the Folio whales I had no idea how I was going to tackle the Orca problem.  And you won’t believe the number of sleepless nights before I fell upon a Duodecimo solution!

The Cetology project has taken up most of my creative time in the last 6 months.  Each of the 6 Folio and 3 Octavo books are about an individual whale species.  There is a consistent framework of content using my experiences of that species whether I’ve seen it in the wild, or as a skeleton in a museum.  I have used my own photos of whales, museum displays and other information to develop the text and drawings as much as I could to make each book a personal response that could not have been produced by anyone else.  For the three Duodecimos however, this approach would not have worked. So eventually I decided to use Melville’s text about them and illustrate them with a range of found and very personal dolphin imagery.  I grew up in Brighton where there are a variety of dolphins on the city crest and architecture (and my high school badge).  So I travelled back to Brighton and photographed as many as I could out and about and in Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.  My drawings of them were then grouped and refined to produce three very different books, but with a coherency.

Page from Cetology Octavo Pilot Whale

Page from Cetology Octavo Pilot Whale

The layouts went though many iterations and versions before I finalised and printed them in black on cream cartridge paper.  I hand coloured the drawings using a different blue or grey for each book.  The paged were cut, sewn together and attached to endpapers decorated with excerpts from Cetology.  These were then glued onto hardback covers backed in a lovely textured mulberry paper in deep blue.  On each cover is the shape of the whale made from cutting out fused Angelina fibres.  There will be an edition of 12 for each book, but I really think of them as full sets of the 12 different books in three sizes because that is how I think of the project – A very personal response to Melville’s wonderful whale classification.

And if you are wondering.  This is the chapter that started it all off!

Scale Lane Bridge

Scale Lane Bridge is a pedestrian bridge across the river Hull on the east side of the city. It can rotate on a single pivot a bit like a pinball flipper to enable boats to navigate up and down the river. It is unique because pedestrians can remain on it when it moves. It is a striking curved shape with a spine running down the middle and a circular retail space at the west side over the pivot point.

Scale Lane Bridge, Hull. Under construction 2012

Scale Lane Bridge, Hull. Under construction, 2012

I am not from Hull and until 2010 I had never visited the city, but the city has become a key point of my practice and the bridge a key component of my regular visits. When staying overnight I have always stayed in the Premier Inn on the other side of the bridge (which opened in 2012), and whenever possible had a room on the 12th floor overlooking the bridge and the city.

For my first few visits the bridge was mostly built but not commissioned and I used the Myton Bridge (awful walk over a high up dual carriage way) into the city. I was therefore very pleased when the bridge was opened and a delightful walk through the old town to have my morning coffee in Queen Victoria Square (home of the Maritime Museum and the Ferens Art Gallery). Actually sometimes in the winter it was a bloody awful walk nearly getting blown off my feet and very wet. The bridge, I should mention has two paths, one flat for cyclists and one with steps with the spine acting as a useful windbreak. It also has a very essential gritty non-slip surface.

Wedding Party on Scale Lane Bridge, Hull

Wedding Party on Scale Lane Bridge

During my residency at Burton Constable Hall near Hull I stayed in the hotel quite a lot and as I didn’t need to be there til 10 I would walk into the city over the bridge, and have a coffee and a ponder, which became a great working routine. In all that time I never got to travel on the bridge when it was moving. I had a good view of it from my room swinging a couple of time though. And one night in the summer a wedding party let off balloons and set off some fireworks from nearby waste ground.

And then in July 2016 I did get to stand on it when it was moving, when I was naked with a few hundred other naked people. That gritty non-slip surface was agony on bare feet.
At the beginning of January 2017 I visited Hull to see the Made In Hull light installations and used the bridge. Strange booming noises turned out to be a man hitting the bridge with a large percussion mallet. I got talking to him (as I do) and it turned out he was Jonathon McDowell on of the architects who designed the bridge, which I told him I loved. You can imagine my delight when he told me that they had been inspired by the skeletal structure of whales when they were designing it. He subsequently sent me some of the design drawings showing the internal structure and I saw its cetacean similarities. And that made me love it all the more.

Scale Lane Bridge, Hull. Pre-commissioning 2013

Scale Lane Bridge, Hull. Pre-commissioning, 2013


After visiting Burton Constable near Hull in spring 2015 I put a project together with the curator to fund a residency for me. Following a successful application for Grants for the Arts funding I spent over 30 days, spread over eight months working in and around the barn with the whale skeleton.  I used my drawing of the skeleton and the decorative elements from the Hall itself to produce a series of prints and textile pieces that formed the final exhibition in the spring of 2016.

 Often I find that ideas take years to move from possible projects to making work.   This is very much the case with my Cetology. I remember when I first read Moby Dick being attracted to the format that Ishmael uses in Chapter 32 Cetology to classify whales. He groups them into books of differing sizes; folio, octavo and duodecimo and divides them into chapters.

 As a wannabe printmaker in 2001 this structure appealed  but I knew that any such response from me would need to be personal and not a simple series of illustrations, so I filed the idea away under “some other time” and moved on. 

 Artists books have always been a small, but important part of my practice.  I love the act of making them in paper and textile when I have content that fits that format.  Recently I have found myself being nudged towards them again and I was reminded of the Cetology chapter.  After over 15 years of making work around Moby Dick, whaling and whales I now feel I have sufficient material to use the framework to hang my own work on.  So I have embarked on the task of making Cetology.   I have seen many of the whale species now, or seen and drawn skeletons of them.  I have seen where they live and in museums and how some were (and to a limited extent are) hunted in the Arctic.  

Layouts for Cetology

Layouts for Cetology

Using drawings from my travel and research and text from various sources I am starting to put the books together.  It’s not a quick project and as with much of my work it will be iterative, each book going through several versions of developing content and layout before they are finished.  In the first instance the completed content is being produced using a mix of black and white digital print with single hand applied colour highlights different for each book, pages sewn simply together and bound in a hard cover.