Category: Blog

Arctic Initiation – British Whalers’ traditions

This is a small piece inspired by a particular aspect of arctic whaling that has interested me for a while now. British Arctic Whalers had various superstitions and traditions and the ones that interest me at the moment are those that relate to their material culture – special things that they made. In December I was privileged to be able to read and photograph some original whaling log books at the Hull History Centre in December 2015. One of these mentioned two of the interesting rituals of the whalers.

 Log book of the Whaler Neptune of Hull 1821, off Spitsbergen, Captain Munroe

May 1st  The Crew diverting themselves with their usual shenanigans in fixing a garland made of ribbons on the main top gallant stay and initiating regularly such of the crew as never before been to the arctic region by blacking their faces with a kind of blacken and then shaving off with a hatched iron hoop in the shape of a razor.

Arctic Initiation - image of joke razor on digitally printed whalers logbook

Arctic Initiation – image of joke razor on digitally printed whalers logbook

The ribbons for the garland were given to the sailors by their wives and sweethearts prior to the voyage. Representations of the garlands can be glimpsed in some of the paintings of whaling ships in the Arctic in the Hull Maritime Museum.  They also have an original joke razor, which I used as the basis for the drawing.  I digitally printed out part of my photograph of that page of the log book containing the above text on blue fabric and using free hand machine embroidery and sheer fabric made the quilted outline of the razor.

Interim Review of Residency at Burton Constable Hall

So, I’ve completed the four pre-exhibition residency stints in the Stables at Burton Constable Hall as part of my Artist in Residence (AIR) funded by the Arts Council and the Friends of Burton Constable Hall. It seemed like a good time to reflect on how my first official (and funded) residency has gone.

Residency at Burton Constable Hall - Riding School

In Residence in the Riding School at Burton Constable Hall

It’s been awesome!

I’ve shared my passion about Moby Dick and the Burton Constable whale, whales in general and whaling with over 500 visitors, staff and volunteers.

I’ve learned that there are surprisingly few questions from visitors about whales that I can’t answer. People have shared their experiences of whales and whale watching, their opinions on whale hunting and their amazement at the size of the Burton Constable sperm whale skeleton and its good state of preservation given its age.

Burton Constable sperm whale teeth

Holding one of the surprisingly large and heavy Burton Constable sperm whale teeth

It’s opened doors to opportunities as varied as participating in the fantastic Moby Dick Unabridged event at the Southbank in London, to handling and photographing original whaling log books and original sperm whale teeth for the first time.

I’ve used my time in Hull when not at Burton Constable Hall to network with other creative and cultural people and organisations and I am sure that future opportunities and project will come from this.

I’ve developed my social media and web presence, reactivating a dormant Twitter account which has been very successful at getting the project, my practice and my work in front of a wider audience. It has pushed my practice into new areas and made me re-examine previous work.  It has seriously made me up my game creatively, increase my output and generated some extra sales (which is always nice).

Sky Whale

Sky Whale based on design from the Chinese Room at Burton Constable Hall

The next few months will be spent producing work for my final exhibition opening on Easter Saturday and arranging the production of a large piece to be installed permanently in the whale barn.

That Moby Dick thing

Moby Dick is at the core of my work, and I know that it always will be. Sometimes it feels very close to the surface, and sometimes it is buried deep, but always there. At the moment it is pretty much on at the surface. My residency at Burton Constable Hall (home to a skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick) is partly responsible, but equally culpable was the Moby Dick Unabridged reading of the book that I participated in last weekend at the Southbank Centre.

Moby Dick Unabridged, Southbank Centre, October 2015

A familiar face at Moby Dick Unabridged, Southbank Centre, October 2015

Coming back to the text reawakens my love for the actual writing and the structure of Melville’s prose is brought into sharp focus when you are going to be reading it aloud in an auditorium! Reading it aloud always reminds me of the humour in Moby Dick, and his wonderful use of language. More specifically it made me think about the bits I practiced reading and reminded me of imagery that I had in the past parked (or should that be berthed?) for later investigation. Expect to see quadrants and other maritime navigational tools turning up in my work in the near future!

The event was also great for the opportunity it gave me to meet other people with a passion for the book. Not a thing that happens to me very often in the UK. I am therefore extremely grateful to the organisers and other participants.

Moby Dick Unabridged Oct 2015

Caroline Hack reading Chapter 119, The Candles at Moby Dick Unabridged, Southbank Centre, October 2015. Photograph @Twemlow

There are some more photos on my facebook page here and the whole thing was recorded and can be accessed here (if you want to hear my bit I read half of Chapter 119, track 120).

Residency at Burton Constable

I’m just back from my first stint at Burton Constable Hall as Artist in Residence. I have spent a wonderful four days in the barn with their iconic sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick. As well as working on drawings of the skeleton and other items in the collection that have caught my eye I very much enjoyed talking to the visitors about the skeleton, whales and my work. My overwhelming impression is how awestruck people are by the size of the skeleton and how difficult it is to imagine the complete animal. I’ve got lots to think about and work on and can’t wait until my next visit for the Cornucopia Festival 25-27th September. The residency is for six lots of four days between now and April is supported by the Arts Council and the Friends of Burton Constable.

Burton Constable Whale

View from my desk at Burton Constable


Redpath Beluga

Inspired by my recent trip the Gulf of St Lawrence where I was fortunate to see some of the small population of beluga whales that live near the mouth of the Saguenay Fjord.  A couple of days later I visited the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal to see their beluga and minke whale skeletons (and lots of other great marine mammal skeletons and skulls).  The beluga flipper is based on the Redpath specimen.  The maps (one modern and one historical) are digitally printed on textile. Size 30 x 35 cm.


Redpath Beluga

Greenland Fisheries Series

A chance conversation and a trip to the whaling gallery at Hull turned my thoughts to whaling songs.  A feature of the gallery at Hull is the songs that play when you enter the gallery and I finally got around to buying a cd of the songs.

Greenland Fishery

Greenland Fishery

The one that initially appealed and inspired me most was the Greenland Fishery, probably because the area the song was originally about was in fact Svalbard/Spitsbergen.  Referred to as Greenland for many years, it was initially believed that the archipelago was attached to Greenland.  And of course historically whaling areas and the industry has always been referred to as a fishery, even though whales are of course mammals.

An additional point of interest for me is that one of the buildings related to whaling in Kings Lynn, where a whaling museum was for many years still goes by the name of the Greenland Fishery.

Both the song and the building are now the basis for a series of textile panels inspired by the architecture and incidents in the song. A couple of the works in progress are shown here.

Davit Tackle

Davit tackle

Norway 2014

In October of 2014 I voyaged again to Norway, calling at several places with whale and whaling related collections in particular Bergen, Honningsvag and Tromso, As often happens it is the unexpected things that often inspire me the most.  The seal skulls at Tromso (sealing was an important part of arctic whaling) and the rock carvings at Alta of ships and fish.

Four Tromso Seals

Grey, Harbour, Bearded and Hooded Seal Skulls

As I usually travel in the summer, it also reminded me of the power of the seas, as we were stuck in the Irish sea until the weather improved taking shelter in the lee of the Isle of Man and although we set sail form Bristol we eventually ended up in Liverpool!

Hull Maritime Museum and Whaling Collection

The whaling collection at Hull is mentioned in Moby Dick and is, therefore, a very special place.  The whaling gallery at Hull Maritime Museum is one of my most inspiring places and I visit it as often as I can.  The skeleton of a right whale and models and paintings of ships have all influenced my work.  In addition to this in May 2014 I visited the Historic Trawler Arctic Corsair moored on the river Hull and they were kind enough to let me photograph many of their old charts of various North Atlantic locations.  These photographs have been a valuable resource and have turned up in several of my textile pieces.  For example this Polar bear skull (from the polar bear in the Hull whaling gallery) is made from one of these charts digitally printed onto textile.

Polar Bear II (Hull)

Digitally printed textile and freehand machine embroidery

Recently they have had a small collection of whaling related objects available for visitors to handle.  Feeling the texture of the whale baleen and the weight or the whale vertebra used as a chopping block were for me wonderful experiences, but to hold a whale harpoon and feel the weight and balance of it was an unforgettable experience (and so enjoyable I travelled back to Hull later in the year to have another go!).

Arbuthnot Museum, Peterhead

I visited the Arbuthnot Museum in Peterhead in September 2014.  Peterhead was one of the most important whaling ports in Scotland and the displays in the museum amply illustrate this heritage.  In addition to the displays I was fortunate enough to be invited to visit the collections store where I discussed Peterhead’s whaling heritage with some of the staff and saw parts of the whaling related collections not normally on display.

Dundee and the McManus

Whaling carried on in Dundee later than any other Port in Britain because of the use of whale oil in the local jute processing industry.  One of the great benefits to me of this is that Dundee has a fantastic collection of whaling photographs, of ships, whaling and the arctic locations. This is also one of the reasons that the Discovery was built in Dundee as they still had expertise in building wooden ships suitable for polar seas.

The Eclipse from Dundee

The Whale Ship Eclipse,

As you might expect the McManus Museum and Art Gallery in Dundee has an extensive whaling collection and good displays on the local history of whaling.  In addition to this in one of the galleries is a skeleton of a humpback whale which was unfortunate enough to swim up the Tay to Dundee in 1883 during the winter when the whalers were in port.  It was eventually harpooned and put on display finally ending up in the museum.


Transfer Dye on textile

The excellent on line catalogue at the McManus has some fascinating images of cigarette cards about whaling.  I was able to find and purchase my own set and some of the imagery from my Greenland Fisheries series is inspired by these.