Category: Blog

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!

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

Perfect Form, 2016

perfect form

Perfect Form, 2016. Digital Print 4m x 2.6m

Perfect Form was inspired by my time as artist in residence next to the iconic sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick at Burton Constable Hall.  During my time talking to visitors, staff and volunteers discussing the skeleton I always seemed to end with how you get no idea of the shape of the animal from the bones and that the tail (containing no bones) would reach half way up the wall. So armed with the figures from the James Alderton’s original dissection report in 1825 I designed a life-sized whale tail to show this. The two quotes on the tail are by Moby Dick author Herman Melville and James Alderson which talk about this very problem. The background is one of my photographs of Atlantic Ocean off the Azores where, in May 2015, I saw my first sperm whale.

#StitchOff and my Mappy Sewing

Twitter is an interesting and remarkably random thing.  As part of my artist in residence project at Burton Constable Hall I had some social media targets and so I had returned to my long dormant Twitter account.  I needed to work out how to use it and specifically to best promote my somewhat niche art practice.  (If you are reading this in isolation I’d better explain.  I make print and textile art inspired by Moby Dick and British Historic Arctic Whaling and informed by my travel and research.  Hence my residency at Burton Constable Hall, near Hull, which has a sperm whale Skelton mentioned in Moby Dick).

So I started tweeting and liking (though it was favouriting back then), retweeting and following, and being followed.  It’s been hugely useful for plugging in to all sorts of networks and particularly the more traditional textile heritage that I’d not really engaged with before.  And I saw some intriguing tweets about something called #StitchOff with some interesting embroidery patterns from around the time of Jane Austen from The Lady Magazine.  There was a call out for anyone who was interested to use one of the patterns as inspiration with the chance that it would be put on display as part of the Emma at 200 exhibition at Chawton House in the spring.  I had my show opening at Easter, hardly had any pieces made for that so I thought this should interesting I’ll give it a go!

A little knot of people were posting images of their work in progress, all of which looked fabulous and rather intimidating but if mine didn’t work no one need ever know… I chose the waistcoat pattern because none of the samples I’d see seemed to be using that one and it had a linear design which appealed to me.   I made a sample on grey polycotton which I quite liked and learned quite a bit about how the pattern worked. I had decided on a piece of blue and white striped shirt of my husband’s that was ready for recycling when I had one of those ‘slap head, duh’ moments – found maps that I print on fabric are a big part of my practice so off to the Internet to see if I could find a map of the right period area around where the exhibition would be.
And I did.  It was a two part strip map with a road running down either side and a line done the middle which echoed the central line in the waistcoat pattern.  I printed the map out on my inkjet printer onto A4 sized cotton.   Using fabric marker pens I had traced the design onto a scrap of white crystal sheer fabric and had gone round my collection of fabrics testing it against them.  I tried it against the map and liked it.  I tweeted a photo of it and got a surprisingly positive response.


And then had the dilemma of what piece of sheer to use?  I rifled through my extensive collection looking at two tone pieces but found one changed colour from green to purple down a well defined line which was perfect.  I then chose the threads based on how the samples had worked in  greens, reds and pink/purples.  A rather nice variable thread would make a good backbone to the pattern.
To be honest after the thinking, planning and printing the sewing felt like the quickest bit.  Freehand machine embroidery is a bit like that.  It’s like drawing with thread, except the drawing tool (needle and thread) stays still and you move the fabric around.  I mostly sorted a bit of an issue with puckering (I hate using hoops) by inking in a slightly wider border with a black fabric marker.  I had mounted the map on some medium weight vilene for stability before sewing and I sewed some pale grey felt as backing (which also hid the back!). I ran round the hemmed sheer with a soldering iron to stop it fraying.  This gives the edge an interesting texture and can also be useful for breaking up/hiding any small inconsistencies in the sewing.


My tweet of a photo of my finished piece is at time of writing it is my most viewed tweet!  I was suitably thrilled to see photos of it in the display with all of the other works and will travel down to see the exhibition and maybe even meet up its some of the other makers (I think we are mostly following each other on Twitter so hopefully may keep in touch).
So from seeing some tweets all sorts of things have cascaded and I suspect will continue to.
And I got the new work for my exhibition all done in time, and it opens Easter Saturday!
You can read about the project (including my piece) here


I live in Norfolk (about as far from the coast as you can and still live in Norfolk). There have been a series of sperm whale strandings on the North Norfolk Coast and on the other side of the Wash in Lincolnshire (and on mainland Europe).  I have not gone to see the carcasses (for lots of reasons, not least that I don’t want to be part of the whale selfie crowd and having seen sperm whales in the Atlantic Ocean I don’t really want to see one rotting on a beach).  But I have been thinking a lot about them and talking to people about it (I’m known for my interest in things whale related so people have been asking me about them).

I have been quite preoccupied with whale stranding and whale skeletons for a while now. As artist in Residence at Burton Constable Hall near Hull I have been confronted with the huge skeleton of a sperm whale that stranded on the Holderness coast in 1825 (whale stranding is not a recent phenomenon).  In preparation for my exhibition there in the spring I have been working on images of their whale skeleton and sperm whales in general.  I have also taken inspiration from some of the furnishing and other decorative elements in the Hall itself.  As quite often happens with me it will be a small fragment or apparently insignificant object or pattern that will attract my attention and this was the case with the small piece of folded blue and white patterned fabric in one of the cupboards on the French Landing.  Now I’m working at home (the Hall being closed until Easter) I’ve been sketching the pattern, teasing out the elements in the four pieces of folded fabric, trying to work out from my photographs how the pattern expands beyond my source images and drawing putative sections.

Having made some drawings I was at a loss as how to use them as they didn’t seem to fit with any of the whale skeleton imagery I had. Working on another piece (based on the red friezes in the Gallery) I came up with a possible composition that might work as a two colour screen print.

Looking at the print I made today I saw the huge body of a whale juxtaposed with a shape that echoed the coastline of East Anglia. And I will call the print “Stranding”.

Stranding. Screen Print

Stranding, Screen print

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