ReCover, Commemorative Harpoon Cover

I don’t drink, so I can’t blame this project on a drunk DM, just a moment of madness!

Hi, I hope all is as good as can be expected with you at the moment.  I have a possibly daft question for you.  What would your reaction be to a suggestion that I want to make a big, embroidered cover for the big harpoon gun and use it to commemorate/ remember the south Atlantic whales and whalers, possibly installed to coincide with other related events?  It’s just a germ of an idea at the moment, but I keep seeing images of mounted harpoon guns covered to protect them from the weather.  If you don’t think it’s bonkers, I’ll have a longer thought and email you something a bit more considered.

Detail of sewing text panel for ReCover

Detail of sewing text panel for ReCover

That was in July 2021.

Charlotte Connelly, the Curator of the Scott Polar Museum in Cambridge replied favourably, and almost a year later I’ve just finished making the commemorative tarpaulin (now titled ReCover) to the Museum. It ended up being a 2 x 3m dark green tarpaulin, pleasingly I was able to source one that was the right size commercially (from a chain of DIY superstores).  I added some brass eyelets to the black plastic ones already on it and sewed 12 panels of light grey tarpaulin with images of South Atlantic whales and whaling.

ReCover, commemorative harpoon cover at Scott Polar Institute, Cambridge. Front

ReCover, commemorative harpoon cover at Scott Polar Institute, Cambridge. Front

The panels are

  • The outline of the island of South Georgia, the base for South Atlantic Whaling
  • Four species of hunted whale; Blue, Sei, Fin, Humpback (I have been fortunate enough to have seen all four species in the wild).  The images of the whales are ones I have used in previous works, most notably Cetology, 2017.
  • Three images of whaling; two whale catchers and a harpooner at his gun. One of the catcher images and the harpooner are inspired by two 1927 Ogden cigarette cards from a set on whaling which I own.
  • 4 small panels depicting groups of krill.  The main source of food for the whales.

    ReCover, commemorative harpoon cover at Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, back

    ReCover, commemorative harpoon cover at Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, back

And the rope which gathers and secures the tarpaulin around the harpoon, that has a story too.  In July 2017 I was fortunate enough to have a research residency at Bressay Lighthouse on Bressay Island, Shetland.  I wanted to explore the Arctic Whaling archive at the Shetland Museum and Archive in Lerwick.  I was particularly interested because they had some amazing accounts from Hay and Co, a whaler agent based in Lerwick.  It took a couple of days before the penny dropped and I realised that the Hay Dock where the museum was situated was the same Hay.  One of the archivists told me that the BuildBase builders’ merchants on the short cut between the museum and the Coop where I did my food shopping was a descendant of that whaler agent.  I bought a pair of workman’s gloves and some sisal rope there, reflecting on the supplies that the old whaler agent had sold to the whalers.  It felt like a direct link to the Arctic Whaling I had been researching.  The receipt even had Hay and Co on it.  That is the rope I used to secure the cover.

Detail of sewing panels onto tarpaulin for ReCover

Detail of sewing panels onto tarpaulin for ReCover

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