North East Open Studios

Lynn Pitt of the Mill of Nethermill Pottery Studio

For nine days in September the artists, craftspeople and makers in the North East of Scotland open their doors to the public.  It is a widespread, highly organised and volunteer run festival where the public can venture across this scenic landscape to find unique workspaces, converted mills, chapels and and magestic castles-turned galleries displaying no less majestic and unique work. The rich artistic tradition in this seemingly remote part of Scotland is laid out, waiting to be discovered.

A comprehensive book and clear map become your exhaustive guide to the festival– there is so much to see and do, that even if you have a plan and are highly organised, you probably won’t be able to see it all. At least, I wasn’t able to make it to all the venues I wanted to. The book makes a lovely catalogue guide to artists and makers in the area, even after the festival is over. (I used the one from last year to become acquainted with the creative landscape of the area).

Shards outside Lynn Pitt’s studio

Highlights for me were visiting Lynn Pitt at the Mill of Nethermill whose small stone built studio is nestled in lush, wild bay– a few steps from the studio wrack-covered stones jut out into the sea.   Lynn also runs award winning, self-catering accommodation on this site. I purchased a beautiful pit-fired urn which I hope to use as a spirit box. It feels alive in the hand– marvellous.  Her studio is full of  sturdy, elegant pieces that one could use everyday– mugs, plates and vases– in deep blues and greens that no doubt get their colourings from the shifting moods of the sea outside the studio door.

One of the closest venues (to my own home studio) in the festival is also one of my favourites, Watergaw Ceramics. Watergaw is the Scots word for a shimmering, indistinct rainbow and it suits the otherworldly glaze of Fiona’s work which utilises “glaze reduction lustre”.  The light in the converted-chapel studio brings out the luminous and nacreous surfaces of her work brilliantly.

Photo of Fiona Duckett at Potfest by Christine Cox

Brian Cook Shand, Fiona’s partner, was demonstrating making round, perfect things on the wheel on the day we visited.  Also at the studio was Woodwork of Neal Graham as well as the intricate Picticish and Celtic carvings of Jamie Fergusson of Pictish Designs.  I was able to talk to Jamie for quite some time about his process and what it’s like to be a jewellery maker here, including the interesting potential development of a silver-smithing co-operative in Banff in a newly renovated listed building, but that is a topic for another time.

Maria Manuela Guerreiro in her home studio.
Annunciation Angel detail After Fra Angelico. Egg Tempera and Gold Leaf on Paper by Maria Manuela Guerriero, 2015. (apologies for the poor photo of this work!)

Another highlight was visiting the studio of icon painter Maria Guerreiro of Portsoy. The intimate scale of the paintings allows her faith to shine out.  She uses medieval materials and techniques in traditional yet accessible ways.  I fell in love with the profile of an angel on paper which I purchased.

Painter Mary J. Torrance in her home studio.

We also met Mary J. Torrance, painter of cats.  Her sunny studio outside of Fraserburgh was open to the public.  I enjoyed hearing about her wide-ranging process and the kind of creative explosion that happens when women decide to stop giving away their ideas and energy and instead employ it to service their own vision.  On the whole NEOS impressed me particularly for the women participating, all at the height of their creative powers.  I thought perhaps it is no mistake I have ended up here.

“Merry Go Round” Painting (reproduction) by Mary J. Torrance

Feral Sterling

Sterling silver is the most requested metal for specific pieces like earrings and shawl pins, and is one of the most popular metals for my delicate necklace designs incorporating stones and recycled pearls. Unlike copper or bronze, it is less forgiving and carries with it a certain responsibility as a precious metal.

Silver has long been imbued with magical qualities– aiding in warding, healing and liminal divination.  With correspondences to the moon and the element of water, it is a metal I have enjoyed wearing as almost an extension of myself.  Increasingly I have moved into this kind of jewellery that the wearer can enjoy daily, that almost becomes part of the self. You can find such peices in the Feral Sterling Collection.

The Edinburgh Assay Office

All my sterling pieces are hallmarked at the Edinburgh Assay Office, which has a long and fascinating history, hallmarking the work of silversmiths since the 15th century. I am proud to be working as part of this tradition.

The Edinburgh Assay Office Mark.

The Hallmark consists of my Makers Mark, the metal purity– which for my sterling pieces is 925, the lion rampant which is a symbol of Scottish silver and the mark of the Assay office itself, which is a castle. Lastly the letter denotes the year of the piece in the Assay Office dating system. The hallmark is a guarantee of precious metal purity and dates back to 1457 when the law was passed making the mark a requirement, and the castle hallmark dates to 1485.

Hallmark on a brooch.

Much of the work I make is delicate and the hallmark is now applied on such small work with a laser, meaning you will need a jeweller’s loupe to clearly see it on smaller pieces. The photo on the right taken with a macro lens shows a the hallmark on a section of the back of a shawl pin.

 

 

New Free Shipping on All UK Orders

We wanted to make shopping with us even easier, so we’ve wrangled with the postal sprites and can now offer FREE SHIPPING on all U.K. orders– as always orders ship via Royal Mail First Class Post.  Plus, International shipments are even lower— a flat rate of just £1 to the EU and £3 to the US and rest of the world, no matter how many items you purchase, you’ll enjoy the same reliable international air mail service.  These new shipping rates are good at both my independent shop, Feralstrumpet.co.uk as well as my Etsy shop.  No coupon necessary!

The Sound of the Sea

The Sound of the Sea

The sea awoke at midnight from its sleep,
And round the pebbly beaches far and wide
I heard the first wave of the rising tide
Rush onward with uninterrupted sweep;
A voice out of the silence of the deep,
A sound mysteriously multiplied
As of a cataract from the mountain’s side,
Or roar of winds upon a wooded steep.
So comes to us at times, from the unknown
And inaccessible solitudes of being,
The rushing of the sea-tides of the soul;
And inspirations, that we deem our own,
Are some divine foreshadowing and foreseeing
Of things beyond our reason or control.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have long been influenced by the sea but now its proximity seems to come into my work in more subtle ways.  I have always loved using shell shapes and ammonite fossils in my work, as well as abalone and repurposed pearls. With my daily visits to the sea I now find different lights and moods and even movement come into play.  One instance of this is in the Sea Chains earring design.  The hues of deep reds and bright blue-greens echo the diversity of colours in the tide pools at New Aberdour– red, brown and grass green seaweeds mix with blue crabs and pink anemones, and all seem to flow in a meditative dance.

I designed these earrings to move and flow with the wearer, much like the seaweeds in the rock pools!

Sea Chains, Delicate Shoulder Duster Earrings inspired by the motion of the tides.

 

 

 

On this Harvest Moon

Whitehills beach at low tide.
Harvesting seaweed at Whitehills.

Today is the Harvest Full Moon. What has come to fruition for you that was perhaps planted in the spring?  For me, I began preparations to relocate to Scotland and now, here I am.

In a very physical sense, my harvest is seaweed, something I have begun to learn about, forage and cook.  It’s everywhere, tasty, nutritious and free. But one can’t glean for seaweeds and not take in the other bounty of the sea: the acceptance of constant change, awesome beauty, power and peace.

To eat what grows where you are has many benefits, but perhaps the most profound is the bonding power of this activity.  Just as I used to cook with the nettle and blackberries that grew in the wasteland behind my house in York, here I have started to eat weeds from the sea.

Unlike berries and other wild plants, almost all UK seaweed, when harvested in non-polluted waters, is harmless to humans and many are highly nutritious. Initially I was using the Sea Vegetables Cookbook by Evelyn McConnaughey. Though I’ve now found other more current books that are actually by UK foragers, I started with this Oregon-based cookbook from the 80s with its old school fusion of 1950s comfort food, hippie health eats and mermaid chow. Most of all, the author shared my awed passion and glee at finding these strange plants could be eaten in delicious ways.

I have done most of my foraging at Whitehills– a sheltered beach in the wild Banffshire coastline. Perched on a hill above the beach is an ancient red well– its water has a high iron content and was once revered for its healing properties.  The stretch of beach is named Muggie Machlin, after after a suicide: a young pregnant girl who died of exposure “a long time ago” by sitting on a rock on the beach one night in the middle of winter.  This beach has captured my imagination and deserves a post of its own.

Washed weeds, ready to be fried/dried.

On to cooking– so far I have made pasta with alaria and tomato sauce, gutweed stir fry, vegan dashi from scratch and an all-purpose seasoning sprinkle that ads umami and colour to just about anything savoury.  Mike jokingly said that it added natural MSG– but that isn’t far from the truth.  Seaweeds contain natural glutamines– chemicals that tell your brain the thing you are eating is delicious. One dish I tried with laver (basically the same seaweed as nori) was laverbread, which isn’t bread at all but a kind of black gloop or sauce.  To make laverbread, you have to boil the seaweed for 10 hours to “bring out the flavour.”  I tried to stay true to the “recipe” but it was, as anything boiled for 10 hours is bound to be, inedible.

I began to struggle with McConnaughey’s book–  basically the line drawings could only take me so far, endearing as they were, and we were looking at a totally different part of the world, with a different ecosystem. I then found Galloway Wild Foods, a great website full of information for the Scottish forager.

My journey of discovery with seaweed continues as I check the tide tables and wander the beaches, I start to understand my new home with the rhythms and flavours all its own.

 

The Church of The Sculls

St. John’s Kirkyard, Gamrie, Banffshire.
The view from the cliffs of the kirkyard, overlooking Gardenstown.

High on the cliffs above the small fishing town of Gardenstoun, or Gamrie as the locals still call it, sits the ruins of a kirkyard that was built on the site of The Battle of the Bloody Pits of 1004 where Norse raiders were slaughtered by the Scots. Like most parts of this coast, it is a place of sweeping beauty. We happened upon it out of curiousity– seeing the walls of the ruins from the town below.  Climbing up the lumpy path from the single track gravel road, I felt an eeire disquiet in this remote place, even before I learned more of it.

We know so little of these “raiders”. Christian historians have often distorted their history, reducing the Norse folk during the Viking age to cartoonish berserkers. We know that they are part of us– through recent DNA testing and before that, the fragments of language that have adhered to places– the the churchyard itself or “kirkyard”. Kirk, meaning church, is borrowed from Old Norse. That we have so little left of that time when the Norse people ruled an age of world-changing seafaring expertise, artistic and spiritual vision, will remain one of our great mysteries.

St. John’s Kirkyard commemorates the annihilation of a Viking party– built and rebuilt over centuries after the battle. Legend has it the Scottish general promised to build a church on the site if the Christian God could just prove that he was on their side. The church was built at the foot of the “Bloody Pits” where the Norsemen’s bodies where piled after the battle. This area earned its name from the carnage, and the scavengers who fed on the bodies. History records them as cattle raiders who were surrounded as they waited for a fair wind to aid them away. Skulls of the vanquished were displayed in the walls of the church behind the pulpit even into the 19th century, hence the its other name: The Church of the Sculls.

Angel or departing spirit on a grave in St. John’s Kirkyard.

One wonders what happened to the skulls of the Norsemen that were once on display. The surrounding area could be said to be one very large, unquiet grave, but the graves inside the walled yard are something else– some of the most fascinating examples of 18th century momento mori that I have seen are here, often coupled with the crossed femur bones, an hourglass and bell. The path I walked to get to the yard may have been an ancient corpse road, and was no doubt used by parishioners for 800 years who trekked over miles to worship there through all weather from the surrounding villages.

What a hard life is a fisherman’s. Standing in the ruins I thought of the sermon on Jonah from Moby Dick, where the pastor seems to be “praying at the bottom of the sea” and his voice was “like the continual tolling of a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog–”

“In black distress, I called my God/When I could scarce believe him mine/He bowed his ear to my complaints-/No more the whale did me confine.
“With speed he flew to my relief,/As on a radiant dolphin borne;/Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone/The face of my Deliverer God.”

The congregation sings, drowning out the howling storm outside the church.

And, here now, I feel a bristling in the wind from the hillock above. Without a familiar song to guide them, the other bones in their shallow pits turn.

Momento Mori in St. John’s Kirkyard.