^ Maker Kevin Gauld © Rebecca Marr

There have been attempts to research and preserve knowledge and techniques through museums and heritage organisations, training, apprenticeships and bringing crafts to wider markets, especially with the expansion of online shopping.

For example, in 2019, London-based company The New Craftsmen visited Orkney with a group of makers from the islands and from England. Creative Director, Catherine Lock, commented,

“British craft disciplines and objects, in many of their original forms, are rooted in the culture, environments, resource and needs of the diverse regions of this country. It seemed to me that the world was becoming increasingly homogenised and our customers disassociated from process and provenance…It was as though the customer was hankering to be connected – for something meaningful and proper.

“Last year, I returned to the Orkney Islands and, once again, found myself under its skies, spellbound and energised by the potential of this unique place. I began to wonder at the rich source of inspiration such a place offers artists, along with how fragile the futures of some of its unique cultural assets (such as straw-work) are, and how much colour they give to the world, in their own small way.

“So, in May 2019 we initiated a gathering of renowned English makers to visit and explore the Isles’ distinctive culture and landscape, and to meet extraordinary local talents, with the aim to create and curate pieces which reflect place. In the hands of visitors and locals, the humblest of materials, traditionally associated with the Orcadian vernacular, such as straw, heather, wool, and flotsam and jetsam, have been transformed and become exquisite totems — a unique poem to the Isles.”

The makers included in the ‘Portrait of Place: Orkney’ exhibition in Mayfair, London were: Gareth Neal (furniture-maker), Kevin Gauld (straw chair-maker), Mary Butcher (basket-maker), Annemarie O’Sullivan (basket-maker), Frances Pelly (sculptor), Louise Martin (tapestry weaver), and Charles Shearer (print-maker).

Visit the New Craftsmen website here.

^ Big Creepie Stool by Frances Pelly for The New Craftsmen
© Frances Pelly/The New Craftsmen

^ Brodgar Occasional Chair (With Drawer) by Gareth Neal and Kevin Gauld for The New Craftsmen
© Gareth Neal & Kevin Gauld/The New Craftsmen


^ Frances Pelly, With the Wind and with the Tide, 2000,
soapstone, oak, slate, paint;
acc. no. 2003.1
© Frances Pelly. Photo credit: Orkney Islands Council

One of Frances Pelly’s sculptures With the Wind and with the Tide is in Orkney Islands Council’s Art in Public Places collection. Frances describes the piece:

Inspired by words by George Mackay Brown, this is a relief sculpture made in three sections depicting seabirds flying close to the waves. They are all flying in the same direction…left to right.
“Left section: a base of slate with two parallel strips of slate or wood, painted to imitate antique bronze, supports a bird form in soapstone. Middle section: soapstone, carved in low relief of a bird in flight above a wave. Right section: a base of carved oak represents a wave and is painted to imitate antique bronze. This supports a stylised bird carved in soapstone.

I have used colour as a link with the sea. Many of the ancient bronzes retrieved from the sea were this antique green. A very Orkney colour…,” Frances Pelly.