The Booth, Scalloway harbour, Shetland.
Catpund, Viking steatite quarry, Shetland.
In September 2004 I was invited to be artist-in-residence at The Booth, a combined living/studio space in Scalloway, Shetland Islands. The Booth is jointly managed by the Bonhoga Gallery in Shetland and Wasps Artists Studios in Glasgow. I had wanted to visit Shetland previously due to the geological variety of the landscape and the still-apparent ancient uses of stone in construction, artwork and tool-making. The residency provided a brief opportunity to visit important archaeological sites for inspiration and try to create artwork using the stone particular to the Islands.
The Booth itself is ideal with all mod-cons, microwave, washer/dryer, shower, tv/video and laptop with unlimited internet access. Having the studio space just below the living quarters meant I could easily rush down to work out ideas when I wished, I found I was thinking about creating artwork all of the time, which was great and something I rarely have time to do back home with all the various distractions. I also found the peacefulness and lack of hustle and bustle very enjoyable.
Before arriving I had plans to use steatite (soapstone) as it has historical significance as a material used for creating carved bowls and tools by the Vikings. It is also a soft stone so I thought I could produce a reasonable piece of work in the short time (two weeks) I had for my stay. Unfortunately I did not get to the source of steatite, a Viking quarry at Catpund where bowl shapes can still be seen cut in the rocks, until the middle of the first week when I had already started on other ideas using other stones. I did manage to pick up some steatite rocks though to bring home and I was careful to only pick rocks from areas not 'scheduled' for excavation/research, as advised by Carol Christiansen at The Shetland Amenity Trust who was very helpful.
Shetland is so rich in such a variety of rocks that I still had plenty to choose from, to experiment with. In the end I produced a few carvings in phyllite (a shiny, multi-coloured, slate-like stone) and many engraved drawings in discarded slate roof tiles I fished from Scalloway harbour. These artworks are described in more detail in the slate and other stones sections of the web-site.