This is our last full week at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop before we make the journey back up to Lybster. The week so far has been full of presentations, crits (and socialising!). On Monday evening myself and the other residents gave a public talk about our practice and experiences during this residency. It was great to see what the others had in mind for future glass experiments and I think we are all eager to get started. On Tuesday we had crit sessions with glass artist Alison McConnichie followed by studio visits by the friends of the RSA.
I will be the last of the residents to make the journey up to Lybster. My site specific project here has developed to a point where it is important for me to see it through to a satisfying conclusion. Since my last blog I have continued my research in to the area surrounding ESW, Newhaven, and have attended a few coffee mornings and lunches with various community groups in the area. On Monday I also spent time in the Museum Collections Centre where I was shown a variety of objects from fishing creels to medicine bottles. I spoke at length with the museum curator about historical truths versus historical romanticism and how the life of the Newhaven fishwife has been somewhat been softened and prettied up over recent years. In truth of course, the lives of these fishwifes were tough, labour intensive and in many cases, very poor. They worked equally long hours as the men of the community and were well respected for that. There seemed to be an equality, certainly within the work force, between men and women which I found surprising.
Whilst I continued my research I became aware of an unused flagpole at the harbour. Situated at the end of the pier, and flanked by a lighthouse opposite, the 10 meter pole marks the entrance of the original haven. Within a matter of days I had decided that I was keen to use this site and design a flag in homage to Newhaven fishwife! A few emails and telephone calls later, I had been granted permission to raise a new flag.
I began to create the design. I wanted it to be based of the very specific clothing of the Newhaven fishwife, something that was instantly identifiable yet abstracted and contemporary. It was also important to me to use the colours associated with the working, day to day clothes – blue and white, rather than the gala colours of red/yellow/white. The logistics of flagmaking also had to be considered and I sought advice from a flagmakers regarding pole height/flag length ratios – a whole world that I had no idea about! After I had a design that I was happy with, I returned to one of the meetings of the Newhaven fishwife relatives to run the design passed them. They understood my reasoning behind choosing the blue/white design but had very strong opinions regarding a certain area of the flag. My original design had ‘u’ shape in the centre of the flag to represent that deep fold of fabric at the front of the dress. I was told that this absolutely had to be a deep ‘v’ shape, not a ‘u’! I was happy to oblige…
Something that has occurred to me frequently throughout this process is the masculine associations of flags and banners. Indeed, the very first flags were used to assist military coordination on battlefields. This flag, that I have titled ‘Caller Ou’, is transforming the flag in to something more feminine and domestic yet still heroic. ‘Caller Ou!’ was the call that the fishwives used when selling oysters.
The flag will be raised at 11am on Monday 29th October where it will fly for three days before being formally donated to the local school, Victoria Primary. It was important to me that the younger generations could also identify and take ownership of this new flag for the community. Both the school and the Newhaven Action Group have expressed that they would like to continue to use the flag for special community events. A fantastic conclusion for me, as a site specific artist.
Written by Natalie McIlroy