International Interdisciplinary Residency

An international 8 week interdisciplinary residency for artists from other media to work in glass, in a two venue partnership pilot with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.


We waved goodbye to our artists-in-residence this weekend after a nine-week, two venue partnership residency with Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. The artists all seemed to really value their experience and I’m sure we’ll see the influences in their work to come.

l-r: David Buckley, Natalie McIlroy, Amna Ilyas, Duncan Robertson


The artists-in-residence gave presentations about their work and their residency experiences at a candle-lit dinner hosted by Timespan Museum and Art Centre. It was a lovely informal evening event and the talks were really interesting and very well received.


End of our second week here at Northlands Creative Glass and things are beginning to take shape! After the all consuming project of the Newhaven flag, it has been challenging trying to get my mind back in to a sense of making. The thought had crossed my mind that I would also like to design a flag for the village of Lybster whilst I am here but in order to do that, the glass work would have to take a back seat and I really want to get the most out of the workshop as possible. But you never know, maybe I will return to lybster in the future specifically for a flag raising!

So the work that I have started to make here is in response to the research I did during my first week in Lybster; the 1800s booming herring industry and the lives of the herring girls who traveled the length of Britain chasing the silver darlings. I was particularly interested in the ritualistic, daily binding of the fingers on themselves and each other prior to a session of gutting. This finger binding was a group activity and created a sense of intimacy and caring between the women which was especially important for the younger girls who were perhaps far from home. I then began to look at other kinds of strapping and support that was used in the industry and was drawn to the leather/canvas strapping of the creels which would wrap around the head or chest to carry large amounts of fish.




Below is a couple of photos of the Whaligoe Steps near Lybster, an amazing architectural feat of 330 steps steeply leading down to a small Herring port which is now, of course, not in use. In the early 1800′s women would carry the creel up and these stairs everyday, some women in their 70s! Barrels of salted and cured fish would be carried down and shipped off on schooners. Even after one attempt of climbing the stairs I was exhausted so I cant image the strength needed to do several journeys carrying a heavy load!



So my first intention was to try and translate a feel of fabric/canvas on to glass. I was also keen to incorporate graphite paper – something that I had been experimenting with at ESW. After fusing samples of graphite paper between glass, I was delighted to see that some of the samples had created a torn fabric look.


The successful pieces were slumped in a kiln to create a curve similar to the creel head straps.




These pieces will be sewn to strips of leather or sheepskin depending on what I can get my hands on! Next step – the shoulder strapping.

Written by Natalie McIlroy

This is a sketch for an idea of casting glass into form off the Caithness stone and making part of a dry stone dike.
I want to make something that is specific to the environment here, I am very impressed by the nature of the stone here you’re always surronded by it, this is an impressive beautiful piece of dry stone dikeing just outside of the Northlands Glass art centre.

I would not normally dream of such a scale of intervention fearing the cost of production but this residency provides the facility for dreams, (I hope I can realise it satisfactorily.)

Written by Duncan Robertson

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

We are now in to our fourth week of the mixed media residency and the third week of our time here at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. It has been a great experience so far – this is the first time that I have lived so close to my studio during a residency and I am thoroughly enjoying the flexibility and opportunity that this offers. The new ESW building is fantastic with large, light spaces to work in and an array of workshops.

I, however, have been using this time to brainstorm and research ideas in preparation for my return to Northlands Creative Glass. I have been searching for connections between the sites of Lybster and Newhaven where the respective residency studios are. The most obvious is, of course, the harbour area and histories that these industrial sites generate. With the herring girls from Lybster in my mind, I was instantly attracted to the Newhaven fishwives, a group of women who were known for their efficiency and kindness. This is in stark contrast to the reputation of other Scottish fishwives who were known for their foul language and harshness. I have spent many hours researching the lives of the Newhaven Fishwives and their close knit families and spent a morning with the last remaining relatives of the fishwife era. From the very specific fishwife uniform to stories of how some woman carried their husbands out to the boats so they would not get wet feet before they started a days work, there is a wealth of intriguing anecdotes!


Above: Local man, George Hackland brings a doll dressed in the traditional Newhaven fishwife gala costume to show me. Another local, Mary Craig spent time explaining how the garments are folded and tied together. No buttons or clips were used and the women were strict when it came to having their cuffs folded up to just below the elbow. It was also frowned upon to wear rings or bracelets as the arms had to appear strong and pure as well as remain practical.


The Newhaven fishwife’s distinctive clothing brought them a certain level of fame and they were celebrated by Royalty and locals alike. Two versions of the dress were worn; a red/white stripe and yellow/white stripe for special occasions such as gala’s and navy/white stripe for daily work.


More updates on how this information with inform my project tomorrow!

Written by Natalie McIlroy

What a fantastic first week! Arriving back to Scotland after being away for six months was such a great feeling. After picking up my car in Aberdeen I drove through the Cairngorms National Park and then headed up through the Cromarty Firth and onwards up the coast to Lybster. I had completely forgotten how dramatic the lighting and colour of the Scottish landscape is; dark ominous clouds, clear white sun rays, vibrant purple heathers – it was an absolute feast to the senses and brought home to me all the reasons why I love making work in my home country.

Lybster is a small, rural village on the North East coast with a main road that seems to drop off in to the ocean . After I got settled in the residents house I made my way down to the harbour which is completely hidden from view when on the main street. However a steep decline reveals a small but perfectly formed harbour and lighthouse where some fisherman still work today amidst the crashing waves and sun worshipping seals. The harbour had previously been a large herring port where hundreds of fisherman and ‘gutting girls/herring girls’ would work endless hours.


Something that caught my imagination is the lives of the ‘herring girls’. All ages of women would gather at the port and await the trawlers arrival with herring for them to gut and prepare. In between deliveries they would knit and exchange stories sitting closely together to keep warm. When the trawlers arrived they would bandage their fingers up in calico to protect against the salt, cold and the sharp knives.

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Simultaneously to investigating the history of Lybster, myself and the other residents started our inductions at Northlands Creative Glass. I have never worked with glass before although I have recently completed an installation in ice at The Distillery, South Boston (see so was keen to continue with the properties of transparency and a sense of pureness. It was an absolute treat to have such rigorous training in a new technique as we experimented with glass blowing, casting and cutting. Primarily a research initiated artist, it was invigorating to just start making! First examples below…

glasscutting IMG_0161

We also had an introduction to working with coloured glass. Normally I shy away from working with coloured elements in my installation, preferring to keep it muted since there is normally a strong historical dialogue running through my work and I wary of information overload. However colour seems so vital to the landscape at this time of year so I started to arrange combinations that reflected my initial week in Lybster. Perhaps they will re-occur in my final pieces..

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We are now in Edinburgh for 4 weeks at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop to research and develop our ideas in preparation for our return to Northlands. I will post again this week with my latest developments.

Written by Natalie McIlroy

In their first week of the Residency the artists were introduced to the North Lands Creative Glass hot shop and show hot glass techniques by our Studio Technical Manager Michael Bullen


Our residents should now have landed in Edinburgh at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop. They will be there for four weeks and then will return to North Lands Creative Glass for the final four weeks of the residency.


We welcomed our artists-in-residence to Lybster yesterday for the start of their Mixed-media Residency with North Lands Creative Glass and Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop.

David Buckley, Amna Ilyas, Natalie McIlroy, Duncan Robertson will be at North Lands Creative Glass for the first week having an introduction to hot glass processes, then will work at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop for four weeks followed by a final four weeks back at North Lands.