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The art installation was commissioned by a local partnership of LHD, Lerwick Port Authority, Shetland Catch and Shetland Fish Producers' Organisation and project managed by Clair Aldington on behalf of Shetland Arts. The piece celebrates Shetland's pelagic fishing industry and its importance to Shetland's culture and economy.

The project resulted in the installation of artist Jo Chapman’s 'Da Lightsome Buoy' bronze sculpture at the Small Boat Harbour in Lerwick Harbour, which was unveiled at a ceremony on Saturday 8th October.

Report by project manager Clair Aldington. Images copyright of artist Jo Chapman

“Shetland Arts was originally approached in 2010 by John Goodlad (former Shetland Arts trustee and chair of Shetland Catch) for advice about commissioning and funding a sculpture to celebrate the role of the herring gutters in Shetland’s fishing industry. We made contact with Shetland Islands Council (SIC) who were, at the same time, considering commissioning a short sculpture trail to be completed in time for Lerwick’s hosting of the Tall Ships’ Races in 2011. We identified potential sites around the town centre. At this stage there was a possibility of some funding from SIC for a sculpture. The funding and the sculpture trail never materialised due to Local Authority funding cuts and changes in personnel.

“It was agreed that the best way forward would be to source business sponsorship for the project. John Goodlad and John Cumming (a sculptor who became the project’s Artist Adviser) approached Shetland Arts again in 2013 having created a commissioning partnership of the four businesses involved in the pelagic fishing industry in Shetland. They had all agreed to sponsor a sculpture but wanted support and advice in attracting match funding. Shetland Arts’ Visual Arts Development Officer met with the four businesses in July and November 2013 and it was agreed that Shetland Arts would offer project management services. The aim of the project developed into an artwork commission for Lerwick’s waterfront to celebrate the role of the pelagic fishing industry in Shetland’s life, economy and culture. Celebration was a keyword, rather than a memorial or commemoration. The project delivery was divided into two main phases: community engagement through a ten week residency in Shetland with the commissioned artist; the design and fabrication of the sculpture.

“An integral part of the project was the ten week artist residency. This community engagement part of the project proved to be very successful and included a project launch and drop in creative workshop at the Shetland Museum, workshops with local schools and Shetland College students, talks with local organisations, and meetings with people who were working/ had worked in the fishing industry in Shetland. Jo Chapman, the commissioned artist, into the ‘Fish Van Collection’, curated the artwork created during this phase. It was exhibited at Shetland Arts’ Bonhoga Gallery in March and April 2016. Jo went out for a day and a night on one of the contemporary pelagic trawlers, the Adenia, to witness the industry first hand. She also met with all the pelagic skippers in Shetland and staff and CEOs of the four business sponsors. From this engagement, a group of community advisers was created who met with the business partners to offer feedback and input into the choice of the final design, the dialect text and the form of the unveiling ceremony. This group included a pelagic skipper, a young person studying at secondary school, a local writer, the superintendent of the local Fishermen’s Mission, someone who worked for the last herring curing station in Shetland, and a former herring gutter who is also married to a fisherman.

“This phase culminated in Jo producing 3 potential design ideas for the sculpture from which one was chosen by the business partners with advice and input from the community advisers’ group. It was decided to cast the sculpture in bronze rather than fabricate it in sheet metal. Following a period of gathering quotes for the fabrication, Milwyn Foundry in Surrey was appointed and Jo worked closely with them and created the drawings on the panel moulds.

“‘Da Lightsome Buoy’ title came from Jo and was in response to a quote from one of the herring gutters on the community advisers’ panel. Other texts in Shetland dialect feature on the ‘buoy.’ This design was chosen as [the form]... represents the history of the pelagic industry; buoys are integral parts of it but their designs have changed over the years. The drawings depicted on its surface reflect the historical gender division as well as the contemporary pelagic industry - women herring gutters on one side with a modern fish processing plant in the background; fishermen on the other working with nets but with a modern pelagic trawler behind them. The artwork was unveiled by the youngest pelagic fisherman and the oldest former herring gutter on 8 October 2016 to an audience of around 150 people. This included invited guests as well as members of the public. ‘Da Lightsome Buoy’ fiddle tune was specially commissioned for the event by Hannah Adamson and performed by her and her sister on the day. Light refreshments were served afterwards at Shetland Catch with additional musical entertainment. A small exhibition of Jo Chapman’s drawings of the three possible designs for the sculpture was shown at a local cafe close to the site.

“The pelagic sculpture project fulfilled developmental values of both LHD Ltd as well as Shetland Arts as a development agency. This was in terms of the public artwork produced as well as in the community engagement aspects of the project. In what are very changeable and challenging times for the fishing industry, the additional support and raising of LHD’s profile, particularly in terms of the vessel management aspects of our business, has been invaluable. We recently moved our retail premises to a new and more prominent site in Lerwick and so our sponsorship of this project has been part of our ongoing business development and growth.

“There are only a few examples of outdoor public artwork in Shetland and feedback from the community and in Shetland Arts surveys has shown that there is a demand for more. This project has helped develop that ambition for Shetland and raised the profile of what public art can achieve in a community. The project was also developmental in bringing in new audiences to visual arts and two sectors and communities together - arts and fishing.”

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