Anything kept, or given to be kept, as a token of friendship or affection, remembrance.
Granny’s lace hap had been made by her own granny and was given to her on her 18th birthday. She used as ‘Sunday Best’ for many years, polishing the back of the narrow pew where she usually sat, rising for rousing hymns that echoed round the tiny kirk. A moth had found it and left the peeriest of holes in the intricate pattern. Granny lovingly repaired it and the shawl was put away carefully. She wrapped her own bairns in its softness for their Christenings, these bundles of joy lovingly passed around to aunts and uncles, cousins and friends after the services. In later years, when the really cold weather came and her bones became to ache from it, she brought it out from the kist and placed it over her knees to keep out the draughts as she sat by the fireside. The cat liked to nestle on her lap as she drank her tea and listened to the wireless. She occasionally used it as a warm wrap to keep out the wind when she put away the hens at night, once catching it on a nail that was sticking out of the henny house door. She settled to darn it, but with failing sight in the low light she couldn’t quite match the colours and the shade was of slightly different hue. There is a beautiful photo of Granny holding her first great grandchild, both entwined in its softness. The hap was a comfort next to her sallow skin, and she had it near her every day. The beautifully spun cobweb yarn had become as fragile as Granny and smelled of lavender soap and peat reek.
Nowadays this hap is the most precious thing I have. No money could buy its worn edging and misshapen border, the tea stains or the mark where her Sunday brooch sat. It is part of my being, more than just memory, it rests in my heart as a token of affection and love. Nowadays it is I who sits by the fireside drinking tea, listen to the wireless and putting away my hens. My Granny’s nurturing spirit is beside me, trusting and guiding me, the richness of her love is knitted into my bones.
How do we remember friendship and affection? What senses do we use to measure love? My work is a tactile reminiscence of the warmth of human kindness passed down through the generations, of the rhythms of time and the seasons, of traditions and ways of living. I endeavour to create work that celebrates the resilience and quiet determination of those who went before us and acknowledge the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.
My name is Sharon McGeady and I live and work in North Roe, at the northerly tip of Shetland mainland. Our simple way of living is an ongoing rhythm of daily tasks that have been undertaken for centuries, lighting the home fire, feeding animals, baking bannocks, making soup, salting fish. These daily meditations, the seasons and weather are the framework of life. Lambing, sowing kail, casting peats, planting tatties, making hay are the verses in the song we sing each year, accompanied by the birdsong of shalders and laverooks.
We are deeply connected to the land. Soil feeds us, landscape nurtures us and provides building stone, peats heat our home and our food. Clay, laid down in the earth millions of years ago is my chosen material for expression and I am deeply grateful for the abundance of the earth and treasures its gifts.
Wild clay can be found in Shetland and I enjoy experimenting with natural materials found locally such as mica, kelp and pumice.
My clay arrives already processed and I use a slab building method to make vessels. The clay is rolled out into flat sheets and I use templates to ensure that there is some uniformity of shape. The templates are carefully considered so that size, proportion and function are taken into account. Each template has a connection to place and people, are keepsakes and treasures, they are often adapted from existing everyday items that have meaning and that have their own story to tell. The soap dish template is from an Italian blue glass ashtray that I found in our byre and had been used every day by the former resident of my home. The bannock plate template is taken from a present that was lovingly brought back from Ireland as a wedding gift and the flowerpot mug template comes from an old blue china flowerpot I found in the henny house and inverted. The templates are made from card and old wallpaper and stored in a handmade drawer in the workshop, next to shells and interesting pebbles from the beach, unusually textured pieces of wood and dried leaves. A beach combers treasure trove.
My work is deeply connected to people and place. Most of us do not have expensive heirlooms, but we maybe have a milk jug, a lace hanky, or a pipe, a tushka or a spade that belonged to our loved ones. But most of all we have our memories of the welcome we had when we visited, the smell of baking, the pattern on the china and the wallpaper, the worn feel of Grandads favourite baccy tin. I try to bring these wonderful reminiscences to life through the shapes of the vessels I make and the textures I roll into the clay. I work on a plaster mould of antique textured wallpaper and use treasured lace, handmade clay stamps and knitting to signify and represent the uniqueness of the people who loved us.
The cut and textured clay is formed into vessels and as each piece dries it gently warps and shifts resulting in an organic and distinctive shape, reflecting how life’s experiences mould and change us. Clay is a natural resource and working with it is a considered and slow process which cannot be rushed. Once it is thoroughly dried the work is bisque fired to 860 degrees centigrade.
As we walk across the beautiful beaches of Shetland the sands and stones beneath our feet have all the ingredients within them for glazes. There are feldspars, silicas, minerals and iron, some shiny with mica, others with crystal, some with inclusions, all telling the story of their creation by explosion, heat, pressure, extreme cooling. I am fortunate to be able to buy these materials ready processed. The nature and colour of these stones are hugely inspirational in the glazes I make.
Materials and water are carefully weighed out into a bucket and the glaze is left to slake down for several days. After sieving and testing the specific gravity and the glaze is ready to use. My favourite glaze has depth and variation which comes from a material called rutile. Rutile is an oxide that consists mainly of titanium dioxide and iron, but it is the impurities in material which give it character. It is the imperfections that make life interesting. I am constantly testing recipes and amending materials to make glaze that represents the colours, textures and depth of the landscape here in Northmavine.
From my workshop door I look out across the voe to the Bjorgs. In summer the sun is high in the sky, pots are drying outside in the gentle breeze, sheep are taking their ease and the chatter and cry of birdlife is all about us. The vegetable garden is full of abundance offering treasures of salads and broad beans. Garlic scapes are shooting skyward and early potatoes are nearly ready. The turquoise reflection in the water tempts reluctant wild swimmers, ragged robin nods in the wind and long light evenings bring a lightness and joy.
We drink in this ease of living knowing that the nights will be drawing in, the warmth of home will lure us back into the fireside. The summer work will soon be done, and we can begin the process of wintering, reflecting and restoring our souls ready for the return of the light next year. All is in hand, all is well. The earth tilts, the seasons change and the gentle rhythm of the music of life continues, as it always has done.