Circles, lines, tales to tell and roads to travel.

By Bernie Bell

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture B Bell

Barbara Hepworth Sculpture (B Bell)

This isn’t so much a ‘Bernie story’  – but it does tell of stories, and the stories of stones, and people, and people picking up stones on their travels, and stones travelling with people. So, stories are in there, but they’re not mine.

I went into Stromness to have some ‘Conversations with Stones’ at the Pier Arts Centre and the Stromness Museum, and I ended up being taken on travels, with the stones, and the folk, and also in the paintings and metal-work on display at the Northlight Gallery.  Hmmmm  – this is turning into story, a tale, so, I’d better start at the beginning………..

First, I went to the Pier Arts Centre, and I don’t have a lot to say about the stones there, as, at the risk of sounding a bit precious, they speak for themselves.  This exhibition might be seen as the more ‘arty’ presentation of stones.  A mixture of what ancient folk made from stone, and what Barbara Hepworth made from stone, and, I suppose, that’s what art does – speaks for itself and for the person who has produced the work – with the ancient folk making objects which were of practical use, but also were objects of beauty – and desire.

The image at the beginning of this piece, is of one of Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture’s, and of Stromness through the window behind it. I think it catches Stromness – with people, buildings, the street, and the sea.  Pere Mare.  I think the sculpture is called ‘Large form, small form’, but, to me, it’s a person, like the people you can see through the window.
I’d say go along and have a look at them and a conversation with them. The exhibition is on until September.

Then, I wandered up, through Stromness, to the Museum.  This exhibition is quite small, in a small space, but it makes your head whirl!  It’s full of stories – of stones ‘taking paths’, travelling with people – many questions about how on earth they came to be in Stromness. Many of them were put away for safety – as we do with precious things – then re-discovered many years later. Sometimes the stories associated with them were still remembered, sometimes not.  As the text with the Pounami Toki says “Stories always can be re-written.” 

The exhibition in the Pier Arts Centre was more to do with the …art …let’s use that word, for the sake of an easy short-hand – the stones in the Museum could be said to be more ‘workaday’. Though still objects of beauty and of desire, they most definitely have functions. Some, we can know what the function was, as the story survived, some – a bit of a mystery, as, well, what one set of people would see as an obvious purpose for a thing, might be very, very different from another set of people’s approach to how to  use that same thing.

The stones here have travelled, taken paths, mostly by sea. And then, around the country where they landed, as they became objects of desire to collectors, and so took on a different form of value.

There is a collection of flints, labelled ‘North African’ which were found on a doorstep in Burray, in the plastic bags which banks use for cash.  How did they come to be on the doorstep in Burray??  Who knows – apart from the person who placed them there. They are of many, varied patterns and colours, and – as the text says – it’s very fitting that they were in cash-bags, as that was probably the most recent ‘use’ for these stones – as a kind of ‘currency’ between collectors.

And the wonderful ‘Cumbrian Clubs’, found in a hatbox in a house near Stromness


Ballast from The Herald (B Bell)

And there’s the tale of the ‘Herald’ which ran aground at The Point of Ness, Tankerness, on the 24th May 1847, of which only the ballast  remains – but what lovely ballast it is!

This part  of the exhibition also includes some work by John Cumming, a local artist. So, we have works by John Cumming, and works by ……ancient folk – The Un-Known Artist.

I left the exhibition with my head whirling, and headed back down the street, calling in at the Northlight Gallery as I passed by.

And what do I find in Northlight? Two young lasses, one who  paints, and one who makes pieces from metal – mostly old metal, re-cycled – from junk. And the themes are ……sun-dials, compasses, the sea. Also, there is a link with how our perceptions of things, and how our use of things, can change.  The block of wood which Fiona uses to shape her metal pieces on – was a tree, was a lump of wood, is now a piece of work, in itself – with hollows in it, from her working.

Circles, lines, travel, mostly by sea.  All working together.  Synchronicity –  that’s the only word for it.

What a day I had.  The Northlight exhibition is only on until the 13th July, so, if you want to piece these pieces together, you’ll need to take your path – make your path, to these three places in Stromness, which I believe to be connected, at the moment by tales stones, of metal, of the sea, of lines of travel and thought.

B Hepworth Hand

Hands: Barbara Hepworth (B Bell)

I’ve wittered on enough – go and have a look and a  conversation or two and see what you make of it.

And all produced by ….hands – ancient people’s hands, Barbara Hepworth’s hands………hands…… people.

sea scape stone

Sea scape stone (B Bell)

And here’s a piece of stone,which I found on an Orkney beach, with an Orkney sea-scape, in it.

Bernie Bell is a regular columnist with The Orkney News

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5 replies »

    • And thank YOU, Helen – appreciation is always – appreciated!
      Have you seen the exhibitions? A wonder-full weaving of ideas, images, shapes, stories. We live on these little islands at the top of the world, and look what the people of those islands, produce!
      What a place – what a place.

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