Stromness Museum’s New Exhibitions: ‘Makers’ – then and now

By Bernie Bell

‘Makers’ – then and now: Part I

I go into Stromness for two reasons – to get my hair cut and to look at exhibitions. So, one fine day, when my hair was behaving reasonably well, I went  into Stromness to see the two new exhibitions at the Stromness Museum.

Brodgar Stone B BellThe first  exhibition I had a look at, is  entitled ‘Artefacts and Inspirations from The Ness of Brodgar’. And, that’s exactly what it is! The dig at the Ness has produced many examples which show the creativity/artistry/thought  of the ancient peoples of Orkney, and how the work of these ancient people can  inspire the makers of today.

We have the original ‘Brodgar Stone’ discovered at the Ness of Brodgar in 1925

And from this, we have a brooch by local artist and silversmith, Ola Gorie, small ceramics by Joan Rodwell

and, local archaeologist Chris Gee has not only carved ‘new’ stone balls, he has also carved a ‘new’ Brodgar stone. The film included in the link here, shows just how much work goes into each  carved object. A lot of work,  but …how very, very satisfying it must be, to produce such a thing.

stone balls Chris Gee, B Bell

Sometimes the ancient ‘makers’ have taken something which was already there, such as the patterns on the ‘sky stone’ axe head, and made something more of it.

stone mace heads B Bell

Sometimes, they have taken a simple piece of stone, and made something of it, as with the EOASSK.  The EOASSK is, simply, a wonder. I’ve written of it before,  and so, won’t repeat myself!  When you see it you want to hold it, and you can see it, but not hold it, in the Stromness Museum!

Is it a Neolithic ‘visual aid’, for passing on information? There are all kinds of interpretations, but here I’m writing of the makers of the past and present, so, taking it simply as a ‘thing’ – it is a lovely, little …thing, which shows the makers art. It must have taken a long time, and a lot of patience, to produce.

soapstone ball B BellAlso included in the Museum exhibition, are two reproductions of the EOASSK, by Babette Barthelmess, one in Bronze and one in soapstone.Conversations with Magic Stones

Whatever the medium, and whatever the time in which it was made, that object enthrals me.

The ‘Brodgar Eye’, is frankly, a mystery – I think it looks like Maes Howe from above, but that’s just me – and Sheila Fleet, saw it as….

And then there are the ‘scritchy-scratchy’ marks, which are of great interest, are appearing in greater and greater numbers, and which prompt  the question “Are they ‘writing’ or ‘art’? Writing or art? Or….geometry?”  Hard to say. The one on the left is the original from  the Ness – ‘old’ geometry? And the one on the right, is by local artist Norna Sinclair – ‘new’ geometry?

They are, most definitely, telling us something, as they are uniform – the same, or similar, motifs repeated many times.

Local archaeologist, Dr. Antonia Thomas recently produced a definitive ( so far!) book about  the carvings of the Ness, entitled ‘Art & Archaeology in Neolithic Orkney – Process, Temporality and Context’, which is well worth reading.

But, I have to admit, to my eye,  they are not particularly ….beautiful, unless the beauty is in their potential to illuminate that time for us.  Then there are the objects, which are undeniably things of beauty.

These objects, were often found, placed carefully within the structures of the site, or carved, carefully in just the right place on the walls. Was that another aspect of the intent of the ‘maker’ – the placement mattered as much as the process of making, and the end result of that making?

The exhibition at the museum focuses on the artefacts from the Ness, the inspiration behind those artefacts, and possibly the inspiration we, today, can draw from these artefacts – many, many artists have done so, and are doing so, in paint, stone, wood, silver.

That was then, this is now.  And the inspiration still flows.

And so, onto the second new exhibition………..

Look out for Bernie Bell’s next review of the new exhibitions: Skara Brae, Then and Now

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