February 13, 2018

Inspiration for work on resourcefulness - Article on the Orkney Chair

Thanks to Dr Amy Twigger-Holroyd et al for this wonderful article - Wrestling with Tradition: Revitalising the Orkney Chair and Other Culturally Significant Crafts, 2017 in Design & Culture. This article refers to my amateur first attempt at an Orkney Chair and to the more recent stunning work by Gareth Neal & Kevin Gauld which I saw in 2014 at the New Craftsmen in London. 

The article is available to read in full here. This article sparked memories of the making of this chair...

In 2004 I saw my first Orkney chair at Kettles Yard and soon after I decided to drive from Norfolk where I was living, to the Orkney Isles to find out about this tradition. I didn’t have a plan, thought I could just head up there and find out.

And so I worked as a woofer at to Wheems  Farm with Christina & Mike. Then when I could I headed to the Corrigall Farm Museum and learned about the history of black oat straw and how extraordinary it’s multiplicity of uses was.

The volunteer at the museum suggested a give Harry Flett a call as he knew most about this, but as I drove off from the museum I saw some straw in stooks in a field and two older gentleman stacking it on their trailer.

I wandered out into the field and explained why I was there. They, Harry Flett & his friend, were completely un-phased by my random pilgrimage and set about helping me walk all about the field to select the best stooks for my first Orkney chair. He suggested I went and talked with Jackie Miller, one of the chair makers, and I did. I had a lovely few hours with Jackie & Marlene of Scapa Crafts and learnt much just by watching and talking. Then I headed to Marwick bay to harvest driftwood as was the tradition of years before when milled timber was scarce. With the oat straw & driftwood in the car I headed back to my studio in Norwich and spent a couple of weeks making my first chair. This chair & it’s origin and all of the resourcefulness inherent in this tradition are a huge part of why my work now focuses on resourcefulness i.e. making what we need from what we have.


- JA