Weaving and Leaving… Shetlands to Rwanda

Leaving today at noon for overnight flights to Rwanda to work with Melissa Johnson of The Putney School.  This is a follow-up to the trip Johnson and Putney School students made to Rwanda in July. At that time, they brought four Harrisville Looms to teach students how to weave and create income-generating opportunities working with CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS). 

Johnson and I are packing a loom and yarn and knitting needles, so I’m going camera simple–bringing only my lightweight digital Olympus E-PL1 and just two lenses…one new that thankfully arrived just in time this morning before my flight. Although we’ll see as I close the bag…still thinking about throwing in a pinhole and a few rolls of film.


Today’s trip is a second unexpected journey this summer connecting with weavers and textile artists.  In late July, I was in the Shetlands. There were so many highlights to share–like an outdoor circle of 80 knitters working on one project. This circle was made up of both Shetlanders, Nordics and myself… on my birthday no less!


Knitting Circle at the Böd of Gremista

I was forging my own craft trail– to the South for a lesson in Fair Isle technique with Shetlander Elizabeth Johnston; to the North to visit with fiber artist Iwona Charleson who in addition to spinning yarn from her own croft-raised sheep takes time to create and handcraft one-of-a-kind polymer clay knitting needles.

Then, off to Yell on the ferry where my craft trail got the attention of two young French visitors. They asked to join along while they were en route to Unst, the most northerly point in the UK. I was happy to have co-pilots to remind me to stay to the left while driving to the weaving studio of Andy Ross. Ross is creating artistic and educational opportunities in a remote spot (900+ residents) for all ages. I had been following his blog for a couple of years now, so I couldn’t wait to meet him, see the space and share ideas. He gladly opened the doors to the three of us and within ten minutes had the French visitors weaving on a loom. What a privilege and so much more to share with you all about this part of the adventure. In the meantime, here is a photo of Cami, Carole and Andy at the loom.

Saturday Art Show December 5th

Shelburne Farms

Late Leaf Fall, Shelburne Farms, Vermont

Stop by Studio 239 in Bayport this Saturday, December 5th,  between 2 and 6 in the afternoon, to view new black and white prints made along the hillsides of Vermont and shot with my Zero Image, pinhole camera.   (See additional images here in Portfolio.)

The show will also feature the most recent prints from my Shetland Islands series–overlapping, panoramic images of cliffs and bays printed on Japanese Unryu and hung as scrolls; wavy, blue and green grasses, blowing in the ever present wind at Shetland on Canson Rag Photographique; and grainy, black and white pinhole shots of my great-grandmother’s croft.

Email me for directions: studio239@gmail.com.

The shot below, of Burra Voe in Northmavine, is printed on Washi Unryu; the natural swirls in the paper add to the ripples on the water’s surface, to the sense of constant movement in the bay off Yell Sound.

Burra Voe, Shetland Islands

Eshaness Peninsula


Grind da Navir

When you walk out from Eshaness Lighthouse in the Shetland Islands onto a peninsula of once molten lava, the ground is spongy under your boot.  You step on low-growing wildflowers in the field; they bounce back.  You slip on moss spread over rock outcrops; some rocks lift.  This summer, on the day I walk out there with my son Alex, a rolling fog adds to this sense of the indefinite.

The fog or haar is common in early summer when warm air blows over the cool North Sea.  At the cliffs at Eshaness, 200 feet above sea level, it appears to come up from below, over the cliffs and into the walking fields.  We think to turn back but have an ordinance map to follow to the cut-in canyons and channels we’ve heard about.

The haar obscures the view as we walk.  We only get a sense of the first canyon when we see thousands of dive-bombing, grey and white Fumars scoot in and out of the fog, announcing the nearby 50-foot drop at Calder’s Geo.

We follow the contours of shallow lochs shaped like puzzle pieces, ellipses with sweeping arcs that curl back into the water.  Alex wanders off, inland, to the Loch of Houlland and a bronze-age broch; I stand alone on the open field.  The dampness in the air makes me cough; I’m lightheaded and wheeze but like the feeling of floating.

(These prints are made from digital scans of film negatives, first captured by overlapping frames within the camera and varying aperture.  They are each 11″ x 24.5″, made at Indian Hill Imageworks on Fabriano Artistico, 23″ x 31″.)

Burnt Mounds, Shetland Islands, 2008, Series III

I was standing in the doorway of my great-grandmother’s croft home, three summers ago.  It was my first trip to Shetland-after flying to Edinburgh from New York on one day, and the next, taking a train to Aberdeen, then a 12-hour, overnight ferry to Lerwick Port, and a car ride up to North Roe.  Just a day into that first trip, I was introduced to Bertha and Douglas Murray and from their croft home, was shown Peat Haa off in the distance, my great-grandmother’s birth home.  Within minutes, I was standing in the threshold of the ruin-about 150 years after Jane Stove would have been living there.

Douglas drove me over in his pick-up and let me out to walk up the hill to Peat Haa.  An 8 or 9-year old boy, stood in his rubber boots and slicker, looking out to me from behind binoculars.  He started talking before I reached him, about the retired, French airplane that is parked in his drive, in front of his contemporary, cedar shake home built just above the ruin.  I half listened, peering into the ruin through the doorway-four supporting, hand-build stone walls were intact and two built-in hearths remained at either end.  The upper floor and thatched roof were missing-the open space filled with fallen wood beams and slats.  The staircase was detached and askew, open to the sky. Continue reading

Burnt Mounds, Shetland Islands, 2008, Series II

In July at North Roe in the Shetland Islands, I rented a one-bedroom chalet from crofters Iwona and Neil Charleson.  The Charlesons raise sheep, cows, and chickens on their farm, Toam; heat their croft home with peat; and rig rows of garlic, broccoli, and potatoes-their garden willow-lined to break the wind.  On the first night’s stay, the Charleson’s make dinner, a roast leg of their lamb and  home-brewed beer.  During dinner, Iwona points out the window to a side yard, and says how in the spring she heard a sheep wailing outside, just under the sill.  She ran out that day, saw the ewe presenting breech, and stood fixed.  But she then quickly slipped her hand into the birth canal, pushed her arm and hand up further to grab the lamb and turned it.  No training for the moment.  And now in July they anticipated a calving crisis.

Beth the Cow, sent out to visit a neighboring bull during the seasonal meet-up, did not come home pregnant.  She was later artificially inseminated and was now pregnant long into the summer, grazing on too rich grass cover.  The calf could grow far too big to birth, Iwona said, but added, in a crisis she could call on neighbor Douglas Murray.

Enter Douglas and Bertha Murray’s stone home, Isbister, and you have to double-over just to get in the door.  Unfold on the inside and you’re in the ben, the sitting space, and don’t know where to focus first.  There’s a wall of red and blue and green prize ribbons-first, second, third prizes in sheep competitions.  On a far wall, several pairs of jeans hang over the oil-burning Rayburn stove, drying.  Look up-a rifle is propped across a timber-for firing at rabbits gnawing the cabbage.

Continue reading

Burnt Mounds, Shetland Islands, 2008, Series 1

I flew late in the evening this past July from Edinburgh airport onto the sandy south end of the Shetland Islands.  It was a clear night but the pilot warned of wind.  Upon our approach, the 35-passenger turboprop bounced and shimmied.

It’s my third visit to Shetland.  Each time the Simmer Dim falls slowly, making for short twilight nights.  If the skies are clear, the soft light blends land with sea with sky.  Few shadows are cast to make distinctions in the landscape.

The light I see upon arrival is yellow-white, bathing the brown-green hills.  But after the first dim, I wake to thick and layered cloud cover. For the next two weeks, the clouds pile up, tumble, and rain.  The wind is dogged. I scramble in gloves and wool beret, about the hills above my great-grandmother’s croft ruin.  The legs of the tripod sink into the wet peat; I step on a boulder and it wobbles.  Nothing in this landscape seems firm.