Lagan - Mixed Media Assemblage
Over the years, I have created many pieces of work related to our fishing industry, both in relation to its place in the historical and cultural life of the east coast of Scotland, and with its part in my own families history through stories of my Grandfather’s people.
Many of these works have been exhibited in galleries with strong fishing links, such as the Timespan Heritage Centre in the Sutherland village of Helmsdale, an area made famous in the novels of Neil Gunn, and at The Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, a small fishing port on the East Neuk of Fife.
As well as influencing the art of novelists and poets such as Neil Gunn and Christopher Rush, the subject of the lives and traditions of our fisherfolk has been a rich source of stories, images and songs for many artists, musicians, and dramatists.
One of the most fascinating projects on this theme is the People And Songs Of The Sea, an exhibition and recordings, conceived, collected and produced by Edinburgh based musician, photo journalist and broadcaster Shona McMillan. Through her photographic exhibition and the recording of songs celebrating the lives of the fisherfolk, Shona has created a window of opportunity for people not only to view the past lives of these communities, but to see how time and tides have changed the lives of the inhabitants of the east coasts fishing villages.
The project provides a valuable record through songs and photographs, of how life has changed, and is still changing, for the Scottish fishing industry. But it is not only a historical reference to this way of life, but is a living growing event that will continue to evolve and be enhanced with the life experiences and struggles of these proud and hard working communities. The full story of the project, which I couldn’t expect to justice to here, can be found on the People Of The Sea MySpace site.
When chatting with Shona recently, I found it fascinating that the stories and experiences of the fisherfolk and our families were, through their histories, intertwined. Shona’s people like many, followed the Herring fleets around the British coastline. Their voyage would take them from Highland ports such as Wick and Helmsdale, down the east coast via Lowestoft, to the southern harbours of towns such as Folkstone. My own family, originally from the inshore Herring fishing communities of the sea-lochs of Argyll, had followed a similar route, but had settled and continued to fish from Folkstone.
The assemblage illustrated above ‘Lagan’, tells the story of my Grandfather’s upbringing in the fishing communities of Kent. Due to the untimely death of his mother, and my great- grandfathers commitment to his boat and crew, my grandfather and his siblings were placed in a home for the children of fishermen. Despite providing for his children, my great-grandfather never returned to see his children. The word ‘lagan’ is a term used for goods or objects that are to placed overboard on a voyage, but marked with a buoy or similar marker, to enable you to come back and collect them later. I used this term to describe the children, set adrift on their upturned boat, waiting for the return of their father.
In the image the family group is incomplete, the four children, the imprint of fishing nets on their bodies, stand in front of the ‘missing’ father figure. The two shores in the background represent my grandfathers own journey, from the white chalk cliffs of southern England on the left side, to the banks of the Tay on the right, where my grandfather settled after his own voyages at sea and at war.
I am continuing on my own journey, and will be creating more works that will not only be celebrating my own families connection to the fishing heritage of Scotland, but also the memory and bravery of the much missed fishing communities of my native east coast.
The CD of the the People And Songs Of The Sea can be purchased by clicking on cover artwork above.