First edition originally published January 23, 2015
Sylvia Wishart – Hoy Sound
1987, oil and mixed media on paper
from the Pier Arts Centre Collection, used with permission
© the Estate of Sylvia Wishart
When I do my home yoga practice, the light comes in through the dining room window, casting rectangular reflections on the glass of one of my photographs of Loch Ness. This interplay of light and shape layered on shape always reminds me of an artist whose work I was delighted to discover while we were travelling in Orkney during our Scotland trip in the fall of 2012. Each time I see them, these reflections conjure up Sylvia Wishart’s compositions.
Part I: You CAN Get There From Here.
When planning your itinerary to Scotland, don’t let the seeming remoteness of any of the outer islands deter you from a visit. While there are many daytrip tours heading to the Orkney Islands from the Scottish mainland, there is so much to explore, especially if you plan to do any island hopping, that I recommend you allow several days here. We allotted four, but could easily have stayed longer, and as fans of prehistoric sites, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
Glacial erosion resulted in stone beaten by the sea. Stretches of treeless, windblown land are topped with distant rounded hills — a visual combination to inspire the artist’s heart and eye. This is the furthest north I have ever been, and place names here are derived from Old Norse as a reminder of Orkney’s history and your proximity to Scandinavia.
The Mainland, as the largest island is known, is particularly littered with prehistoric remains — including The Ring of Brodgar, an amazingly large stone circle that boasts Viking graffiti on one of its stones. As you drive along a thin strip of land sandwiched between two lochs through the archeologically rich Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, you will see such wonders one right after another. An ongoing archeological dig at the Ness of Brodgar reveals layers of history that hint at the great importance of this area to the ancients.
The weather was beautiful during most of our Orkney days, though my husband swears he saw snow mixed with the spitting rain as we boarded the small ferry to get to these islands. After all, they say that you can experience all four seasons in one day in Scotland. I was more enamored with the small pod of dolphins I spotted immediately as we pulled away from the dock than whether or not any of the cold precipitation was actually frozen. The day we went to the capital city of Kirkwall was rainy, but since we were inside the highly recommended Orkney Museum in the Tankerness House, the Earl’s Palace, and splendid Saint Magnus Cathedral for the day, our plans worked out fairly well.
Until, that is, the day we left.
It was my husband’s birthday. We had a grand itinerary planned — we were to board the departing ferry at 11 AM, then have a lovely drive down to Loch Ness, stopping at various points of interest to photograph along the way.
But Mother Nature had other ideas. A big storm was due, and it had started its approach the previous night. The waves crashed dramatically along the causeways as we drove around on our last day. Our bed and breakfast hostess in Ophir was very accommodating, and offered us our room for another night should we need it. But all seemed well according to her sources — the ferries were scheduled to run as usual the next morning. At any rate, we had already booked accommodations at our bed and breakfast on the northern shore of Loch Ness, so I was very relieved that all seemed well with our departure plans.
After eating breakfast the next morning, including a cute birthday cupcake for Jimmy, we packed the rental car and off we went to catch the ferry on South Ronaldsay. After a 45 minute or so drive, we pulled into the carpark for the ferry, only to learn from the office that during the crossing earlier that morning, the captain found the waves too choppy and treacherous, so if he made another trip, it would not be until the end of the day.
Not one for much spontaneity or the uncertainty of a crossing with no guarantee, I immediately went into lateral thinking mode as if I were a contestant on The Amazing Race. “The other ferry company!” I thought. “The one that sets out from Stromness — they have larger ferries. I bet they are running!” With a cartoon light bulb over my head that shone brightly with this idea, I eagerly called the number that was listed in my guidebook. Luckily, they were operating as scheduled! However, the next crossing wouldn’t be until 4:45 PM. So much for our leisurely drive on a sunny day, but at least we would be able to get off the island and keep to our plans to arrive in Loch Ness, albeit several hours later than expected. After making a booking, we headed out, driving north for an hour to Stromness.
We had hoped to visit this town of stone and narrow lanes on our trip, but as it goes with an overloaded itinerary, we hadn’t made it. Now we had a few hours to spend here before our ferry departure. The main draw for us was to visit The Pier Arts Centre, so after finding the ferry dock, the Arts Centre, and a place to park (the latter being easier said than done!), we set out to explore this artistic treasure trove of over 180 works by 20th Century British artists. Founded in 1979, as the name suggests, the Centre is right on the water, an old building originally converted to hold the collection of founder Margaret Gardiner.
Before our artistic exploration could commence, however, there was also the matter of notifying the Loch Ness bed and breakfast of our delayed departure. My calls weren’t going through on my mobile for some reason, so email was my only hope.
The Pier Arts Centre to the rescue! The staff was very accommodating and welcoming in our time of need. They had a room with free WiFi, so I was able to use my laptop to contact our next home away from home and alert the hostess to our impending tardiness. Shelter from the cold rain, a rescued day spent looking at a rich, varied art collection, and a free WiFi hotspot as well — what more could The Pier Arts Centre provide?
I had first seen a piece of Sylvia Wishart’s work at the Orkney Museum in Kirkwall. Her signature use of textures and unusual reflected shapes, as well as her penchant for including rabbits and birds made Wishart’s distinctive style stick in my mind. As I sat in the meeting room that graced my laptop with WiFi capability, when I saw the large painting before me, I knew it was clearly painted by the same artist. It was there that I fell in love.
Stay tuned for my next post, Part II: Sylvia Wishart. The best artist you may have never heard of, unless you’ve visited Orkney.
Many thanks to the Pier Arts Centre for their assistance. The above image of Hoy Sound by Sylvia Wishart — the painting that hung in the meeting room — was provided by the Pier Arts Centre and used here with their kind permission. For more information, please visit their website.
For a wealth of information about Orkney, I highly recommend the website Orkneyjar: the Heritage of the Orkney Islands.
All the best, and Namaste,