A celebration of Shetland’s maritime heritage at the museum

Shetland’s maritime heritage will be at the heart of Shetland Museum and Archives’ summer programme, with a series of themed exhibitions, displays and workshops each highlighting a unique aspect of Shetland’s seafaring history.

The museum, which is managed by Shetland Amenity Trust and set within the historic Hay’s Dock area will bring boats out of its storage collection during the Tall Ships and visitors will be able to get up close to classic Shetland craft including fourareens, sixerns, and the restored lifeboats from the Oceanic and St Sunniva.

Five of the vessels will be familiar to regular museum visitors as they are the traditional Shetland boats that were suspended from the museum building’s ‘sail’, the Boat Hall. Due to planned external and internal building maintenance and safety concerns the boats have temporarily been removed but they will resume their rightful place and be rehung after the summer season.

Inside the building are exhibitions which capture the richness of Shetland’s maritime heritage and will remain on display throughout the summer. On the ground floor is a new display of Peerie Boats model ships. Ship modelling is as old as ship building itself. This is a fascinating display of a selection of ship models from the Shetland Museum’s collection ranging in size and quality of construction. Most have been created by Shetlanders and reflect their experience of ships and shipping, fishing and trade. The models demonstrate the breadth and diversity of the ship and boat models contained within the collection, and the skill and ingenuity of those who made them.

Taking pride of place in the foyer space will be a display of ‘Nordwind: Fine Lace Sail’. Nordwind is a restored model schooner, built in the early 1940s by Thomas Bruce of Skaw, Whalsay. She was named after a ship that was wrecked on the east banks of Skaw and is most likely made from wood from her wreckage. Angela Irvine, granddaughter of the model maker and a talented Shetland lace knitwear designer, took a keen interest in her grandfather’s yacht and commissioned her restoration as a family heirloom. The Nordwind was restored as a two-mast schooner, while Angela hand-knitted Shetland Fine Lace Sails in sea-themed traditional patterns to complete the restoration.

The stairwells and learning room are a sea of colour with vibrant tall ships inspired artwork from primary and secondary students and includes group murals, lino prints and 3-dimensionsal model tall ships, exemplifying the quality and diversity of artwork and teaching being accomplished in Shetland schools.

‘Saatbrack’ music will be heard from the Boat Hall – an immersive piece of sound-art music by Jenny Sturgeon, Renzo Spiteri and Tall Ships Ltd – drawing inspiration and raw material from the maritime world.

The stunning ‘Fisherwomen’ exhibition by award-winning photographer Craig Easton has proved so popular that it has been extended until 30 July. The exhibition which is a collaboration between Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts presents stunning life size images following the historic route of the old herring fleet from Shetland to Great Yarmouth and the women who have worked and continue to work in the industry.

In the upper galleries is ‘To the End of the Days of Sail’, an exhibition by Laughton Johnston about tall ships and the Shetland sailing era, showing a selection of notable Shetland sailing masters and their vessels from 1840s to the 1920s.

Jacqui Birnie, cultural heritage manager said: “We are delighted to be bringing Shetland’s rich maritime heritage to the fore of our displays this summer and we are keen to explore ways to improve how we share Shetland’s distinctive boating heritage. We acknowledge that there has been a lot of interest in the museum’s boat collection over recent months and as part of our ongoing care and management strategy we are reviewing how to display the boats in the collection and how best to maintain them.

“Together with Marc Chivers, an experienced maritime ethnologist, boat builder and co-founder of the local heritage group Moder Dy, we have completed a comprehensive survey of the boats in the collection. We are now working towards plans for the boat shed at the museum to be used for the maintenance and restoration of all the boats. We will be launching an online survey to gather community input on ways to celebrate Shetland’s maritime history later in the summer. In the meantime we look forward to sharing our boat collection during the Tall Ships celebrations.”

In addition to the displays there will be a series of family activities and tours taking place throughout July and August. Visitors will be able to choose from maritime workshops including signal flag crafts, chart making, lino printing, scavenger hunts and much more. Full details can be found on the Shetland Museum website.

The Shetland Family History Society will also be located outside the archives during Tall Ships and volunteers will be there to answer any questions.

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