Dani and I had a lovely 4-day trip to Campbeltown, Scotland, with our friends Iain and Shelley. It was a 10-hour drive from the London area and we all made it there and home in good spirits, so, success!
Poet Bill Duncan and printmaker Susan Wilson collaborated to tell the dramatic story of the Isle of Hirta, also known as St. Kilda, a wind and bird-strewn Isle lying far off the Northwest Coast of Scotland.
The inhabitants of Hirta used to survive entirely through use of the thousands of sea birds on the island, and ‘The Hirta Portfolio’ shows this with stunning simplicity: etchings of a gannet skull as a pin for the roof material, or a thigh bone used in weaving; these, woven with Duncan’s spare words, produce a powerful tribute: for Hirta was evacuated in 1930, and all the islanders were dispersed to new and unfamiliar jobs. ‘There Were no Trees on Hirta,’ is a poetic example of a baffled islander sent to work in logging.
The lady tending the Gallery, a Ms. Macaulay, gave us a walk-through of the exhibit, explaining the images and references in further detail. There is a limited-edition run of the gorgeous hand-printed ‘Hirta’ portfolio, which ties with a ribbon, for £20, and I bought one. This article talks a bit more about the making of the Portfolio and the contact details to purchase one.
Every other page has one of Wilson’s etchings and then one of Duncan’s poems, and they reflect each other. There was a special copy of the large Hirta Portfolio for £350, and the prints and poems are currently displayed in the Gigha Gallery.
I must admit that the power of the Portfolio is enhanced dramatically with the personal explanation of the creation of the book and the story of Hirta, though I think if you read the poems you’d be inspired to look up Hirta anyhow– I was. Ms. Macaulay told the story well, and I only wish I had time to stay longer and look more at the larger prints– unfortunately we were off to catch the ferry, but I’ll get to mull over the smaller book. I love this art/poetry collaboration and I absolutely want to do something like this some day.
It is also worth mentioning another book the Gallery has for sale, ‘The Prisoner of St. Kilda,’ which looks fascinating. It was written by Ms. Macaulay’s mother, who I believe also lives on Gigha, and is the true story of Lady Grange, an 18th-century upper-class woman who was kidnapped– by her husband!– and left to perish on St. Kilda. It’s safe to say that both Gigha and Hirta are fantastically inspirational Islands.