Issue 230
March/April 2024

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Apr 15, 2024

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A flutter on Orkney arts

Frances Anderson talks to artist Catherine Wells who decided to up sticks and go far north to start a new life and a business in Kirkwall

MOVING to the remote Orkney Isles isn't for everyone, but for artist Catherine Wells it was a dream come true. From her first visit to Orkney, she knew she wanted to live there.

"I have been fascinated with Orkney from a young age. It seemed a magical place full of the most amazing archaeological sites, Ness of Brodgar, Broch of Gurness, Ring of Brodgar, countless tombs and lots more. I never dreamt I would have the pleasure of living here. After visiting on holiday a few times I knew I wanted to live here.

"Orkney has a magic about it that is hard to describe, it just sort of grabs you and doesn't let go. I visited other places in Scotland and England to see if I liked them as much, but no, it had to be Orkney."

Born and bred in Lancashire, Catherine ran a successful mosaic arts business from her studio at Higherford Mill, a studio collective of artists and ran regular mosaic and landscape needlefelt workshops.

"In February 2019, my van full to the brim, I found my self crossing the Pentland Firth to Orkney. I thought my business interests of art and complementary therapy would fit in well here. I didn't know what to expect when I moved but was not disappointed and loved it from day one. Initially I lived in beautiful but remote Birsay on the West of Orkney, but moved to Kirkwall in December 2023 after acquiring business premises on the High Street in Kirkwall. Having a gallery/shop of my own has always been my dream", says Catherine.

"I bought the large old property from the council just 12 months ago. It needed roof work and other restoration and that is why it was affordable for me. It's been a challenging project, with serious roof problems initially, but they are now being resolved. It also has a large garden which I'm hoping to open up for folk to come and sit and contemplate through the summer. It needs more work but planning permissions and building warrants are in the process for all the changes I need to do.

"Opening the shop I started with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) yearly nature event, featuring mixed media artists.

"It went well and I have been slowly progressing since then. It's a low key affair compared to the bigger shops on the high street, but folks have been very supportive of my efforts.

"I show other makers' work too, and am slowly getting a reputation as a place to find something different. Running the shop and offering my complementary therapies in the back certainly keeps me busy, but it's been very well received in the town so far.

"I was given the honour of hosting one of the hand made 'ba's' before Xmas in my window. This is a traditional rugby type game played twice a year on Xmas and New Year's Day. It's taken very seriously here and the fact it's my first year and I'm not Orcadian I felt was a very special event for me.

"There is a large artist community here and Kirkwall is very vibrant with quality shops and café s and lots going on. Even though I was locked down here during Covid like every one else, I was grateful to live in such a beautiful place. The best things are the way you can be yourself and people accept you. There doesn't seem to be much of a class system here and incomers are generally accepted as long as you make an effort to fit in.

"There are no traffic jams, not many lock their doors, and Orcadians are usually kind and honest and are happy to find the time to say hello and chat with you. For a lady on my own I felt very safe and relaxed and soon started to make friends. I love having a day out to visit one of the many Islands in the summer and will take my electric bike to cycle around.

"I am running workshops throughout the year which are usually very popular with folks from all over the globe, and this year I will be offering new full day workshops including hand embroidering existing clothes, needlefelt landscape pictures, crochet and wool rug hooking and rag hooking again using old clothes, all of which can be booked with me directly or on my Facebook page – Arts a Flutter. There has always been an eco friendly theme to my artwork, eco cards made from old books are very popular, as is upcycled lampshades, furniture and driftwood art. Folks like to see something unusual in my window."

So if you're visiting ancient Orkney be sure to visit this new shop and pick up something just that little bit different.

Arts a Flutter, 15 Victoria Street, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1DN



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