Scottish Seabird Centre Exhibition

Purple Porphyra print

Purple Porphyra print

The Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick was recently awarded status as the National Marine Centre for Scotland expanding their remit to include wider conservation and education activities exploring marine habitats and wildlife. I was invited to share my seaweed pressings in an exhibition held in their main cafe and gallery celebrating the wider shoreline they inhabit.

The pressings and prints on show were all gathered from the beaches extending either side of the Seabird Centre and from further along the West Beach.  The exhibition runs until 26 Jan 2016.  Prices range from £125 to £350.

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Edge of the Sea Exhibition opens

Sara at Edge of the Sea exhibiton

Sara at Edge of the Sea exhibition

Edge of the Sea exhibition of my original seaweed pressings and new giclee prints opens 3rd Oct and runs until the 30th Oct at Hangar Art Gallery, Fenton Barns, North Berwick, EH39 5BW (tel: 01620 850 946).

I will be at the gallery today, Sat, 3rd Oct from 12 noon – 4pm. Stop by for a glass of wine and see the show!

Edge of the Sea

Edge of the Sea inviteNew exhibition going up this week – my first selling one – at Hangar Framing & Art, Fenton Barns, North Berwick, EH39 5BW.

Show will include original pressings and new giclee prints of lovely lacy Rhodophyta and some big green kelps.

Please come along and join me at the opening on Sat, 3rd Oct, 12-4pm to see the show and have a glass of wine.

Anna Atkins’ Cyanotypes

Anna Atkins - cyanotypeI was lucky enough to see the exquisite exhibition of Anna Atkins’ seaweed cyanotypes at the Stills Gallery in Edinburgh in May.

The exhibition’s purpose was to explore the history and art of photography, and the small inner room of the gallery was devoted to a collection of original images from her seminal work British Algae; Cyanotype Impressions (1843), the first book to be illustrated by photography.

Anna Atkins was one of those quite amazing women known affectionately as the Seaweed Sisterhood – a group of both trained and self-taught botanists and phycologists who collectively classified and catalogued the seaweeds of the British coast in the mid-1800’s. Anna, in printing and publishing her book, also established the first use of photography for scientific illustration.

Her cyanotypes are very simple juxtapositions of blue and white, illustrating the shape and form of her botanical collection but with a lovely sense of artistry, harmony and balance.  The work goes well beyond a scientific recording and evokes a sense of the aesthetic appreciation so often at the heart of collectors’ work of that era.

Sara's cyanotypes

Sara’s cyanotypes

I had a go at creating some cyanotypes of my own pressings in a short workshop held in the darkrooms of the gallery.  Not in the same league as Anna’s, but a pleasure to experience her process and thinking in creating this wonderful body of work.

Seaweeds in The Scots Kitchen

I enjoyed listening to BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme this morning. Highlighted today was the movement known as the Slow Food Ark of Taste whose quest is to preserve traditional recipes and the cultivation/harvesting of ingredients from around the world. We are fortunate in the UK that over the last century many women have collected and preserved local recipes and lore in early cookbooks.  In Scotland, F. Marian McNeill, a daughter of the manse in Orkney, was one of them and seaweed recipes from her book The Scots Kitchen with Old-Time Recipes’, were read on the program. I reached for my old (1929 first edition!) book to have a look and came across some remarkable recipes and quotes.  Here is an excerpt:

The Scots Kitchen

The Scots Kitchen cookbook

Dishes of Seaweed

Seaweeds are rich in potassium iodide.

The edible seaweeds found on our coasts include Carrageen or Sea-moss, Tang or Redware (Eng. Sea-girdle); Henware or Honeyware (Eng. Bladderlock); Sloke (En.g Laver); Green Laver; and Dulse (Fucus palmatus, Linn.)

Sea-Tangle

In Orkney, children eat the stems of the sea-tangle raw, as they would stalks of rhubarb.

In the Hebrides, Martin tells us, “the blade is eat by the Vulgar Natives”¹. In Barra, the blade is cut away from the fronds and stalk and roasted on both sides over the embers.  It is then placed on a buttery bannock. Children eat it with avidity.

¹ “I had an account of a young man who lost his Appetite, and taken Pills to no purpose, and being advised to boil the Blade of Alga , and drink the infusion boil’d with a little butter, was restored to his former state of health.” Martin Martin: Description of the Western Islands (1703).

Carrying on this tradition, I understand that Fiona Bird of South Uist is following her wonderful book,The Forger’s Kitchen, with a new arrival in April called Seaweed in the Kitchen, promising to restore and revive both the tradition of cooking and eating seaweeds and of saving recipes for future generations.

Seaweed art

William Kilburn's seaweed fabric design, circa 1788

William Kilburn’s seaweed fabric design, circa 1788

Oh! Call us not weeds, but flowers
of the sea,
For lovely, and gay and bright-
tinted are we!
Our blush is as deep as the rose
of thy bowers –
Then call us not weeds, we are
Ocean’s gay flowers.

from Mary Matilda Howard’s, “Ocean flowers and their teachings” (1846)

Pink and green feathery branches and floating tendrils spin from a central arrangement of coral, periwinkle and seaweed to form the central motif of William Kilburn’s classic textile designs for frocks of the 18th century. Weaving organic forms of foliage, flowers and roots his courtly compositions presaged the naturalistic designs of William Morris by a century, but are oddly familiar to those of us who delight in early Laura Ashley and Cath Kidston.

Kilburn (1745-1818), born in Dublin, worked as a botanical illustrator for William Curtis on the Flora Londiniensis, his adherence to authenticity rooted in the new science of botany just at the moment when Linnaeus was devising his monumental classification system. Kilburn later started his own printing company creating fabrics that captured the growing fascination for natural history and craze for gathering and collecting seaweeds. In fact more than twenty of his textile designs in the V&A’s archives have British seaweeds at the centre of his compositions.

Anna Atkins cyanotype of Laminaria digitata, circa 1853

Anna Atkins cyanotype of Laminaria digitata, circa 1853

A generation later, Anna Atkins (1799 – 1871), a trained botanist, explored the use of photography to create her exquisite cyanotype photogenic ‘drawings’ of seaweeds, using a cameraless technique introduced to her by William Henry Fox Talbot and Sir John Herschel. She published three volumes Photographs of British Algae starting in 1843 and completing the set in 1853, leading the way for photography in scientific illustration. She was one of several well-known Victorian women seaweed collectors, together with Amelia Griffiths (1768-1858) and Margaret Gatty (1809-1873) – whose work is still treasured in the collection of the University of St Andrews.

Matisse_Seaweed

 

In 1941 Henri Matisse (born 1869) started his “vie seconde” and his celebrated artistic period of painting with scissors – cutting freeform shapes of colourful painted paper into organic shapes and composing rhythmic improvisations. He was “taking a closed space of reduced proportions and, through a play of light and colours alone, conferring infinite dimensions on it”.  In 1947 he began the design for the beautiful stained glass window of La Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence, based on motifs of seaweed and coral   In this vibrant late period of his life he created over 20 collages, many now on view in the masterful show at the Tate Modern.

Julia Lohmann_Oki Naganode, 2013

Julia Lohmann_Oki Naganode, 2013

More recently, Julia Lohmann, a German designer became head of the Department of Seaweed at the V&A, exploring new techniques of crafting objects from kelps. Her stunning pieces are both art and product design, from huge installations to elegant benches and lamp shades.

Lastly, I recently visited the stunning stained glass show ‘Beyond the Object’, by Dale Chihuly (American, 1941), at the Halcyon Gallery on New Bond Street. The light and shadow effects are mesmerising, a dreamlike sensation of floating beneath stilled chromatic waves of organic forms diffusing the colour and light of a electric rockpool.

Dale Chihuly from 'Beyond the Object', Halcyon Gallery, 2014

Dale Chihuly from ‘Beyond the Object’, Halcyon Gallery, 2014

Sea Flora Exhibition open!

The Gateway Gallery is now awash with seaweeds!

Located on the first floor of the John Hope Gateway centre of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the exhibition is free and open from 10am – 5:45pm daily, until 15th June 2014.

Sea Flora table 1Gathered from the East Lothian coast between Gullane Bents and Tyninghame Beach, the sea flora pressings of Rhodophyta (reds), Chlorophyta (greens) and Phaeophyta (browns) are displayed primarily by colour along with some wonderful Victorian books on collecting seaweeds. The larger entrance display holds bolder specimens from wracks and kelps to edible laver and sea lettuce.

See my Gallery page for more details or go the ‘What’s On’ pages of the RBGE website.

Sea Flora table 2

 

 

 

Eat your greens!

Sea lettuce and LaverUlva latuca, commonly known as “sea lettuce” grows in gentle profusion at the mid-littoral zone of our northern shores where it can find protected, tide pools, crevices or low-lying rocky outcrops to gain a holdfast protected from the force of tidal surges, but not too far from sunlight. Ulva will settle in quite well with its cousin Laver (Porphyra umbilicalis) – who is much more prolific in its range and spread – and are happy to populate the lower parts of rocky stretches that are home to a variety of wracks (Fucus vesiculosus, F. serratus and F. spiralis). They will live quite happily cheek by jowl with the Enteromorphas (Gutweed), hiding in their long strands along the water’s edge.Enteromorpha underwater

A brilliant bright green, translucent in water, a bed of Ulva latuca will resemble waving leaves of young lettuce underwater but are rather gooey when on dry land.  Highly nutritious (full of natural protein, potassium, magnesium, iron, iodine, zinc and vitamins) they have been used for centuries to augment the diet of poorer coastal dwellers, particularly in the ‘lean’ months between Feb and May, and are still one of nature’s  natural “rescue remedies”; growing rapidly in the Spring and providing a wealth of essential micronutrients (Omega 3 fatty acids too) that we all lack in northern climes. Sea lettuce can be eaten raw or lightly cooked (unlike Laver which needs a protracted period of boiling) by steaming or frying, and is often dried and then crumbled onto salads.

Palmaria palmataDulse – although decidedly not green, Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is an ancient foodstuff of the Northern British Isles and a staple ingredient in many traditional Scots and Irish dishes. Today it is sold in health food shops, neatly chopped and dried to be tossed onto salads, vegetables, or mixed into stews.  Highly nutritious, and tasting vaguely of Marmite, it is an excellent, potent source of vitamins, minerals and iron and historically recommended to those suffering from nutritional deficiencies or recovering from illness. I was delighted to see it being used as an alternative to salt in a pizza dough recipe for healthy school eating programmes.Laver covered rock

Laver – The Welsh equivalent, Laver bread is still made and consumed in coastal and mining communities along the shores of Wales.  Washed, chopped, boiled and moulded into ‘cakes’ it is then traditionally fried and served at  breakfast as accompaniment to bacon and eggs. Not surprisingly, it has a very high vitamin D content that helps to mitigate against long hours spent underground with no or low exposure to the sun’s rays, in addition to being a plentiful source of protein, as well as vitamins B, B2, A and C.  Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisines use Laver (Porphyra yezoensis), known as nori or gim, to wrap sushi in, and to flavour soups and stews, drawing on the huge coastal sea farms for their harvests of both it, Ulva prolifera  and Sugar kelp.

Kelp  – The huge stalks of Laminaria that range across the lowest strands of the tidal zones have long been used by harvesters and farmers to augment meagre diets and incomes.  Kelp has been harvested to extract agar (used for centuries as a gelling agent) – formerly harvested off the shores of Scotland, but now harvested for that purpose in Japan and Iceland. Today kelp is still sold in capsule form to help combat obesity – an ancient diet pill. It is kelp that is used to create the gold standard of luxurious skin cream, Crème de la Mer, developed by creator Dr Max Huber who saw Pacific Coast fishermen applying it to sunburn.  I understand that it is also used in Burn Units of A&E hospitals, where it is laid directly onto affected skin, just underneath bandaging, to promote healing of scarred and burnt tissue.

SaccharinaSugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) and “Long feathers” (Alaria esculenta) were traditionally collected from the shores of the Firth of Forth and sold in Edinburgh by merchants in street markets. These two seaweeds are still cultivated and harvested by coastal communities and served as a regular staple in diets of China, Iceland and even parts of Maine and Connecticut.

More recently, scientists at the University of Birmingham have been using seaweed in tandem with other natural products to create gel-like ingredients that make you feel fuller, longer – molecular gastronomy.Alaria esculenta

It makes me wonder that so many easily accessible sources of vitamins, minerals and health promoting substances are so little known by today’s populations.  What a bounty we have at our shores just beyond the reach of dry land!

Winter Storms

Surfer at NB BayWalking along North Berwick beach last week I spotted a rare sight lying low along the foaming waves –  a surfer. Bobbing up and down she battled the surge to gain the swells forming within the shallow bay, but after several attempts, and no decent rides, she abandoned the effort and waded off, probably down to Ravensheugh or Dunbar in search of bigger waves.

Eroding sandsThe sand however could not retreat, and great chunks were being pulled into the sea creating a landscape of soft cliffs along an ordinarily level sweep of beach. Tugging and pulling, the surf relentlessly washed forward and back, sucking the mounds from underneath, and then once dispelled, surged to nag at the old boards holding the sea back from the shore.

Seaweed pyres

Further towards the West, once the tide had retreated, I came across great heaps of seaweeds, tangled and tossed into huge pyres and hanging from the highest rocks. These mangled mountains must have contained thousands, if not millions, of seaweeds, from giant kelps and big bands of fucus to mats of shiny laver and tangles of mermaids’ hair.  What an extraordinary testament to the flora beneath the waves.

Rare Harvest Jan 2014

Lastly, at the lowest ebb of the tide, I came across a rare harvest; with tons of sand pulled back into the deep, there lying exposed were a plethora of golf balls. I started to gather one or two (good for backyard practice) and soon realised they were in every nook and cranny, some even came with the stipes of young seaweeds attached. The most interesting one however was an old specimen, brown with microscopic algae, its shiny surface of tiny pockmarks echoing an age gone by – it was probably played about 30 years ago… I guess golfers have found this stretch of the course difficult for a long time.

Sea Change Event

We had a great evening at the Sea Change event at the RBGE on Thursday night.

Preparing seaweed specimens

Preparing seaweed specimens

It was the first ‘Botanics Late’ venture, and was held in John Hope Gateway centre; a huge open space venue on two floors.  The lower level housed a three different artist’s exhibitions, a sound stage with performances by poets, musicians and comedians, and a lecture theatre filled with microscopes and modelling clay where Professor Kate Darling gave an illustrated talk on the science of foraminifera and the movement of sand.

The upper level had several workshop areas; one for seaweed scrubs (by fellow Herbologist Jill Tees),  Dr Greg Kenicer offered up seaweed products including a delicious agar panacotta, and Dr Elspeth Haston showed off specimens from the Herbarium collections. Stargazers sprawled across the big deck, sheltering under the eaves, and the bar was in full swing.

Sea Change event - seaweed pressings workshop

Seaweed pressings at the Sea Change event

I held my seaweed pressing workshop in the large space at the back and was flooded with curious and eager participants. Some had experience of flower pressing from their childhood, but all were new to pressing seaweeds.

The enthusiasm was overwhelming and we went through every bit of art paper, blotting paper, cardboard, muslin, and newspaper by then end of the evening!  I hope the tightly wrapped specimens made it to their respective airing cupboards later on and that the evening sparked a love of the beauty of seaweeds.Botanics late pass