In this cold, wet week, the Blog is delighted to be able to transport you to sunnier climes and blue skies through Jason Oliver’s account of his recent study trip to Cyprus.
Before coming to Fearnan, Jason worked as a Junior Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Art in London and it was there that he became interested in how people connect to their heritage using traditional art and skills.
He now works at the Scottish Crannog Centre, where part of his work involves coming to understand the methodology, limitations and resources available to the crannog dwellers who lived circa 400 BC, on Loch Tay.
Inspired by a small textile fragment found in the remains of the crannog in Fearnan Bay and preserved by the cold, peaty water, Jason has been trying to recreate the skills and techniques that would have been available to the Iron Age people who made it, along with the dyes that would have been available to them from local plants and berries.
In September 2019, Jason was invited to join a study visit to Cyprus to learn about the sustainable development of cultural and natural assets in two mountain villages. The visit was organised by the ARCHnetwork in Scotland, which is funded by the EU Erasmus+ scheme, and aims to promote European diversity in cultural and natural heritage. The Network facilitates visits to many countries, such as Poland, Iceland, Latvia and Romania among others, and by connecting people to the tangible and intangible* crafts, arts and traditions of those countries, encourages the sharing of ideas and skills.
*(Intangible crafts are those that are intellectual rather than physical, such as the skills and knowledge needed to produce something, as opposed to the craft item itself.)
We travelled in a small group of five, seen on the left with the Course Co-ordinator.
The next seven days were spent meeting and connecting with a variety of crafters, forestry workers and local people who are building and maintaining communities in rural areas.
The visit went past very quickly, so I’m going to share some of my personal highlights.
We stayed in a small village called Lefkara, on the south coast of the island, with blue skies and temperatures hitting 30C most days, so it was welcome relief from the dreich weather with the ever-present mizzle, of Perthshire!
On the first couple of days, we had the opportunity to learn about the reforestation of the local area. Many oak trees are being planted, and we had a go at making small clay acorns, which were to be sold in a local shop, to raise awareness about the planting project. The acorns were fired in a handmade clay kiln, with bricks made from mud and straw, and held together with cow manure and mushed up clay. It did the trick; we got the kiln up to 1000C to fire our clay objects using a small fire inside the kiln, which was slowly built up, the clay added, and then the kiln was sealed for 24 hours.
We also visited a local silversmith in Lefkara. As happens in so many rural villages that are some distance from towns, the young people have left to find their fortunes in the city. This means that not only is it difficult for the silversmiths to find apprentices but also that their skills are not being passed on, and consequently the number of people skilled silversmiths is sadly waning.
The studio was tiny and extremely hot because of the method of creating silver. They use the lost wax method, which involves making a mould out of resin, which is then injected with wax and left to cool. The objects are then put into a flask, covered in silica, which is held in a liquid, and then through a few other processes, the wax is melted out to create a mould for the liquid silver, which is poured in. It was incredible to see the craftspeople at work at a very laboured process.
They are hoping that these traditional skills will be kept alive, with foreign craftspeople coming to learn the processes. They are also being encouraged to get an online presence, so they can sell their work worldwide.
Lefkara is also a world-renowned centre for lacemaking. Leonardo DaVinci met his wife in the village, and the lace inspired the tablecloth on the Last Supper painting. Again, there has been a problem with young people taking up this craft as it doesn’t pay well; the people who still make lace can only earn 10 euros per day. It is also a time-consuming occupation and takes years to learn.
So, to counter this, The Green Village Shop has been set up as a community-led cooperative. Vintage clothes from the 1950s are bought from all over Cyprus, including north of the border in Nicosia, and small sections of Lefkara lace are sewn into the garments, making them fresh and relevant and creating a local fashion that is distinct. People from all over Cyprus come to buy ‘Lefkara Fashion’ and it contributes to a very specific regional look.
The shop has been a great success and has meant that the traditional craft of lacemaking is being kept alive, and a lot of younger people are working at the shop, sourcing clothes and sewing the lace into the garments. The shop has a very ‘Audrey Hepburn’ feel and it’s remarkable how community effort can reinvigorate a craft that appeared to be dying out. The north and south of Cyprus are markedly different, and this project has built a bridge between the two communities.
One striking thing that we noticed in southern Cyprus is the historical religious divide between Catholics and Muslims, evidenced by the colour of people’s front doors; blue for Catholics and green for Muslims. The barriers are slowly breaking down, and the Green Village shop is one step further in this direction.
Another impressive community-led project is the creation of a large number of mosaics that brighten up the streets of the local area, and beyond. Many students and visitors from around the world, come to Lefkara to learn traditional mural making skills and help with the installations in the surrounding villages and towns. This provides further income for the town, jobs for the local people, and has created a thriving community atmosphere.
Just outside Lefkara is a smallholding that creates halloumi cheese from scratch. The goats, which are looked after very well, are kept outside in the yard and their milk is used straight from source. It is heated and goes through a number of labour-intensive processes, including stirring the milk for 8 hours straight, to create the halloumi.
It doesn’t taste anything like the shop bought version we buy in this country; it is very creamy and doesn’t have a high salt content. It is perfect when grilled and served with freshly baked crusty bread, olives, cucumber and tomatoes fresh from the plant, drizzled with locally made extra virgin olive oil.
The trip really demonstrated the power of collaborative community effort, the importance of traditional skills and how by adding a small modern twist, they can be kept relevant and in line with modern tastes and fashions. I returned from the trip feeling inspired and it will definitely inform both my own personal artwork and my work focusing on ancient textile production, at the Crannog Centre.
I have really only scratched the surface of our 7 days in Cyprus. I haven’t mentioned the Ottoman period churches; the Roman splendour of Kourion; the beautiful mosques and architecture of Nicosia; the rope making from palm leaves or the visit to the olive forest to learn about how climate change has impacted the trees, but I hope that I have given a brief taster of the experience!
Please also enjoy these photos, taken from a photo-blog I kept during the trip.
If anyone would like to read the report submitted by the group to the Archnetwork website, it can be found here:-https://archnetwork.org/sustainable-development-of-cultural-natural-assets-in-2-cypriot-mountain-villages/
If you would like to know more about Jason’s work at the Scottish Crannog Centre, and all the other interesting things that are happening on the site, it re-opens full-time in March this year.
Perth & Kinross Remembers
Culture Perth & Kinross are running a project called Perth & Kinross Remembers, the aim of which is to create a First World War Legacy Collection that will be housed in the Perth & Kinross Archive at the AK Bell Library, where it will be preserved and made accessible for future generations of researchers.
The FVA is going to put the research from our project to commemorate WW1, through which we traced information about the 8 men who are commemorated on our war memorial, into the Archive. We succeeded in finding not only family and war service information about all the men, but also found photographs of 7 of them. We also traced some of their descendants.
In addition, we will add photos and information about the Fearnan Poppy Project which produced over 900 poppies (knitted by Fearnan-connected people on several continents) that we used to decorate the war memorial on the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
Perth & Kinross Remembers is also running a series of talks and there is one on January 31st at the AK Bell Library. It is called ‘Not Just Flanders: Scotland during First World War’. There is more information here: https://www.culturepk.org.uk/whats-on/not-just-flanders-scotland-during-the-first-world-war/
Big Shed Yoga Workshop
On Saturday 22rd February, Sadhita returns to the Big Shed for a one day yoga workshop priced £50, including a vegetarian lunch.
The workshop sounds great for anyone who spends a lot of time sitting and staring at a computer screen as it will consist of two practices: one based on remedial back work and the other shoulder work. Some meditation will be included.
Sadhita originally trained as a physiotherapist and has an incredible understanding of the structure of the human body. You can get more background about him from his website https://www.bodhiyoga.es
To book your place, email: http://email@example.com, or text/phone 07508 645453