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Noosts and Me - artist & writer Kharis Leggate

I’m Kharis, a Shetlander currently studying for an MA Art, Space & Nature at Edinburgh College of Art. Noosts have drawn my attention for years, although I know very little about Shetland boats or archaeology, it’s the shapes of the noosts themselves that initially fascinated me and the idea of them being spaces of holding and protection. When I heard about the Moder Dy project I was so excited I got in touch immediately to find out more and was asked if I’d write a guest blog post introducing my creative work with noosts.

I have no memory of my first noticing of boat noosts, they have always been in my awareness as fundamental parts of the Shetland landscape. Walking and playing around the banks were constants as I grew up. I lived at Sound, on the outskirts of Lerwick, where the most common route for walks with my family was across Oversund road, through Longland to the Tarland burn (now called Burn of Sound on Google maps for some reason…) which we followed down to the ‘peerie’ beach as we called it. Turning West and following the coast soon takes you directly through the shallow impressions of a few old noosts. These along with several in Westsandwick, Yell are the ones with which I’m most familiar.

I could get pretty in depth with descriptions of all the noosts I know, but that’s too much for an introductory blog post! So I’ll just point out briefly the main ones that have influenced me creatively.

Westsandwick was where my Mam grew up and where my siblings and I spent most of our holidays, it’s still like a second home to all of us. South from the well known Westsandwick beach are a few smaller beaches. At the furthest edge of the third one, quite high up from the water, are the noosts my Mam says her father used. As far as she remembers the area was simply called Noostigarth, I imagine there are many similarly named places around Shetland. These are the first noosts I photographed, it was a long time ago, in my mid-teens I’d guess. These noost were cut into the earth and in some ways not very clear as structures in themselves, they almost look like the cuts of mini peat banks. I’ve not been able to find the photo but do have the first noost sketch I did which started my interest.

While studying for a degree in Contemporary Textiles at Shetland College I found myself turning to the exploration of noosts for artwork and design ideas.

First was a set of noosts at the Sooth Toon, just below the road at the south end of Westsandwick. One of these was used to hold my uncle’s little boat and another held the remains of a fourareen. The noosts themselves although over-grown with lots of tussocky grass are still very clear as they are large and dug quite deeply into the ground.

I found the soft colour of the worn surface of the wood really beautiful and on inverting one of my photographs I noticed the altered colours matched those of the mussels that were also washed up in the noost. Playing around with the textures and colours of the boat and mussel shells resulted in a few plans for woven fabric design.

Another degree project was part of a commision around 2006, for ‘Textiles in Tables’ in Hay’s Dock Café & Restaurant at Shetland Museum & Archives. The artworks, by 25 local artists and designers, are on permanent display with one piece inlaid into each table in the restaurant. For this work I looked at a noost at Muness, South Nesting, which contained a fairly deteriorated boat that used to belong to my friend’s great-grandfather. The noosts here were different to those in Westsandwick as they were shallower and surrounded with an outline of large stones.

The final piece, called Noostigarth, consisted of painted fabric and handmade paper stitched onto strips of fabric which had been dipped in wax. I wanted to contrast the faded remnants of the boat in the noost with the bright, freshly washed up seaweed to convey a sense of being at the edge of the sea looking into the noost.

Noostigarth, 2006, which is inlaid into one of the tables at Hay’s Dock Café & Restaurant

I still have bits of drawings and ideas in sketchbooks which I work with now and again but the Moder Dy project has been a strong reminder of how much I want to explore noosts in my creative work!

It was also interesting to see that the first noosts the project looked at were the ones at Freefield, Bridge End, Burra, as from 2006-2007 I lived just above them and had taken photos of the noosts and old fourareen when it was in better condition.

In all aspects of my creative practice, whether it’s an artwork, piece of writing or handwoven fabric, what I aim to do is translate the sense of a particular place. It’s like a call to interpret the essence of the place with awareness that, whatever form the end result takes, it will also contain traces of myself and my personal experience in that moment.

I’m coming up to my final MA project which will be complete mid-August, after that I’d like to learn more about particular noosts and explore them creatively in some way as they have so many stories to tell.

Written by Kharis Leggate, May 2019

Artwork and photographs ©Kharis Leggate

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