Collection, Collecting and Contribution
“To make a collection is to find, acquire, organise, and store items… a way of thinking about the world – the connections and principles that produce a collection contain assumptions, juxtapositions, findings, experimental possibilities and associations. Collection-making, you could say, is a method of producing knowledge. Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2014
The Wonder of a Shell Collection
With thanks to Stromness Museum for arranging access to the Rendal Shell Collection on July 16th 2021
Stromness museum is home to the beautiful shell collection of Robert Rendal, including several limpet specimens. Rendal is known for his poetry and authority on shells, flowers and marine life. He published the Mollusca Orcadensia in 1956, a paper that brings together records of marine mollusca indigenous to Orkney.
The Rendall collection has prompted me to consider how shells might be arranged, displayed and juxtaposed with the other things within The Limpetarium.
Limpet Hot Spot
According to Dr Louise Firth, South Africa is a limpet 'hot spot', hosting eighteen different species which attract ecologists and collectors from around the world! Louise kindly gifted these beautiful South African specimens to The Limpetarium from her extensive collection. The largest is 7cm across!
Sarah's First Shell
Artist Sarah Goudie and I in conversation about her first shell...
The Gilded Limpet
Many thanks to artist Linda Norris for her lovely contribution to The Limpetarium. Linda unearthed these shells whilst working with archaeologists at St Patricks Chapel, Whitesands in Pembrokeshire.
Linda gilded the shell with gold leaf to highlight how important commonplace objects can be in our understanding of the past.
Traditional Collecting Baskets
Orkney 'cubbie' Basket
Artist Caroline Dear made this beautiful limpet collecting basket for the project out of Purple moorgrass she gathered from around her home on the Isle of Skye. Based on a traditional design the bait basket worked well when used by Jo Naden to contain and transport shells found around Skaill Geo, Rousay.
Examples of traditional cubbies in Stromness Museum.
Fiona (left) handing over the 'Limpet-o-Matic. Image by Jo Naden, 2021
Artist Fiona Sanderson generously loaned her extraordinary 'Limpet-o-Matic' kinetic sculpture to the project which she made from wood and metal found in Orkney. The 'Limpet-o-Matic in action can be seen here:
This porcelain shell was hand-made by the Shetland based poet, Jen Hadfield. Jen kindly gave me this larger-than-life sculpture when I met up with her in 2019. Jen also writes wonderful poems about limpets, see her book The Stone Age, published by Piccador.
When the tide is out the table is set...
These Lottia scutum or Plate Limpet shells were collected from northeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia in Canada by photographer Susan Timmins when she went to visit her daughter over the winter of 2021/22. Susan presented the shells beautifully and it was such a wonderful parcel to receive in the post. I hope I have got this limpet identification right, I am still learning!
When this collection arrived at The Limpetarium it reminded me of something I had read about one of the First Nation traditional sayings from the British Columbian region - 'When the tide is out table is set'. This refers to the rich coastal bounty of shellfish and kelp that can be found at low tide. Another line of inquiry to follow...
I found this limpet shell welded with rust to an old chain at Bull Bay, a small sheltered harbour in Anglesey, North Wales. As well as being an extraordinary object which encapsulates human-limpet entanglement, the rusted links got me thinking about taxonomy. This line of inquiry led me to the Scala Naturae or 'the great chain of being' which was devised by Aristotle in the fourth century BC as part of his zoological study, History of Animals. Aristotle stated that all beings were arranged in a fixed scale of perfection from minerals to plants, then animals, on up to human beings. This way of thinking had a powerful influence in taxonomy for some two thousand years, eventually leading to the Linnaean classification system we recognise today.