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How The Limpetarium began...



"A repository of artificial and marvellous things, and of every rare treasure, precious object, construction and picture. It is recommended that all these things be brought together here in the theater so that by their frequent viewing and handling one might quickly, easily and confidently be able to acquire a unique knowledge and admirable understanding of things"

Quiccheberg from the Low Countries, 1565


Descending the hillside to Skaill Farm on the island of Rousay, Orkney, July 19th 2018,

a pathway to discovery...

Skaill Farm

On July 19th 2018 I unexpectedly found myself at Skaill Farm archaeological dig. I was on holiday with my husband Adrian and long time friends, Kevin and Lynn when we saw a notice advertising an open day at the dig. We took the Tingwall ferry across the fast-flowing Eynhallow Sound to see what was going on.

During the visit one of the archaeologists working on site explained about the farmstead and its long history, giving me a handful of limpet shells that had been unearthed from Norse midden as a souvenir. This small act of generosity  roused my curiosity which, over the years developed into a long-term fascination with limpets and the relationships that we, as humans have with them.

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A layer of limpet shells in a section of soil and stone together with early drawings, 2018

My early explorations started simply by drawing the Skaill Farm shells. Then my collecting impulse began to kick in and I gathered more limpet shells from the beaches around Orkney, arranging them, together with other interesting finds around the house where we were staying. Limpet furnishings you might say...


Collected limpet shells and other holiday finds, 2018

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Charcoal, pen and ink on various papers, 2018


I used small wooden and cardboard boxes to contain the collected shells and convey them from the beach to my studio. They were then stored, loosely organised by date and place of collection on my shelves. The assembled shells housed in their jumble of boxes began to remind me of a cabinet of curiosities. Also known as a wunderkammer or wonder-chamber this form of pre-Enlightenment museum became my inspiration and eventually my art medium of choice for the project.


Human Limpet 1, 2018

Human-Limpet 1

Cardboard and masking tape

Stourbridge, West Midlands, 2018

Later in 2018 I participated in an artist-run development day in my home town of Stourbridge. I made use of the limited materials provided by making a human-sized, conical, limpet-like structure, spending most of the session within its dark, shadowy interior reflecting on the life of a limpet; considering its protective shell as a dwelling place, a form of shelter, and a safe haven in the turbulent inter-tidal zone.

 "...daydreams of refuge" 

Bachelard 1958

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MA Art & Social Practice Winter School, January 2019

Human-Limpet 2

Felted sheep wool and hazel wood

Lybster, Caithness, Scotland 2019

The second human-limpet took the form of a felted woollen shelter designed to be just big enough for an adult human to fit snuggly inside. A group of us took turns to inhabit the warm textile limpet, a few moments to retreat, take refuge from the wind and snow and experience a fleeting glimpse into another intimate world...

Images: Susan Timmins

Participant reflections...

I love the first glimpse of it on the beach,

colours or rather the monochrome of todays light,

snow and stone provides a perfect backdrop.

Inside, eventually my body got the stones into my shape.

Sounds were the first impression - the waves,

Much louder than before entering.

Then very very loud crunch of walkers on stone.

Voices, then I got an idea!







On such a cold day as this

its really rather lovely to sit inside this

surprisingly warm space.

I hear the sound of others arriving,

the crunch of footsteps on the pebbles

and the relentless tide breathing in and out.

The tide-line, the horizon, both not straight but jagged - like the cut glass when you have  pressed slightly too hard. 

Warm from the snow

I can hear waves

I feel safe and hidden

So snug!

I like to hear the voices

and the sea outside.

Soft snow


Sea and rocks

Cold wet

Feel a little cramped

Can't sit upright

But love the softness

Of the felt

Softening the sounds

Blanketing the outside

Surprisingly bringing


Snug, cosy, safe

Not of human society



Relief from the elements

I want to be a limpet


Can I stay?

Electric Limpet-Man

Video, 2019

Leaving home ground, The Human-Limpet looses its grip and takes Ashleigh Slater, artist and electric wheelchair user on a twirling journey into the depths. The soundtrack is by Bill Laybourne who explores the sonics of the limpets sub-surface world. 

Video: Helen Garbett and Bill Laybourne, 2019


Me, Adrian and Kallum limpeteering...


Shared Experience

Bull Bay and Newborough Warren, Anglesey, 2019

My art-based research is intertwined with family life and being a carer for my learning disabled, autistic son. 


Honouring the Natural Places

Aberdour Beach, Aberdeenshire, Scotland 2019

The Human Limpet settles for a while, conversing with the interiority of a cave: light, space and time.

North Yorkshire Moors and Cropton Forest, 2020

Out of Place

North Yorkshire, England 2020

What if a limpet could be unfixed, unsettled, disarranged and transported to an unfamiliar, place?

...shifting and transforming into a new future...

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