I found North Lands in 2001. Although it’s probably more accurate to say that it found me. I was standing in a nearly empty booth at the SOFA/Chicago fair a month after 9/11 when Dan Klein stopped by. In reply to my musings as to where one could go to escape a world gone mad, he said simply “Come to North Lands”.
Double rainbows are as abundant in Caithness as parking tickets in downtown Portland.
North Lands isn’t actually the name of a specific location – it’s more a state of mind. North Lands Creative Glass is in Caithness, Scotland, the northernmost county of mainland Britain. The school itself is in the village of Lybster. Surrounding Lybster is a landscape that is the most ancient I’ve ever experienced. And one where Doing Art makes uncanny sense.
“wander on deserted shores and put faith in Brochness;
a round holding that begins to shape in me,
who has traveled much. Now will sit still in the stone ring
where the blessed dead bend and bring the living in.”
(from “Broch” by Janis Mackay)
There is just something about standing on an edge – whether it’s a physical precipice or the crevasse between American and Highland Scottish English – that demands the sort of focus from which art just naturally grows. It is about getting to an essence, stripping away the superfluities and diving into those places so often lost to daily living (ok, I admit to having supplemented a cliff-side hike with Pachelbel’s Canon in D, complements of my shiny new Nanopod.)
Kirstie Rea and class trail-walking along the North Sea edge.
If making art comes more naturally without the distractions of grocery shopping or taking cats to the vet, teaching art is no less improved by the purity of this landscape. And I consider what happens at North Lands to be the teaching – or exploration – of art more than simply the transfer of technical skill. For while the medium is glass, and while much can be learned about working with that material here, I’ve rarely seen a class at North Lands that did not integrate material and idea to the enormous benefit of both.
Kirstie Rea, “of Rain”, kilnformed and wheel-cut glass, 2006. This piece for me just IS a Caithness rain.
“More Than You”, kilnformed and cameo-engraved glass, 2006. …as this work by April Surgent IS the architecture of light as it falls on Harbor House.
Of the many programs and artists that Bullseye has worked with over the decades, North Lands and the artist/friends who have taught, assisted, researched, and studied here, hold a very special place. In many ways, this place and these artists epitomize the finest potential of contemporary glass.
One of the first Bullseye Masterclasses at North Lands was led by Jess Loughlin (left).
And now that I’ve irritated myself beyond belief with my own sappiness, I should also say that the kilnforming studio is exceptionally well-equipped, the technician Michael is brilliant, the school administrator Lorna is a logistical genius (or six rolled into one), Karen Davies makes the best School Lunch ever(!), the entire community is supportive – but better still, entrancingly quirky in a way that is likely only possible in small villages perched at the edge of the earth with fingers dug deep into another age.
You may have noticed by now that I am, hmm, “besotted?” by this place. It’s true. At that first suggestion from Dan Klein, then later encouraged by Dante Marioni, my Dan (Schwoerer) and I have been coming to Caithness for the last five years. We now own our own little corner of this world in the form of a 250 year old fixer-upper and its ever expanding population of bouncing bunnies.
Taking the Holiday out of Holiday Home…
And we have become insufferable missionaries for the Cult of Caithness. It’s an experience like no other. Which is why I am here, banging on the door of the World Wide Web, proclaiming the gospel of North Lands.
But see for yourself. Visit the North Lands website. I’m especially excited about next summer’s Bullseye Masterclass with Silvia Levenson. But all of the courses promise to be exceptional – and are guaranteed to make every participant into the same sort of North Lands zealot as the one rambling on here.
“To North Lands”. Dan and Silvia enjoy an unpretentious little Arrogant Frog on the cliffs at Badbea, summer 2006.
Next…who knows? I’m on the edge up here….