Orkney Crafts

Andrew Appleby on Orkney Crafts for Orkneycrofts.

It was Ola Gorie who really began the Orkney Craft Movement. She took Orkney’s Heritage of a rich past and interpreted it in silver jewellery. She studied at Gray’s School in Aberdeen, under David Hodge in the early 1960’s. I remember well the ‘buzz’ that was going around Kirkwall, as she began creating her first pieces in Broad Street.olamodel.jpg

She attended the first Aviemore trade Fair and her success set her own individual style in motion and equally showed others what could be achieved.

Through time Ola, and her husband Arnie, employed and trained many people. Some of these also showed great talents and established their own workshops in Orkney. Thus the new movement was born.

From my early visits here, I was caught by Orkney’s pull. Despite all odds I found that I had to be here. Against all ‘Business Advice’ I sold everything to move my ramshackle workshop to Orkney in 1976. At that time Gunnie Moberg was developing her photography and batik.

Gunnie2.jpgStanley Cursiter was in his last years. Both these people were magnetized by Orkney’s Energy, along with George MacKay Brown.

As a new craft business setting up in Orkney, I was advised to place myself in Kirkwall. I was essentially a country boy and remained firmly in Harray! (Thus I was instantly dubbed ‘The Harray Potter’) My apparent success gave the example that you could survive outside the Kirkwall Metropolis. This gave others the feeling that they too could live and develop in the places that inspired them as well.


Now we have a tumult of talented people existing where it is natural for them to be. Just look around. The Yellow Bird Gallery in Birsay, Lesley and Jon with their wonderful birds. Fluke Jewellery and OrkneyInga silver too. Hrossey silver in Orphir is another brilliant example of determined talent doing things their way and loving it.

Looking to the Isles we have Westray. There we can visit the Hume twins at Hume Sweet Hume. Their staggering style of fabrics has boosted the Island’s economy. A potter is there too amongst a thriving artistic community.

Of course Orkney has its older traditional crafts as well. The Orkney chairs and straw work had been a home-based craft for very localised needs since prehistory.

scapacrafts.jpgNow they have a far greater clientele. Just look through the Orkney Craft Trail brochure and see. Our local traditional skills survive and blossom, just showing the Islands’ innate talents.

When you look at Sheila Fleet’s silver jewellery and her sister, Liela Thompson’s tapestries, you will see the strongly rooted Orkney inspiration being interpreted beautifully in thoroughly contemporary styles, which also have a timeless quality, capturing an Orkney essence.

Orkney’s craftsmanship now has a worldwide reputation for its exceptional quality. I am proud to be part of that movement. If you were to ask any of us individually what draws us, or keeps us here. What roots our inspiration, what underlines our skills? I think you may get the answers, ‘Orkney’s pull, Orkney’s power and Orkney’s magnetism.’ These answers may appear ethereal, but I believe that these answers are quite true! Just look back at Orkney’s staggering past! It lives in us still!


These islands:- this archipelago, has an unique charge, which we tune in to. It gives us our energy base from which we feed, it nurtures us, and that creative force, which made our past so phenomenal, still exists within us.

Andrew for Orkneycrofts © Feb 08