Ancient Orkney provides inspiration for local craftsman

Orkney’s incredible array of archaeological treasures continues to attract visitors from around the world, keen to see some of our special Neolithic sites and artefacts.

But the rich heritage of the islands also plays an important role in inspiring our local makers.

Michael Sinclair, a talented woodturner and Orkney Crafts Association member based in Harray, has turned that inspiration into something very unique indeed.

Michael Sinclair at his workshop in Harray, Orkney
Michael Sinclair at his workshop in Harray, Orkney

He has been hand-crafting beautiful wooden petrospheres, influenced by similar items found on Neolithic excavations across the islands. Hundreds of these stone balls have been discovered throughout the north east of Scotland, including at Skara Brae and the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney. They’re stunning items, either made by hand or nature, with different shapes and styles.

Some of the wooden petrospheres crafted by Michael
Some of the wooden petrospheres crafted by Michael

For a craftsman like Michael, who already takes inspiration from Neolithic pottery discoveries in Orkney for his ‘Unstan ware’ wooden bowls, it was only a matter of time before he attempted his own wooden petrospheres!

Using boxwood, sourced from instrument makers, and lignum vitae, from old bowling balls, Michael has created his own take on the Neolthic pieces. They present a real challenge, with the wood hand-turned on a lathe into a sphere. Next, various centre points are marked, with up to 36 points needed depending on the final design.

Finally, they’re remounted on the lathe in a homemade chuck, ready for the final turning process.

The end result is a truly special item which showcases Michael’s skills perfectly.

The process takes a lot of care and attention, not to mention skill!
The process takes a lot of care and attention, not to mention skill!

One of Michael’s finished boxwood petrospheres has also now been cast in bronze, creating a range of completely unique and collectable pieces. These items come with their own presentation packaging and certificate.

It’s safe to say that Michael will continue to soak up the ancient history of Orkney and its archaeological sites as he continues to expand his range. After all, it’s not hard to be inspired by the history, heritage and landscape of these islands.

The new designs come at a busy time for Michael. He has just been accepted onto the Register of Professional Turners, a process which began more than a year ago. Members of the RPT must meet stringent selection criteria, including an inspection of the quality and execution of work and a workshop inspection. Some of his work will also be displayed at an exhibition in the Old Library Kirkwall in February too.

Find out more via the Michael Sinclair Woodturner page on our website, or visit the official website. You can also follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter.

Visit Michael’s gallery on the Orkney Craft Trail and see the full range of beautiful hand-crafted items.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Programme.