Unique Orcadian design for national awards ceremony

Normally artists would leave an awards ceremony clutching their trophies from a successful night. For Orkney Crafts Association member, Elaine Henderson, her experience of the first ever Scottish Awards for New Music this week was slightly different.

She arrived at the ceremony with all seven awards safely in her possession. Elaine, who produces beautiful pottery and ceramics from her Stromness studio, had won a commission to design and make the prizes for all the winners on the night.

Elaine's beautiful designs, made from black porcelain - image by Iain Smart
Elaine's beautiful designs, made from black porcelain - image by Iain Smart

‘As an alumna of Glasgow School of Art, I’m on a mailing list that features various opportunities, and this one was right up my street,’ said Elaine. ‘I used to teach music in secondary school before retiring and retraining in ceramics, so this combined two of my great passions.’

Elaine had a matter of weeks to deliver her designs to Glasgow for the inaugural event, which was created by New Music Scotland to celebrate Scotland’s composers, musicians, sound artists and ensembles.

Elaine Henderson with her unique awards design - image by Iain Smart
Elaine Henderson with her unique awards design - image by Iain Smart
The prizes themselves are real works of art. Elaine settled on an unglazed, textured, black porcelain design, each containing an image created from the music of the winner.

‘The inspiration came from three places. My mother had been in and out of hospital in Kirkwall during 2016 before she passed away in December, and I spent a lot of time looking at the various machines that gave a visual interpretation of our vital signs.’

‘I’m also very interested in the phenomena of sound and quantum mechanics - although I don’t pretend to understand the physics! I sing with the St Magnus Festival Chorus too, so there is a real and emotional connection there.’

It has been an incredibly quick turnaround for Elaine, who began making prototypes before moving on to plaster models, moulds, and then casts in black porcelain slip. Each bowl is then engraved inside in white porcelain slip which a unique sound-wave pattern she designed by listening to extracts of pieces from the winners.

Elaine was also prepared for any potential problems. ‘I made an extra set in stoneware to begin with, just in-case the ones I really wanted to make didn’t work out. Thankfully I didn’t need to use them!’

‘Each process required a great deal of care and attention, and as usual in ceramics, timing is crucial. I’ve been burning quite a lot of midnight oil recently,’ said Elaine.

All of Elaine's designs with their unique 'soundwaves' - image by Iain Smart
All of Elaine's designs with their unique 'soundwaves' - image by Iain Smart

The awards commission is hopefully the start of a busy 2017 for Elaine. Last year she received funding from Orkney Islands Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Creative Scotland to help develop her studio on the outskirts of Stromness and purchase new equipment.

The next step is to look for a bigger kiln and larger extractor fan so production can really begin to increase. ‘The opportunity from the Scottish Awards for New Music has been really beneficial,’ said Elaine. ‘Not only has it helped me promote my name in an area I’m really interested in, it has also given me the confidence to be more ambitious in my ideas and the scale of my work.’

The other Orcadian link on the night was a nomination for Alasdair Nicolson, Artistic Director of the St Magnus International Festival. He was shortlisted for his composition of The Iris Murders in the Small/Medium Scale Work section.

All the winners on the night with their special awards - image by Iain Smart
All the winners on the night with their special awards - image by Iain Smart

Find out more about Elaine Henderson via her dedicated Orkney Crafts Association page. Read about the Scottish Awards for New Music via the official website.