Bringing Orcadian crafts to the high seas

Passengers onboard a cruise ship travelling through the Mediterranean Sea will be able to take advantage of some expert advice from an Orkney Crafts Association member next month.

Local potter Elaine Henderson will be joining the crew of the Fred Olsen vessel ‘Black Watch’ as a pottery tutor, working in the ship’s studio and teaching techniques to its 800 passengers.

‘It’s certainly going to be an adventure – all these years of travelling back and forth to Orkney across the Pentland Firth will finally come in handy!’ said Elaine, who runs Scapa Studios at Sorpool.

Elaine Henderson from Scapa Studios will be leading pottery classes onboard the 'Black Watch'.

The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes after Elaine heard about the role through the Scottish Potters Association in 2017. She submitted a CV and found out her application had been successful earlier this year. She’ll be joining the ship in Mumbai at the end of March, stopping off at ports in Egypt, Jordan, Greece, Italy and Spain before arriving back in the UK.

'I’ll be taking over from the potter who set up the studio and has been with the ship for most of the cruise,’ said Elaine. ‘She’s a sculptor so it’s well stocked with clay, but they’re also looking for someone to develop other aspects, and there are plans to install wheels for throwing too.’

Elaine will also be tasked with building the stock onboard and teaching passengers all about pottery. She plans to encourage participants to learn more about working with texture and colour, as well as promoting clay work to a wider audience.

But working in pottery at sea is a completely different prospect to settling down in a purpose-built studio in Stromness! It’s something Elaine is ready to tackle though. ‘It will definitely be a challenge – there are restrictions on using the kiln and I understand there could be some rough passages of sea too - so it will certainly be a bit of a juggling act. But I’m really looking forward to getting started, meeting new people and seeing some sights that otherwise I might not have had the opportunity to visit.’

The Fred Olsen vessel 'Black Watch' - image courtesy Fred Olsen Cruises (
The Fred Olsen vessel 'Black Watch' - image courtesy Fred Olsen Cruises (

Elaine won’t be alone onboard either. Her daughter Katie will be joining her as an assistant. She’s currently working towards a PhD funded by the Orkney and Shetland MS Society and will be leaving the ship in Sardinia to attend a genetics conference.

It all forms part of a busy March for Elaine. Before she leaves Orkney, she’ll be hosting a Crafts Council event at Scapa Studios. ‘Hey Clay’ is open to all ages and experiences, with the aim being to build a clay version of Orkney’s Neolithic village of Skara Brae.

Sign up to 'Hey Clay' at Scapa Studios and help make a clay version of Skara Brae!
Sign up to 'Hey Clay' at Scapa Studios and help make a clay version of Skara Brae!

Those taking part can make a single brick, build a wall, design a dresser or shape people, pots and animals. The completed village will then be donated to Stromness Museum.

The event takes place at Elaine’s studio at Sorpool in Innertown, Stromness on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th March between 10.30-12.30 and 14.30-16.30. Phone 01856 852 926 for directions and find out more via Elaine’s official website and the Scapa Studios Facebook page.

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