Category Archives: Projects

Stephen Morrison at the Ratlin Sound maritime festival

The Stephen Morrison roadshow is about to set sail on another voyage/project. As part of the Portable Art exhibition we are attempting to sail El Vigo back to Northern Ireland, to complete her circle of voyaging since she sailed from there in the 1980’s. The exhibition opens in London, then travels to Spain and then to Ullapool. El Vigo was built in Vigo, Spain, the work; ‘port of arrival’ recounts her return to her boat building yard, with her then owner, for her 21st birthday.


We have also been invited back to Ballycastle and Rathlin Island, so after making a landfall in Northern Ireland, we shall be crossing Ratlin sound to show the film ‘A Boat Retold’ (Louise Milne, Sean Martin) and performing a similar event to that of the Australian Wooden Boat Festival.

 RSMF Programme 2015 web (2)_Page_01

Southern Hemisphere on the horizon


Stephen Morrison has been invited to attend the Australian Wooden Boat Festival and to take part in an exhibition in Hobart, Tasmania in early February, 2015. Now we are into the new year, thoughts are directed towards final plans and arrangements for the festival, exhibition and subsequent residency in Tasmania.

To geta sense of the differences between the latitudes here is the local time in Hobart ;

Goodbye Edmonton, Hello again Toronto!

The next stage of the project was the long awaited return travel to Toronto by train. VIA rail operate a service from Vancouver on the west coast to Toronto on the east. If you get the train at either end, then it’s pretty safe to assume a departure time as scheduled. However,  this isn’t the case if you get on the train anywhere in the middle of the journey, by then time has taken on another dimension.

We were due to get the train at 23:50 hrs and were deposited at the station in a very timely manner by Douglas Barbour, a great poet/writer and another new Edmonton friend. The train finally arrived at 01:45 am and by the time we departed it was nearly 02:30! The passenger train has to give way to goods and grain wagons, so pulling into a siding was a common event. One of the trains that passed us was 97 wagons long! photo 3     After a quick intro to the workings of our cabin by the guard,  we were settled for the next 3 days. The upside of our late departure was that we saw more of the prairie as it was light by 06:00 am. train1


train3There was definitely a greater sense of the scale of the country we were passing through by travelling overland, rather than by air. Also the comparative feeling of sailing through a landscape, due to the huge scale wheat fields, which roll past like a huge swell on the sea. Huge volume of land as opposed  to the volume of water.

Day 1 – mostly spent sitting and watching the play of scenery pass by the cabin window, which was acting like a huge TV screen. Also an opportunity to collect thoughts about the journey so far.train2Grain elevators were beginning to become like friends, a familiar presence on the horizon. then we started to recognise names, Young and Watrous, we’d seen these before on our journey to Regina, but that was the closest we got to retracing any of our steps, as then the train diverted away and on to Winnipeg.


Day 2 – a shock to wake up to almost familiar countryside; rocks and silver birch trees, how had we arrived back in Scotland? The Canadian Shield region of Northern Ontario that we were now passing through looked so much like the Highlands, it’s no wonder that Scottish immigrants felt at home here. I was mourning the open space of the prairie, not prepared for the loss of sky. By the end of the day, the trees and become a shroud to the open vistas we had enjoyed previously.train5But the scale, the scale of the place. A continent that we had been travelling through since we embarked on the train 2 days ago and were still no where near the end.train6Day 3 – we should have been in Toronto by 09:30 but by now we were running 6 hours late. We had allowed 7 hours between trains to Montreal thinking it would be plenty of time, but we were now getting anxious. Sure enough, we arrived with 10 minutes to spare, but not enough time too get our luggage, so that had to follow on the next day.

A great adventure and experience – lots of thoughts to process in comparison to sailing over water as opposed to over land. Once again, plenty of fascinating conversations and people who seemed genuinely interested in the project we were on.

Saskatoon to Edmonton

Saskatoon railway station is by no means centrally located, in fact there was quite a debate on its exact location. However, we were safely deposited there in plenty of time to catch our 10.45 pm train – which came in at 01.45 am!

After catching a few hours of the lost sleep (also due to the reclining seat experience not being that great), we were greeted by Alice Major in the afternoon, with a welcome pack and and offer to take us to the evening reading – we were straight into the thick of the Edmonton Poetry Festival. (

Moon Tree installation, Stone Berry Plain

Louise and Peter were such wonderful hosts, Christine wanted to leave a momento behind. The trees around the house are gradually being increased by hand planting of saplings each spring, but there are some that are more established, especially near Louise’s ‘secret garden’.


A quick trip to the art store in Saskatoon and the necessary materials were on hand for the installation. Beautiful sunshine, but had to wait for the frost to disappear first!

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Christopher Lake and Prince Albert

Further north on the now getting familiar, Highway 2. An overnight visit to the beautiful lakeside home of one of Louise’s family. Although we didn’t see any water as there had been another 6 inches of snow a few days 4

There is a fascination growing with grain elevators. Ian is sketching out something to do with the names as well as looking a the amount of water in this area and the variety and novelty in the names of the lakes.

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Prince Albert had to be explored on the way back south, The Mann Art Gallery had a very appropriate exhibition – Relative Connections, described as “An exploration of collaborative art production between artist couples!” ( the premise was to get artist couples that would not normally work together, to create a new work that was a combination of their own practices or was in a completely new medium to them both.

Fantastic bridges and buildings, somehow looked like they belong in a western film-set.

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Then we found the ultimate destination, a grain elevator with the name of a lake – Duck Lake! But the writing was so feint on the building it was almost nameless.

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Saskatoon to Regina road trip

A date with the Saskatchewan Writers Guild in Regina, had the Stephen Morrison combo on a road trip down Highway 2. There were so many Grain Elevator photo opportunities that had to be mentally stored for the return trip north.


A weekend of poetry (, art exhibitions (, a literary brunch with award winning writer Katherine Lawrence, real ale (, contemporary dance at New Dance Horizons ( )and a Pow Wow !(

Many thanks to Bruce Rice for being such an excellent guide during our stay.

The return trip north was punctuated with many stops, mostly at every Grain Elevator spotted on the horizon.

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These incredibly  iconic structures are gradually fading from the landscape as modern grain storage methods take over – horizontal white plastic grain hoppers don’t quite have the same aesthetic appeal somehow

grain store


The journey gave us an indication of the scale of the countryside, the long, long, long straights made sense of cruise control, whereas in the UK this feature is a of little use on most roads.


Wanaskewin Heritage Park

Louise took us to Wanaskewin Heritage Park to give us an introduction to the history of her 1This amazing building sits out on the prairie like a huge wigwam structure. A herd of bronze buffalo look like they’re about to stampede through the building. Later we see where they would have been herded over the cliff edge, falling to waiting warriors below.

A powerful place, strong sense of those that were here before. A wind that holds you up when you fall into it, but along the river, sheltered and calm. Traces of past 2

Our straw-bale home on the prairie

​The very next day, we were met in Saskatoon by the poet, Louise Halfe. We were driven out to the home built with her husband, Peter, who teaches medicine and is still engaged in working to help people suffering from various addictions. This is a round house, with thick walls holding the efficient insulating material of straw – a plentiful material on these prairies. The span of windows looks out over a lake in gently undulating terrain. We watched sun burn gaps in the ice while heavy-bodied Canada geese became suddenly weightless. We walked and listened to an owl.


​This is very close to sites where human ways of hunting and of plotting astronomic observations are proven to 1600 years. But there is further evidence of ways of life and culture which suggest a span of time as dizzying as the scale of this landscape. A poem was brewing. This time I didn’t form it by typing. I walked some more and thought it out. Pen and ink on a lined slim notebook. Maybe it’s enough to suggest the comparisons, allowing the reader’s own associations to be nudged by a few tangible details, derived from scrutiny.

​Louise was curious and I shared the language, indicated by scrawl. In turn I’m reading through her collections and the collected poems of a mentor of hers, Patrick Lane. I think the residency began the minute I was on the ferry, feet off my home island. But we’re in the heart of it now.

image​We sit, looking out, as the gaps in the ice mend themselves. The wind is like a welding torch. There is a sweep of dark wings. Two pairs, with flashes of white at the tail and head. But these are not Canada geese. They settle to a glide with unmistakable silhouettes. They come to rest in a tree, across this lake and we can study them through binoculars. We are seeing a pair of mature bald eagles.

Travelling Light. An Talla Solais. 20th April – 19th May 2013

A ditty box is the handful of possessions traditionally carried by northern sailors on their sea voyages. Inspired by Orkney sculptor John Cumming’s work relating to the ditty box, An Talla Solais invited a group of six artists from seafaring Scotland to create work based on the ditty box and its contemporary relevance.  This unique show brings together John Cumming (Orkney), David Cass (Edinburgh), Ian Stephen and Christine Morrison (Lewis), Will Maclean (Dundee / Polbain), Peter White (Ullapool), and Frances Pelly (Orkney).

As part of the outreach programme, Stephen Morrison ran a week of sailing/drawing workshops aboard the 1935 sgoth Niseach Jubilee – the last remaining original vessel of her type.

Grateful thanks to Ullapool Harbourmaster Kevin Peach and all his willing and helpful team.

sgoth Jubilee c1935, safely moored in Ullapool harbour
Ullapool high school group in drawing action after their sailing experience
Ullapool high school group in drawing action after their sailing experience
On board drawing workshop
On board drawing workshop
afternoon group enjoying storytelling in the sunshine
afternoon group enjoying storytelling in the sunshine
Storytelling in action
Storytelling in action
then it's down to the drawing
then it’s down to the drawing
Jubilee in viking mode
Jubilee in viking mode
some of the drawings from the workshops
some of the drawings from the workshops
additions to the growing community room of the exhibition - Travelling Light, an Talla Solais, Ullapool Visual Arts
additions to the growing community room of the exhibition – Travelling Light, an Talla Solais, Ullapool Visual Arts
workshop drawings - Travelling Light 2013
workshop drawings
El Vigo - the Stephen Morrison home from home
El Vigo – the Stephen Morrison home from home