Our 2020 conference explored art and industry, with keynote Sue Jane Taylor joined by speakers from across the globe.

Industry can be the subject of art for a plethora of reasons: to document a process, to advertise or celebrate new manufacturing methods, to agitate for social change, or perhaps to find beauty in less-obvious and more satisfying places. The relationship between the two has been subject to fluctuating fashions but is currently in the public view as artists, museums and galleries seek to use all the methods available to communicate their stories to the public by crossing disciplines to mutual benefit.

The free conference was held online via Zoom on Wednesday 21 October 2020.


Keynote: Artist in Residence Port of Nigg, Cromarty Firth 2020 by Sue Jane Taylor

Link to Taylor’s talk in full.
Link to questions put to Taylor following her talk.

Visual artist Sue Jane Taylor is renowned for her work documenting the North Sea Energy industry. Very few artists have been involved in recording this secret world, the offshore. In gaining access to these remote, sea-bound installations, her experiences contribute not only to the visual arts but to a vital part of public social history. As the UK moves from its dependency on fossil fuel to renewable energy, Taylor is well placed to document the change since she has been involved in this field since 2006. In her Keynote she presented and described her work as artist in residence at the Port of Nigg in the Cromarty Firth. “I have now come full circle, returning in 2020 as artist in residence at Nigg Energy Park in the eastern Highlands of Scotland. This area is full of my childhood memories. It was here that, as a young artist in the 1980s/1990s, I drew massive oil platform jackets for the North Sea oil fields being fabricated by a workforce of up to 4,500 men. During my residency, among other things I will be following the refit of the Well-Safe Guardian, an exploration drilling rig being converted into one that decommissions oil and gas wells in offshore installations, and the servicing of Atlantis’s giant underwater tidal turbine, currently being tested off the Pentland Firth. I shall also be recording the arrival of components for the new massive offshore wind farm, 103 turbines, (Moray East Offshore Windfarm) to be sited just north of the Beatrice oil Field, nearby in the Moray Firth. Before this fabrication yard was established in 1972, it was a landscape of undulating sand dunes and beach. Today I observe the remnants of this natural past, the visiting seabirds returning to nest on its edge; Eider Ducks, Artic Terns and Ringed Plovers, summertime’s contrasting frantic energies – nature and industry”. Taylor was allowed back onsite at the beginning of May 2020 after a six week Covid-19 lockdown period for non-essential personnel.

Sue Jane Taylor studied fine art at Gray’s School of Art, the Slade School of Fine Art, London and Konst Academie, Stockholm. She was born and brought up on the Black Isle in the eastern Highlands of Scotland, where her ancestors have lived for centuries. She is well known as a contemporary visual documenter and interpreter of technology, engineering and the UK offshore energy sector. Over the years she has gained access to extremely remote and publicly prohibited offshore installations. In her work she raises questions about the relationship between art, environment and industry; developing ideas about labour, industry and their retrospective place in the natural world. She has exhibited nationally and internationally in private and public galleries and museums. Publications on her work: Oilwork North Sea Diaries, Birlinn 2005, Beatrice Works Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums 2013 and Age of Oil National Museum Scotland 2017.

Motives and Meanings: Reading the Art of Industry by Peter Wakelin

Link to Wakelin’s talk in full.

Artists have produced fascinating depictions of industry and transport over the past three centuries. But how can these images be used? What are their meanings? Can all of them be trusted as historical sources? It is normal practice for historians to evaluate documentary sources, but this is less often addressed for works of art. Documentary source evaluation typically involves examining the likely motives for creating them. Similarly, understanding the motives of artists is a key to knowing how an image can be used evidentially and what other benefits it may bring to the appreciation of industrial heritage. Questions to ask about the art of industry include who made it, what was it for, who might have been intended to see it, what was left out? This paper focused on why artists, illustrators and photographers depicted industry: to describe it, to respond to it, to interpret it for others, to record it or to use it as a starting point to imagine something else. It drew on international examples from the eighteenth century to the present.

Peter Wakelin is an independent writer and consultant who works on projects as diverse as conservation plans for industrial sites, exhibitions of modern and contemporary art and thematic research – most recently a study of the commemoration in Wales of people involved with slavery. He was formerly Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales and Director of Collections and Research at the National Museum of Wales. His most recent book is Refuge and Renewal, which looks at the relationship of British art to refugee artists from Monet to the present. @peterwakelin1

Industry & Art: the Creative Process by Andrew Cronshaw

Link to Cronshaw’s talk in full.
Link to questions put to Cronshaw following his talk.

This talk was given from an artist’s point of view.

Andrew was inspired by artist Alan Stones’ work at Cooplands Ltd Bakery, Doncaster. This was part of an ‘Artists in Industry’ Touring Exhibition sponsored by the Yorkshire Arts Association in 1983 and shown at the City Arts Centre, Edinburgh.

In 1986, Andrew took a few photographs at Tunnock’s bakery in Uddingston and in 1998 took a series of documentary photographs at Tay Spinners Ltd, Dundee prior to closure. This was to form an exhibition in April 2020 at Verdant Works, Dundee (postponed due to the Coronavirus outbreak). The exhibition was to include two silkscreen prints and a graphite drawing based on two of the photographs.

With the lockdown Andrew became involved painting two pictures of NHS heroes as part of the national Instagram project organised by artist Tom Croft. As a consequence of the lockdown artwork, I went on to paint another picture from a Tay Spinners photograph.

Andrew found that each picture presented different and real technical and/or representational problems, but the outcome of solving these was very rewarding. The sheer amount of time required for each work will be discussed. The finished artwork will be shown and perhaps even premiered.

Andrew Cronshaw is a science graduate from Dundee University. He worked as a research protein chemist at Edinburgh University for most of his life. He is now an active retiree. He is a volunteer at the National Museum of Scotland where he has been transcribing an 18th Century pharmacy invoice book. He has always been good at and interested in Art. He has not been to Art School but has periodically attended Art College evening classes and now Edinburgh Council day portrait classes. In retirement art shops now present a treasure trove of exciting new materials, ideas and techniques to explore.

Art & Industry in Belgium: diverging domains, unexpected relationships by Patrick Viaene

Link to Viaene’s talk in full.

During the last two centuries, several important Belgian artists created countless representations of industrial landscapes, buildings, machines and workers. These representations include not only paintings, sculptures and graphic arts but also photos and films. The majority of these works have surely an artistic value, reflecting the spirit of the time through the changing attitudes of the artists. Frequently however works of art constitute also unique documentary sources about the industrial past and long forgotten technologies. Many representations of (pre)industrial subjects were already created long before the so called industrial revolution and the independence of Belgium (in 1830).

I explored during the last decennia different aspects of this research field, resulting in a Master Seminar “Art & Industry”, presented yearly in School of Arts Ghent. Also my education activities in the Antwerp University (Heritage conservation Studies) pays attention to “art & industrial heritage”.

The majority of artworks, presented in my contribution are conserved in public collections, art and industrial museums. More interaction is desirable between museums and universities, but also between museums of art and museums focussing on industry, industrial heritage and technology. A lot of systematic research has yet to be done, completing the recording and the study of Belgian artworks, related to industry and technology, deepening also the knowledge about representations of specific industrial branches or the industrial production in specific towns and sub-regions.

Patrick Viaene (° 1953, born in Oudenaarde, Belgium) is art historian and expert in industrial heritage conservation and management, started his career as assistant in MIAT / Museum of Industry in Ghent. Since 1996 he is teacher and researcher in Heritage Conservation Studies, now integrated in the University of Antwerp. Until recently, he was also educational staff member in the School of Arts – University College Ghent. Patrick Viaene was co-founder and president of SIWE (the Flemish support association for industrial and scientific heritage in Flanders) and was board member of TICCIH. His field of interests include textile and mining heritage, the relations between art & industry and workers culture.

Cultural Retrieval: land use and postindustrial folk memory by Dr Lorna Waite

Link to Waite’s talk in full.

The title of Dr Waite’s Ph.D. is Cultural Retrieval, Land Use and Post-Industrial Folk Memory; A Practice-based Response to the Destruction of Glengarnock Steelworks. My hometown was devastated by what I term The Industrial Clearances, when the steel and textile industries were decimated. Within less than fifteen years, the closure and removal of Glengarnock Steelworks had been completed, not only from the landscape but from memory. A younger generation knew nothing of their cultural contribution to a wider history of Scotland. Waite’s presentation gave a short summary of her research, outlined the gathering of oral and material culture and the resulting imaginative potential of art when industry was removed. Waite wrote a book of poetry, The Steel Garden, on the shores of Kilbirnie Loch where the steelwork used to be and will read some of her creative responses in poetry and prose to the place of industrial and childhood memory. Waite explores ideas of Traditional Knowledge in their relation to Scottish working class identity through the lens of Gaelic and the ideas of Patrick Geddes. Waite’s novel, Frances and The Blasties, is written as a form of decolonising methodology and uses story to imagine a better future.

Dr. Lorna J. Waite is a writer who was born and brought up in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire and now lives in Edinburgh. She is the author of the poetry collection The Steel Garden and co-editor of the book Sealladh Às Ùr Air Ealain Na Gàidhealtachd; Brìgh Lèirsinn Ann An Duachas nan Gàidheal/ Rethinking Highland Art; The Visual Significance of Gaelic Culture. She has been Poet In Residence at Hugh Macdiarmid’s Cottage, Brownsbank, and Jessie Kesson Fellow. She is a Gaelic Learner and a member of the poetry and music collective, The Heretics, in Edinburgh.

Industry in Art: History of Manufacturing through Murals by Caroline Nicholson

Link to Nicholson’s talk in full.

One of the most impactful ways that industry has been represented in art is through murals. Murals are uniquely suited to recount narratives related to industry in an epic way. For example, in the mural Shipbuilding on the Clyde, made in 1901 by John Lavery, we can see the strong laborers working hard in the foreground, appearing to us as heroic figures. In the Detroit Industry murals made in the 1930s by the Mexican artist Diego Rivera, industry is illustrated as a major part of humankind’s growth. This collection of 27 murals utilizes powerful imagery such as images of deities and colossal machinery. Murals about industry are still being created. The massive mural Shipbuilders Public Art Mural, made by the American artist Garin Baker in 2013, was made for the city of Helsingør in Denmark to illustrate the specific role of shipbuilding as part of the city’s history. In summary, murals have been utilized for over one hundred years to depict the importance and impact of industry in a monumental way, while also emphasizing the strong relationship between industry and the surrounding community.

Caroline Nicholson grew up visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art near her home. She is currently an Honours student of Art History at the University of St Andrews, where she has served as committee secretary for the Art History Society. Last summer Caroline held an internship with Freeman’s Auction House. In 2020 she created her own YouTube channel, Learning to Love Art, with original short lectures on various works. She enjoys visiting museums, reading, and swing dancing, and is fluent in French and Italian. After completing her education, Caroline plans to pursue a career in the art auction field.

Once upon a time there was an engineer… by Nina Baker

Link to Baker’s talk in full.

Has it ever occurred to you how rarely we see depictions of either male or female characters in films, TV or books who are engineers? This presentation will examine imagined engineers in print fiction, mainly from English-language novels but also dipping into others, in translation. Whilst there are a few novels which explicitly set out to tell a story about a woman in engineering, these are in the minority. Generally, the engineering is incidental to a more conventional story. Rare exceptions are a few period-specific career novels of the 1940s-60s, which coincided with a time of societal change when options for girls were opening up. Now that assumptions for young women have changed so much you might have thought that fiction with female engineers would be more commonplace but it seems still to be a bit challenging to place that anywhere except in an imagine future of science fiction.

I have spent some years researching and bringing to light the stories of real women engineers as a way to encourage a wider public to recognise the value of engineering careers for girls in particular. Surely fictional women also have a role to play, both literally and metaphorically?

Dr Nina Baker has had a varied career, having become a merchant navy deck officer on leaving school and later taken an engineering design degree in her 30s, from the University of Warwick. She then gained a PhD in concrete durability from the University of Liverpool. She has lived with her family in Glasgow since 1989, working variously as a materials lecturer in further education and as a research administrator and, until 2017, as an elected city councillor. Now retired from all that, her interest in promoting STEM careers for girls has led her to become an independent researcher, mainly specialising in the history of women in engineering. @ninabake2

Art of the Great Northern Railway of Ireland: Engineering Architectural Draughtsmanship by Siobhan Osgood

Link to Osgood’s talk in full.
Link to questions put to Osgood following her talk.

From Palladio to Frank Gehry, the mark of the architect’s pencil is widely appreciated as the art of the architectural draughtsman. But what of the engineer? Or the engineer who designed architecture? William Hemingway Mills was a Yorkshire-born railway engineer who trained under William Henry Barlow before working in Scotland, Spain and Mexico. In 1876 he joined the Great Northern Railway of Ireland as its Engineer in Chief, and so began over thirty years of engineering draughtsmanship which would define the architectural identity of a railway company. Using polychromatic brickwork, stylised forms and choice materials, Mills employed a team of highly-trained draughtsmen to realise his architectural designs on the page. The result was a huge catalogue of beautifully created architectural drawings which demonstrate the precision of the pen and the quality of the buildings. These drawings have been catalogued, analysed and researched extensively for the first time. Their style, makers’ marks and instructions provide evidence of Irish architectural education linked to the French school of Durandian engineering, firmly placing Irish railway architecture at the forefront of industrial design. During this presentation, the drawings created by the draughtsmen of the Great Northern Railway of Ireland were appreciated as the work of industry, and as works of industrial art.

Siobhan Osgood is an Irish Research Council funded scholar, researching the architecture of the former Great Northern Railway (Ireland) for her PhD at Trinity College Dublin. Siobhan has presented at the Society of industrial Archaeology (USA) conference in Chicago in 2019 where she was awarded the studentship prize, and given guest lectures for Ulster Architectural Heritage, the Irish Railway Record Society, the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland, Theoretical Archaeology Group conference, Engineers Ireland, and other history societies. Publications include Architecture Ireland, the AIA Journal, Irish Railway Record Society Journal, as well as heritage videos with Irish Rail. Follow her at: Irish Railway Architecture: www.irishrailwayarchitecture.blogspot.ie @IrishRailArch

The STICK Annual General Meeting followed. The notice for the AGM and the AGM papers can be found here.