Archive for March, 2016

On the Easel – Thurs 17th March 2016

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

The Oyster Shucker - Work in Progress

This is the first colour lay in of  “The Oyster Shucker”, it’s oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches – Work in progress. The scene is from the beach at Seacliff, East Lothian.

Background Info

The story of the history of oysters in the Firth of Forth is really quite tragic. Oyster middens found round the Firth of Forth date back as far as 6,000 years and show that millions upon millions of oysters were eaten by hunter gathers in the area. At one time there were oyster beds off Edinburgh that covered 50 square miles, possibly the largest in Britain.

Autumn brought oysters into the taverns of eighteenth-century Edinburgh. Once landed and sorted, the oysters destined for sale were carried up to town by the “fisher lassies”, those of Newhaven were especially admired. No less experienced a rake than George IV is said to have remarked that the women of Newhaven were the most beautiful he had ever seen. But they were also extremely strong, and given to a sales banter that was also said to be second to none.

The story of the exploitation of the oyster scalps is sad and complicated, a detailed account can be found in the book – “The Firth of Forth an Environmental History” by T.C. Smout and Mairi Stewart. It is estimated that the annual yield of the oyster beds was around 30,000,000 oysters a year in the 18th century. Consumption in Edinburgh itself was reckoned in 1839 to be 5 million a year.

Oysters finally succumbed completely to human greed, with not one single oyster in existance after a century of grossly unsustainable over-exploitation, even though that ended decades ago.

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On the Easel – Fri 4th March 2016

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Gathering Seaweed - Work in Progress

This is the first colour lay in of  “Gathering the Wrack”, it’s oil on canvas, 30 x 20 inches – Work in progress. The scene is from the beach at Seacliff, East Lothian.

Background Info

Historically seaweed was used as a fertiliser to enhance the organic structure of thin soils as it was rich in nitrogen and potassium. Two main types of seweed were used – “Wrack and Wair“.

The Wair was a species of tangle, Laminaria, the long-stalked, wide-fronded weed growing from 8 to 10 ten feet in length in underwater kelp forests at the mouth of the Forth. The weed was thrown ashore in gales and piled itself onto the beaches. Every winter storm provided an opportunity to bring the sea-ware up before the next high tide carried it to a different place.

The other main weed used were species of wracks, Fucus, which grew between the high and low tide area on rocky substrata throughout the Firth, where they could be pulled or cut at any time of the year. The wracks were the most valuable, but were expensive in time and wages to gather.

The above information is taken from “The Firth of Forth an Environmental History” by T.C. Smout and Mairi Stewart – a wonderful account of the environmental history of the Firth of Forth.

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