What do a monoprinting workshop and a tea made from thistles have in common?

It all began over a roaring fire in our local market garden to mark the end of the growing season. A discussion about our shared research interests in the Scottish landscape and folklore sparked what would turn out to be one of the most fun parts of our PhDs so far.

Subsequent meetings over the next few weeks sipping hot chocolates and eating cakes while scribbling notes in our notepads saw our ideas grow arms and legs. We knew we needed to apply for funding to make it happen and that’s where the Cohort Development Fund (CDF) came in.

To be eligible for the  CDF our undertaking had to be collaborative, relevant, and provide training for doctoral researchers registered at SGSAH member HEIs. This allowed us to think a bit more outside the box in order for our application to stand out. We knew we wanted our event to be more than a standard webinar or conference style event. 

We envisioned participants working through their ideas in creative and tangible ways and this is where the idea for the hybrid workshop came in. The first day would be a conference style workshop with three separate but interlinked sessions. The second day would be an in-person printmaking workshop where participants would create experimental and expressive pieces out of foraged materials from the land, which would link up with the themes discussed the previous day.

Embracing the admin-side of things

Once we got word that we received the CDF funding, the real planning started. None of us had ever organised an event of this scale, so looking back at what we set out to do made the whole prospect extremely daunting. The to-do list seemed to grow and grow; booking speakers, designing the website; finding someone to lead our printmaking workshop; booking a space; planning the exhibition; sorting refreshments…However, taking each part step by step and working together in assigning each other tasks kept us all level-headed.

Once our website and Twitter went live everything felt so real! The event we had been planning for months was now out in the open and people were actually really excited about it, which we thought was amazing! Having a Twitter account enabled us to gain a wide reach and gave us experience in writing content for an online audience. The website was also extremely helpful to refer back to and helped us set our ideas into actions.

The big days

When the day finally came, we were nervous but excited. The quality of each session was excellent, and we had some fantastic engagement between speakers and participants. Each of our speakers contributed their varied expertise onto the students which enhanced the interdisciplinary nature of the event. Over three sessions we covered a broad range of topics including;

  • Lusan, Beul-aithris agus Ainmean-àite / Plants, Tradition and Place-names by Roddy Maclean, broadcaster, storyteller and Gaelic educator
  • Folklore and AR Archaeology: The Uist Virtual Archaeology Project by Dr Emily Gal of UHI, Outer Hebrides
  • The enduring importance of the lore of folk in keeping places and people alive by Dr Iain Mackinnon, Coventry University

One of the key themes of the day centred around thinking about how folklore can be used to inspire people to protect and preserve their local landscape in the context of issues such as over-tourism in the Highlands and Islands, and the climate crisis. We also reflected on how crofters took part in preserving archaeology in Uist historically by adhering to folklore about not ploughing fairy mounds, and asked questions about the role of gender and how we can ensure women are represented in folklore. These lively discussions demonstrate the diversity of folklore and it’s how touches many aspects of our society. We were overwhelmed by the positive engagement throughout the day and it felt like we were only just beginning to scratch the surface of this research topic. 

When it came to the day of the printmaking workshop, we were excited to try something a bit more hands on. We wanted to explore how we could engage with intangible cultural heritage and the landscape through tangible means and we felt printmaking was one of the most obvious and inclusive ways to do this. It turned out to be a really lovely morning and everyone got really stuck in! At the beginning we worried we wouldn’t have enough prints for an exhibition but in fact we ended up having the opposite problem! 

Our participants produced some really wonderful and experimental pieces, and many were surprised at how artistic their prints came out. For the majority of our participants whose research revolves around reading and archival visits, they really enjoyed having a practical and creative element to an academic workshop. Another benefit was one we didn’t expect: 

From a well-being perspective, the printmaking workshop provided a respite to their PhD work and gave them a chance to refocus and get to grips with their creative side in a therapeutic way. So, while we haven’t yet tried the tea made from cluaran (thistles), which, as we learned in Roddy MacLean’s workshop, can be used to dispel melancholy, we now know we have options when it comes to working through those PhD blues.

Working with David Farrer and Tintin at Mobile Print Studio really helped shape the structure of the day and our workshop attendees spoke about how they could incorporate creative and practical activities when it comes to disseminating their research. Having their input as printmakers and practising artists was invaluable, especially when it came to the exhibition planning. The Exhibitions team at GSA were also extremely helpful when it came to this part of the project as they guided us through the process and helped refine our ideas.

Our conclusion

Overall, this has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of the PhD so far. Doing a PhD can be a very isolating thing, but this project enabled us to work with experts from the field as well as other students from other institutions and outside of our own subject matter to do something completely out of our comfort zones. We’ve gained experience in budget management, event planning, printmaking, exhibition planning, grant writing as well as content creation and we’ve made new friendships! For anyone considering applying for a Cohort Development Fund for your project, I would say go for it. You could surprise yourself!

Our exhibition Folklore in the Landscape will run from 30th November to 17th December, 2022 in the Reid Ground Floor Corridor at the Glasgow School of Art. The preview evening will be held on Tuesday 29thNovember beginning at 5pm. The event is free but ticketed, so please register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/exhibition-preview-folklore-in-the-landscape-tickets-464215991527

To find out more visit our website https://folklorelands.wixsite.com/folklore-in-the-land or the GSA’s website https://www.gsa.ac.uk/life/gsa-events/events/f/folklore-in-the-landscape/

You can also follow us on Twitter @FolkloreInLands

Liam Alastair Crouse is a SGSAH-funded 2nd-year PhD candidate collating and analysing Gaelic Popular Culture from the Outer Hebrides, c. 1850-2010. His project is a collaborative doctoral award in partnership with Tobar an Dualchais, based at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI

Facebook: Liam Alastair Crouse

Research Profile

Jenny MacLeod is a SGSAH-funded 2nd-year PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow. Her research focuses on Scottish women etchers during the Etching Revival (c.1880-1930).

Twitter: @jennyefteling

Research Profile

Email: j.macleod.2@research.gla.ac.uk

Shona Noble is a 3rd-year PhD candidate at the Glasgow School of Art. Her project, The Digital Otherworld, explores the ways digital technologies can be used to resurface folklore and repopulate the landscape with occupants of the otherworld.

Twitter: @ShonaNoble

Email:  S.Noble1@student.gsa.ac.uk

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