Whitby’s new heritage art trail

PUBLISHED: 11:34 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 19:48 04 September 2020

In situ: Emma's Fishwife sculpture is quite at home by the harbour in Whitby

In situ: Emma's Fishwife sculpture is quite at home by the harbour in Whitby

©Tony Bartholomew

Whitby’s fishing heritage is brought to life in a new sculpture trail

Emma's workshop is a hive of activity as she creates her trademark large scale sculpturesEmma's workshop is a hive of activity as she creates her trademark large scale sculptures

Sculptures celebrating the rich fishing history of one of the Yorkshire Coast’s favourite resorts will greet visitors to the town this autumn.

The artworks on the new Whitby Sculpture Trail are being created by Whitby-based artist Emma Stothard, whose work can be found worldwide, including in the Royal Gardens at Highgrove, the private residence of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, and at chef Raymond Blanc’s two-Michelin-starred Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire.

She is also a regular contributor to the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show – her work has featured in several of the award-winning Welcome to Yorkshire gardens in recent years.

Emma, who was born in Hull and grew up in windswept Kilnsea at the northern end of Spurn Point in East Yorkshire, is currently hard at work creating the series of seven sculptures as part of a project created in partnership with and funded by Scarborough Borough Council.

The Whitby series reflcts some of the town's most famous people and scenes - many portrayed in the photography of Frank Meadow SutcliffeThe Whitby series reflcts some of the town's most famous people and scenes - many portrayed in the photography of Frank Meadow Sutcliffe

All the pieces will be sited on the town’s West Side – for the directionally challenged among us, that’s the side with the whalebone arch, not the one with the Abbey – and will guide visitors along the harbourside, up Flowergate and Skinner Street and back down to the bandstand.

Each piece is made from hot-dipped galvanised wire painstakingly woven by hand (the pain sometimes being quite literal as Emma twists the heavyweight wire) and can take up to four weeks to create.

Emma starts by welding a strong steel armature, or skeleton, to support the woven ‘skin’ – the Whitby sculptures will need to withstand some extreme weather in the winter and are made of galvanised mild steel wire, but she also uses willow and bronze wire in her work.

Then, using basic tools such as pliers and mallets, but mostly her hands – she confesses that nice hand cream is always gratefully received at Christmas and birthdays! – she twists and weaves the wire into finished sculptures that look as they could walk away from their static sites at any moment.

The new Whitby team includes a fishwife, a herring lass, a fisherman mending a net, a knitter at work on a gansey and a crow’s nest.

The lifesize fishwife is already at home near the picturesque Swing Bridge that straddles the mouth of the River Esk as it flows into Whitby Harbour, and is picking up fans on Instagram, where her thoughts and opinions on the world around her can be found at @whitby_fishwife.

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Sculptor Emma StothardSculptor Emma Stothard

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Emma masters a host of techiques in her workEmma masters a host of techiques in her work

The trail will also include sculpted portraits of two of Whitby’s most famous residents, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and Dora Walker.

Photographer Sutcliffe will be depicted alongside his vintage plate camera, which he used to create intimate and revealing photographs of the seaside town and its residents from the late Victorian era through to the early 20th century, making him internationally famous – his work is still much sought after today.

Less familiar is the extraordinary Dora Walker. Born in West Yorkshire and educated at Roedean, she suffered with serious bronchial problems and moved to Whitby on medical advice during World War II. But she was not a woman to let anything stand in her way: she bought her own boat, took up fishing and qualified and acted as a pilot for boats through the minefields. She was the only woman skipper to hold her licence in the North Sea throughout the Second World War.

Emma says: ‘I really wanted to celebrate Whitby’s rich fishing history and the people associated with it, like Sutcliffe, whose photos I love, and the brilliant and remarkable Dora Walker, a female pioneer whose story really should be more well-known.’

All the scultures should be in place by Christmas.

discoveryorkshirecoast.com and Yorkshire.com

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