I feel very privileged that the Begin Together Fund by Business to Arts and Bank of Ireland, have placed their trust in my project “Creative Shackleton”. In Partnership with the Shackleton Museum, I will be exploring Shackleton’s printmaking and bookbinding practices in Antarctica, and explore creativity and women in Ernest Shackleton’s family history.
As a printmaker, when I first found out Shackleton brought an Albion letterpress and an etching press to Antarctica I was blown away. I tried to work out how the crew printed in cramped freezing conditions. When I look at Limerick Printmakers where I am a member, the big beautiful studio with equipment, the smells of inks, the cleanliness and preparation in printmaking.
One hundred years ago printmaking would have been quite toxic, they didn’t have the eco practices we have today. Over the next couple of months I’ll be exploring Shackleton’s creative attributes and how they encouraged his leadership qualities. There is also a Covid connection, the creative aspects of these expeditions counted for much more than killing time. They engaged and entertained the minds of the crew in extreme isolation, I’ve thought of this often over the last year.
I’ll also be looking at creativity in Shackleton’s family, he came from a long line of creatives and educators. In my mind his ancestors were also explorers when they moved to Ballitore, Co Kildare from Yorkshire in . Often, when we look deeper at historic figures like Shackleton, who are described as great leaders or legendary, we find they have come from great families.
Shackleton wasn’t academic yet books, particularly poetry, and learning are in his blood, and I believe there are huge lessons in the role of creativity in his leadership.
I recently moved into the old Quaker Tanyard in Ballitore, a beautifully restored heritage building, it lies in the shadow of the Ballitore library and the Quaker Museum. The Quaker Museum was once the home of Mary Shackleton Leadbetter, a poet and writer and advocate for the abolishment of slavery, and the first postmistress in Ireland. Mary was Ernest’s Great Grandaunt, and another Irish woman lost in history. I’ve been reading her letters, in fact, letter writing is one of element of this project that has struck me the most. The sheer volume of handwritten letters is at a level of communication not in use today. Apart from Mary’s letters in 1700s, I’ve been looking at letters written from Ernest Shackleton to Emily (his wife), his sisters, and letters to Emily about Ernest from family and people around the world. With the invention of the telephone, typewritter and onwards to email and video calls today have we lost an ability to communicate in a way practicised through centuries?