Barvas Ware Project Continues

Here are two sets of images relating to the progress of the Barvas Ware project with Museum Nan Eilean and Western Isles Libraries.

The white pieces are the 3d print pieces that Helene at Western Isles Libraries at Stornoway did from the Museum Nan Eilean Barvas Ware Handling Collection. They will be painted.

The other set of images are by Jon Macleod and are from the first test firing on a peat fire of some of the community made pieces where we re-made and re-imagined Barvas Ware pieces in Raku clay with Ceramicist Jana Grimm.

There will be public sessions for firing the pieces shortly and a film created to share of a Gaelic blessing.

When the project is complete, we will exhibit all of the pieces and some will be added to our Memory Boxes, which are with Western Isles Libraries.

Ceilidh Trail work begins

Our collaboration Ceilidh Trail project begins across Lewis shortly in November and December 18, which will then trail through Harris in January and into North and South Uist, Benbecula and Barra from February into March 19.

The project partners are An Lanntair, Museum Nan Eilean, Ceolas, Tagsa Uibhist, our Creative Care Practitioners, A new Co-ordinator for the Uists,
and the series of events will include:

Care and day centre events, not open to the public but open to residents, staff, visitors
Kitchen ceilidhs – public
Community centre ceilidhs – public
Work with schools – not public
Museum event – public
Work with existing festivals and events – public

Dates will be announced shortly and there will be an ‘event’ listing on our facebook page Cianalas

The Idea – From the community
The idea came from the community – working to share traditional ceilidh songs in care centres with Maggie Smith, as she has been blogging about for some time, songs, lyrics, poetry have all been enthusiastically shared through our project sessionsMoments blog here too.

The next part of the research came about when Euan Macleod, Museum Nan Eilean Development Officer, came and sang to some people staying on Clisham Ward at Western Isles Hospital (as you can see from our Autumn Newsletter). One of the ladies was unable to hold a conversation but was absolutely engaging with local, traditional songs and made a request for her favourite song, for Euan to learn for her, which he did. At the next ceilidh at Horshader Shop on the West Side of Lewis, the song he had been asked to learn for the lady in hospital was performed again and it connected with another lady at the next ceilidh. ‘Oh, that’s an old, old song. My Mother used to sing it to me’, she smiled, joining in with tears in her eyes. We realised that even though people can be quite isolated, living in care centres, the potential to share local knowledge and  connect with each other exists through traditional song and tunes. A shared cultural awareness and lyrical diversity between villages.

Initially, our podcasts on our Soundcloud account started to collect some songs and stories in Gaelic and English, and this is where the exploration of recording the songs and stories began. We have booked a recording session at Wee Studio to capture some of the songs and stories from the Ceilidh trail under studio conditions but we will also do some live recordings and filming out on the trail in the community and collect some specific lyrics and stories behind songs as we go.

Jon Macleod has been out across the islands meeting project partners to set dates in each area, which will be announced shortly. We will have local musicians in each area contributing their own local knowledge to the ceilidhs.

Please have a look at the event listings when they are announced, and come along to share your knowledge and memory of local, traditional songs, the stories behind who wrote and sang them and where they came from. All are welcome to the public events.

Two of the early events are at:
Thursday 22nd November 18, 2-4pm at Museum Nan Eilean, Lews Castle. No booking required.
Thursday 29th November 18, 7pm at Grinneabhat, Bragar. No booking required.


Science Ceilidh week

Lewis Hou from Science Ceilidh was here in October and we held twelve events together:

Isles FM
Gaelic class
Hospital ceilidh
Blar Buidhe
Solas, Grianan, Ardseielach groups,
An Lantair open mic
Stornoway Library
Museum traditional songs event
Friday Ceilidh at the Retirement Centre
Live streaming event
Western Isles Hospital staff event in the Education Centre
Planning meetings in An Lanntair, the Library and at the airport for future events with Fun Palaces.

Lewis is a Neuroscientist and Educator, working with Science Ceilidh, which won Hands Up For Trad Community Music Organisation of the Year 2018. The events that we held here introduced the brain, the size of it, how different parts of the brain physically change relating to movement and how scanning picks up blood flow to different areas of the brain. We looked at how music impacts on the brain and how learning a second language at any age, even another language very similar to one that we already speak, positively supports the brain to recover better from stroke and perhaps protect the brain for some years from some of the impacts of dementia.

Research and resources can be found on the Science Ceilidh website and Lewis Hou (contactable through the website) is happy to hear and respond to your questions if you would like to get in touch.

Some of our project work this year is relating to research and academic partnerships, so this was an important collaboration to undertake for that reason but mostly, it was brilliant fun! We danced the ‘Canadian Brain Dance’ and enjoyed some wonderful traditional music.

Some of the hilarious comments reflected the fun of the sessions ‘ohh this must be a Niseach brain’ ‘is your brain really that small?’ ‘oh my brain is MUCH bigger than that, I am such an intelligent lady’.

One particularly moving moment was where a young man attending a day centre was able to perform to and entertain the others in the group, singing along with Lewis. He clearly experienced a lot of enjoyment from singing, dancing and entertaining his friends and neighbours, who enjoyed his contribution enormously, with smiles, laughter and joining in. The intergenerational aspect of this group was also wonderful, with ages from teens to nineties, all engaging with the science aspects as well as the music and dancing.

Autumn newsletter 18

This is the Cianalas An Lanntair Dementia Friendly Community newsletter for Autumn 18, including all of the news from the summer. Spoken word link to Soundcloud here

It’s 1st October already and a decided chill in the air, which has been the talk of the office this morning. It is mid-year evaluation time, with statistics gathering and report writing, too.

We are currently working on completing the Barvas Ware project, which we have been working on all summer, handling and re-making pieces. The Autumn season will see some 3d printing in collaboration with the Library and Museum services and a beach firing Raku-style afternoon as we complete the dried pieces. Look out for our session events, which will be listed on our facebook page.

We have started drafting our section of ‘The Material Culture of Basketry’, published by  Bloomsbury through our Woven Communities project with the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews. We will pass on news of when this will be available as we hear about it.

Maggie Smith has been working on two series of events, the Lochs Social Group, which is a monthly event at North Lochs Community Centre (Next event Weds 17th October), plus a Gaelic singing group at Dun Eisdean care centre in Stornoway every fortnight on a Saturday. This is linking in to our Ceilidh Trail project, which is starting later in the Autumn. Again, events will be listed on facebook.

We have been successful with two funding pots from DEEP, The Influencing Grant is for £2000 for filming community, heritage and arts events in order to share them with people who are unable to attend and the second one is a Working Together grant for £7500, for working with Lucy Robertson (our PhD student in sonic textiles from Duncan of Jordanstoun) and Dementia Friendly East Lothian, on creative ways to build and maintain friendships. Our filming project has already begun with Kate Macleod making a lovely film of the Bayhead Friday ceilidh, which we will share shortly.

Our Digital Dining project was presented to the DEEP gathering in Aberdeen, which we attended with two people living with dementia from the islands. The next step with the Digital Dining project is to support people one to one to connect with friends through digital conferencing technology.

Our dance project through DEEP is just finishing now, Louise Davidson will be undertaking one more dance session with us with Maggie Smith and Muriel Anne Macleod, in order to complete the filming of the project and then there will be a filming session of interviews with Maggie and Louise, in order to support people working in care centres to confidently offer future appropriate movement sessions.

We have supported Alzheimer Scotland cafe and day centre sessions over the summer with arts/cultural activity from Chris Hammacott, Dawn Susan, Euan Macleod and Jana Grimm.

Chris Hammacott completed the Memory Tree wall hanging with us for the Sanctuary space at Western Isles Hospital over the summer and it has been used to leave mementoes and tributes to lost loved ones with the pinned on butterflies, leaves, dragonflies, and the ribbons. We also printed up and installed Alf Sludden’s image of Cliff Beach in vinyl format in the Sanctuary.

The Sonic Flock project is completed, with the delivery of some wonderful, tweeting birds, which we have distributed to the groups who were interested in receiving one. One blackbird joined in with a dance session at Bethesda care centre and another is perched among the resources at Western Isles Hospital. The project has developed into the new funded project by DEEP, so we can expect more innovation and creativity in communication and self-expression through this project into next year.

This summer, we began the ceilidh trail project, through the input and responses of the people we have been working with. Euan Macleod came to sing Gaelic songs on Clisham ward and he was asked for some requests, which he learned in preparation for the event. At the next community ceilidh, which we held on the west side of Lewis, at Horshader Shop, we noticed a wonderful connection between two women as Euan performed the songs he was requested to learn for this group and we noticed that a lady connected with the song as one that her mother sang to her. The communication between one lady living in hospital and another lady living in a care centre, unable to meet in person, was so moving that the ceilidh trail idea grew from this. A series of ceilidhs involving traditional, local songs, with village variations, additional verses and lyrics, across all of the islands, in order to perform, record and share local knowledge and the joy of a ceilidh gathering.

Our peat cutting project concluded with a picnic and a peat walk with a creel made by Dawn Susan at Shawbost, the village where the gentleman who taught her to weave baskets was from. A mini cruach was attempted. Much to the hilarity of those who know how to build a proper one.



During August, we shared the Purvai South Asian Arts Festival from An Lanntair with several sessions involving Tabla drumming, Kathak dance and some intergenerational working with Grianan and Solas. We shared the festival in several care centres and in hospital. We even did a little DriveTime radio session with Pearse on Isles FM.

We have been working on our Dark Skies wall hanging at Harris House with Chris Hammacott. The residents have talked at length about views from windows out across bays, where fishing boat lights could be seen and conversations between boats and the harbour team heard from tuned in radios on the windowsill. Tilly lamps were very much part of night time memories, in the window, seen from inside or outside. Chris came along to a planning session with a mood board and some textures, fabrics, and we have been making recordings to install in the completed piece. The hanging will be installed around December and there will be an event around the Dark Skies festival in February 19.


The Tuesday ceilidh happens every week at Western Isles Hospital. Alzheimer Scotland have created a lovely film about the event, which you can see here. Over the Summer into Autumn, we have taken along the Purvai festival event with Kanchan Maradan, a sewing box event with Chris Hammacott, Louise Davidson, a dancer, one of our funders, Lesley Galbraith and the handling collection of the Barvas Ware. Alzheimer Scotland has also created a film about their community cafe sessions, which we are featured in as we frequently offer arts opportunities at these cafes.

The Life Changes Trust Gathering is on 10th December in Perth, if anybody would like to come with us. DEEP gatherings happen several times a year as well.

Next year, we are planning an entire year of photography. We will be calling upon several people working in photographic arts and print making to support a year of photographic discussion and intergenerational exploration as a community. This will culminate in the Eyes as Big as Plates international portrait photography project, which was first featured in our Cuimhne exhibition.

So that’s it for the Autumn newsletter, there will be a new one as we head into winter – please look out for our events relating to completing the Barvas Ware project with a beach firing day and a 3D printing session at the library. There will be an exhibition of completed pieces too. The ceilidh trail will be starting up shortly, so there will be a planned series of events across all of the islands coming up, in collaboration with Ceolas in South Uist.

Just a little footnote – there is an online course on arts and dementia with futurelearn that I’ve just completed. It has a lot of university research content and content from people living with dementia. I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in dementia and the arts.


From crofting to crafting

With loss, isolation and loneliness being the focus of Cianalas, it made sense for the first event I coordinate for this project, to be in my home area of North Lochs, Isle of Lewis.

Research has indicated that loneliness and isolation at times hasten the onset of Dementia. In the Western Isles we have an aging population in a rural area, with little social interaction now a days, for a generation which grew up, in and out of one another houses. In a close knit crofting community where labour, troubles and sorrow were shared.

But in 2018, isolation could be a result of losing a long term partner, ill health, living with a younger generation who do not have the crofting lifetime and lifestyle experience, or those being removed from the familiarity of their first language. I often hear “Chan fhaic mi duine a bhruidhneas mo chànan fhìn rium”.

I could think of many people I knew who could benefit from a monthly social gathering, but how to reach them?

There are many community centres on the island which are not being used as a centre for the community. This is due to many reasons. The North Lochs Community Centre at Creagan Dubh, Leurbost is accessible and available.

How to reach out to people who are isolated? By definition they do not see many people in a week, or don’t do social media. Co dhiù. ’S e obair latha toiseachadh. Perhaps word of mouth will be the best way.

Having a gathering in a local centre mid-afternoon to reminisce, dabble with some hand crafts and have some entertainment goodness me…to a crofter … unthinkable!

But life has changed and thinking outside the box is what island life has to be about now. I realise it will take several monthly events, to formulate and define the monthly gathering, for those behind the just ajar doors.

At the first event we had yarns, a laugh or two, and lots of new information about people and things. Euan the museum officer brought some pottery, made in Barvas a long long time ago. One of the items looked like a flat. This brought back memories of the teapot with loose tea stewing on the stove all day and the cailleachs cooling the liquid and drinking out of a flat.

This prompted the story of a cailleach who was allocated a flat on Murray Place. The cailleach who lived in the top flat was very house-proud and hoovered all day and all night.

The first floor cailleach sent a letter to the Council, “Can you take Mrs MacRae off the top of me and put her on top off someone else”

The next event is planned for Wednesday 19th September at 2pm. Spread the word, all ages welcome to come and share new interesting things happening locally.

by Maggie Smith

Colourful image by Mairi M Martin Photography

Barvas Ware and Incomers

The theme of incomer was prominent this week, both because the ridiculously talented Alex Boyd published my portrait with my husband online as part of his series on the contribution of incomers to the islands but also because I was working with the amazing Jana on the Barvas Ware Project this week. Jana is originally from Germany (as is Alex, coincidentally) and one of the themes from documents Euan, Development Officer for Museum Nan Eilean, shared with us was about Barvas Ware latterly being made for anthropology tourists.

Purvai has also been a big feature with the Colin Mackenzie link with India, and the wonderful arts festival at An Lanntair. Much of the past fortnight has involved sharing Kathak dance from Kanchan and Tabla drumming with Dal across care and day centres.

Many of the older people we have been working with are not native to the islands, having moved here for work or family support at some point. None of us this week, not even those born here, had seen or experienced Barvas Ware before this project and we have all been able to explore and learn about it together.

Two people from the Barvas area attending the day centre, were able to give information to Euan about the pottery during handling sessions three weeks ago, which was very exciting.

Jana has a beautiful approach to language, learning Gaelic words as we go along from older first-language Gaelic speakers. We talk about techniques, first trying a pinch pot and then moving on to coiling. ‘You sausage it’, she explains.

‘I love the way you use sausage as a verb’, I smile.

Jana laughs, ‘sausageing, yes!’, as she demonstrates how to smooth the coils together. ‘You don’t press it, that compresses the clay, you just go up and down with your fingers.’

‘I’m not artistic at all’, confesses Bella, who is ninety and sculpting a plate with her bare hands in Raku clay.

‘I think that everyone is artistic and creative,’ says Jana, ‘maybe somebody at school, maybe one teacher, told them they aren’t creative, or not so good at this or that but we are all creative in different ways.’ I completely agree. We all decorate our homes and choose what to wear and how to have our hair. And being ‘good’ at something can, I think, mean eagerness to explore and learn about the medium.

Jana talked about Raku clay with us, how it features tiny pieces of fired clay, which strengthen the object when exposed to extreme temperatures and stress in open fire firing. She explains that the Japanese Raku technique also includes shocking the fired clay in cold water, and that Barvas Ware technique involved milk glazing, for the fat to seal the porous, fired surface.

Jana talks about her failures with exploding pieces in her fire but that it can be avoided if there is no air or gaps in the piece and if all of the areas on a piece are approximately the same depth. ‘But I was able  to use the broken pieces for my own Raku clay so it wasn’t wasted.’ she laughs.

We came up with some authentic Barvas type shapes and some experimental sculptures as part of three sessions in two care homes and a day centre. All three settings had enjoyed a visit from Euan with the Museum Barvas Ware handling collection recently, so we had all experienced the authentic pieces in advance.

We tried out the distinctive, decorative patterns with cutting at the edges and made plates, bowls, milk jugs, cups and teapots. ‘Did you know,’ asks Jana, ‘that Barvas Ware teapots had no useful spout?’ as she creates a beautiful, usable spout on her own, creating a flower of toothpick holes through the clay, where she attaches her spout. ‘A teapot is one of the hardest things to make, getting the proportions right to pour liquid out of the spout neatly. Our tea sets and mugs are mostly made with plaster moulds and slip clay, a wet clay mixture, now. Then you can reproduce a good design over and over again. This is too hard with hand building. A good ceramicist can do quite a good job but it will never be quite the same.’

Jana also talks about the tourism aspect of the pottery. ‘You can tell it was made for tourists if it wasn’t usable as a teapot.’ This corroborates Euan’s thoughts on the sugar bowl being unlikely to be in general, crofting use on tables in homes at that time, and that it was more copied from English designs for the tourist trade, a far removed piece from the original croggans, used as practical vessels for holding and transporting food, perhaps soup for lunch.

The rest of the Barvas Ware project will involve a community making day or two at the museum, a library 3D printing session, digging some authentic local clay and remaking Barvas Ware pieces with that and firing the completed, air dried pieces in a peat fire on a beach.

Rachael Thomas and Helen Pickles, current and former staff at the Highland Folk Museum have written informative blogs about Barvas Ware and the re-making of it on their High Life Highland blog and are generously supporting us with their knowledge as we navigate our re-making.

Donald Angus, staff at Solas Day Centre, followed what the clay wanted to do and folded it on to itself, creating a Barvas Pasty, much to the amusement of the group. ‘I’ve learned so much about clay today!’, he says, grinning.

We had some fantastic sculptural explorations of the clay, too.

New Lochs Social Group

I’ve been living on Lewis for four years now. It’s not an immense island but there are still tucked away villages that I haven’t yet discovered.

I thought that Leurbost was largely in the area (from Stornoway) turning right after the cottages past the garage opposite the school but no, there is a turning further up on the left, which offers some breathtaking views over the hills, even on a wet day, and hosts a lovely community centre hall.

Maggie Smith had booked the hall for the purposes of starting a new social group to help tackle loss, isolation and loneliness, one of the key themes of our BIG Lottery funder, and important for our work with Life Changes Trust, too.

Maggie welcomes us all with a warm greeting and an explanation of the project and funders ‘It’s really an excuse to get together’, she smiles, before introducing us all.

Chris Hammacott demonstrated block print work on to fabric, we heard all about the glorious yellow Austin Seven outside, Roddy talked about how he came by his 1920 melodeon and played and sang for us and Euan, Museum Development Officer, shared the wonderful Barvas Ware handling collection with us all.

Roddy told several hilarious stories about how Gaelic speakers struggled with English after moving to Stornoway and he sang local songs alongside adapted versions of more National/international songs. He played a beautiful medley of traditional songs too.

There was gorgeous home baking, which ten of us enjoyed along with the music, the artefacts, the print making and at the end, we had a closer look at the glorious, sunshine yellow car.

Mairi took photographs to record the event.

The next session is mid September Weds 19th. All are welcome, bring a friend or neighbour and it’s free. We will have Mhairi Law with us in September, print making cyanotypes and offering photography support for our walk.

Purvai is here!

Come and see our amazing South Asian festival celebration that is Purvai tonight at An Lanntair, beginning with a delicious Indian banquet! You can book at

On Tuesday, we took the wonderful Kanchan Maradan to the ward ceilidh at Western Isles Hospital to dance Kathak for everyone.

Kanchan talked for about ten minutes about the history of this dance art form and about how she got into dancing, following along to the dances in Bollywood films. It surprised us to learn that Mumbai born Kanchan actually learned Kathak in London!

She talked about how the dance is storytelling and showed us some movements, devotions to Krishna with a flute and Ganesh with the elephant trunk and ears.

I remember Dr Stephanie Bunn, of the Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, telling me during our Woven Communities project work together, ‘We are all Anthropologists.’ Indeed.

We passed around Kanchan’s heavy strings of bells before she tied them to her ankles, looping one end around her big toe to hold it firm as she wound the string up her strong ankles.

‘My brother says he wouldn’t like to get a kick from me’, she laughs, referring to the weight of the bells toning and strengthening her legs.

It struck me again, how insights into cultures from distant places connect people with storytelling, as we saw with Dal last week. ‘Kathak is a very beautiful dance, it is storytelling and you can see from the movements. We used to gather in courtyards and tell stories about gods, mostly. We have so many official languages in India. And so many gods. And they all have stories.’

I ask Kanchan about the make up and jewellery.

‘God is within us’, she explains, ‘I do feel pressure to get ready to go out but I quite like that. It’s a celebration of God within us.’

I quite like that too.