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Da Lairds Witch

Updated: Jun 1, 2023

Da Lairds Witch was called Kitty Bruce. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Laird of Whalsay. As Kitty grew so did her resemblance to her father which meant Kitty and her mother had to be sent from the sight of the Lairds wife.

Kitty and her mother lived by their wits. People listened to their advice on a number of things. They blessed boats and cows. The boats had bad luck or a poor catch if they'd forgotten to give a fish from their previous catch to the women. The cows always gave more milk if they'd been blessed by Kitty's mother. It was only fair to give milk as a gesture for a blessing.

Kitty grew handsome. She was courted by a few men and she was engaged once but in the end she did not marry. When her fiancé remarried his wife became ill. Kitty was blamed. The man demanded three drops of Kitty's blood to save his dying wife. Kitty gave the blood freely but warned him that she was not to blame. The woman died and the man believed he was cursed and left Whalsay forever.

When Kitty's mother died, Kitty lived alone, she had no children. She was respected and perhaps feared by the community but they looked after her. It was bad luck not to look after a witch. She lived to an old age.

Kitty saw her Father once when she was young and followed him without him seeing. She watched him, perhaps to see if she could see herself in him. She copied his posture and his manner. She mimicked the limp in his walk. She never spoke to him. After that day Kitty developed a limp, like her father. It became so pronounced she had to walk with a stick. Her mother had given her the surname 'Bruce,' and the Laird had never contested it. He allowed them that. So, all her father gave his daughter was a limp and his name and she forged out a life for herself as 'Da Laird's Witch.'

"The three drops of blood were freely given..."

Photo below by Daalamist (c) 2021

Wool Week Prize

"Susan Pearson was awarded the Shetland Wool Week Exhibition Prize to highlight her work in knit and concrete sculptures. The SWW committee believe this is a great example of a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Shetland technique.

Susan is studying for a Fine Art Degree at the Shetland College. The idea for the sculptures evolved whilst working on her Spacial Practices module, when she had the opportunity to reconsider the qualities of wool and utilise these qualities as a material to create art.

During her research, Susan was inspired by knitted lace and old photographs in the Museum archives. She wanted to recreate the feeling of the characters and stories she discovered there. Specifically, the Laird’s Witch, Kitty, a true story of an illegitimate child of a Laird of Whalsay. Clever and studious, Kitty made a living practicing witchcraft.

In contrast to the delicate lace, Susan decided to work with concrete. The concrete complemented the structures in and around the Museum; the rock, the slabs, the pedestals. It felt fitting that the concrete reflected the grey of the old photographs studied in the development of the collection.

Central to the work is contradiction; the contrast between the fragile beauty of a knitted hap and the brutal practicality associated with concrete. Susan utilises these associations to hint at the stories of these emotive figures."

Ghostly feel was evident

Got a write up in the Shetland Times for the exhibition, which was lovely. And the comments in the comments book were so interesting to read, thank you to everyone that took the time to come see the exhibition. I'd also like to mention the Whalsay Heritage and Community centre for the help in researching the Lairds Witch; the Shetland Museum and Archives for the exhibition space and the Wool Week team for the opportunity.

The whole experience of creating an exhibition was inspiring and such an amazing opportunity. It was a valuable lesson in the creative journey of a work of art: from the initial ideas and thinking of the materials, the stories and the themes I wanted to explore; to experimenting with the materials and developing the sculptures; to the display of the final sculptures in an exhibition.

The sculptures were also in the end of year students exhibition at UHI Shetland. Click here

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