Many people have asked for the story behind one of this season's bestsellers: The Seafarer Kilt.
Inspiration for this piece came during a visit to my Grandfather's house in Scotland. My 90 year old Papa joined the Merchant Navy at 16 and spent his life at sea venturing to countless far flung and exotic places. His first ever voyage in 1939 was actually to Hong Kong all the way from the port of Leith. I find this little fact quite life-affirming; to know that no matter how vast the world may seem, generations before us have likely tread the same paths we walk today.
The inspiration for "Selkie and Sea" came from my many holidays spent up the East coast of Scotland where my Mother's side is from. The landscape is undoubtedly beautiful and dramatic but the weather is freeeezing, the power of the vast North Sea immediately commands respect and awe. As with all coastal cultures, Scottish fishing villages tell centuries-old stories inspired by the majesty, mystery and danger of the sea. The story of the Selkie is found in Scottish, Irish, Faroe Island and Icelandic folklore. Selkies are said to be seals that shed their skin to become beautiful women on land. They fall in love with hapless fishermen but inevitably leave them heartbroken when they return to the ocean. This tragic, romantic tale is perfectly evocative of the wistful melancholy of Northern fishing villages on a cold, windy day.
I was already working on the prints for this collection while I was staying at my Papa's house last October. I looked up at the painting he has hung above his telly and felt it captured the treacherous beauty of ocean journeys that I couldn't quite illustrate with my dainty biro drawings. I had always known this painting was from a sailor on one of my Papa's ships but it was wonderful to hear even more about it. Back in 1971, my Papa was sailing on the Queensgarth with a cargo of up to 10,608 tonnes of iron ore and steel products. My Papa was Chief Officer 2nd in Command and was doing a check of the cabins when he came upon William Mitchell's cabin. William gave my Papa this painting that he had done in oils on an old pillow case. He said the stormy sky had been a mistake created from the ash of his cigarette. The detail and perspective of the painting are impressive even without considering the limitations of the materials or the fact William painted it from within his tiny cabin. I scanned the painting at my Papa's local photo developers and edited it to fit the proportions of a kilt. I then digitally printed it on fabric to form the print panels of our Seafarer Kilt and Horizon Top.
So, that is the story of how an old painting of a ship came to be one of the key prints of Book of Deer's AW13 collection. All we know about William Mitchell was that he hailed from Argyle. Wherever he is now, I hope William feels his work was used in a fitting tribute to all the brave voyages seamen such as himself and my Papa took.