Top Yorkshire artists in Whitby’s new Fish & Ships festival


Whitby’s new Fish & Ships Festival promises to be a feast for the eyes as well as the taste-buds, when artists bring the spectacle to the seaside spectacular that celebrates the town’s magnificent sea-faring heritage on 18–19 May 2019.

Two of Yorkshire’s leading artists – internationally-celebrated sculptor Emma Stothard and Virpi Kettu, animator for the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit films – will feature alongside local craftspeople, schoolchildren and college students, all part of town-wide festivities that also include live cooking and fish-craft demos, street entertainment, live music, local fishing families and boats, and a grand firework finale.

“Whitby has an extraordinary maritime heritage, but sea-faring is still a way of life here as it has been for centuries,” explains Janet Deacon, Tourism & Corporate Marketing Manager for Scarborough Borough Council and Area Director for Welcome to Yorkshire.  “From boat-building to Britain’s finest fish restaurants, sea-faring is in our hearts and souls, and this is what artists, both young and older, will be capturing during Whitby’s Fish & Ships Festival.  The festival’s not just a celebration of the past – artists will also be recreating the town’s relationship with the sea today.  From traditional craftsmanship to digital wizardry, visitors will be able to explore an astounding range of artworks, from the harbour to the library.  And if you’re inspired by what you see, you can even get creative yourself in fun festival workshops or activities.”

Two of the festival’s ‘star’ artists, Emma Stothard and Virpi Kettu, both share a passion for the Yorkshire Coast and are thrilled to be involved in Whitby’s Fish & Ships Festival, although they’re exploring Whitby’s Fish & Ships in completely different and intriguing ways.  Virpi – a much-loved animator for the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit films, who also works with global movie-makers like Dreamworks and Universal Pictures – will share her film-making skills during animation workshops on 18 May (10am–12pm and 1-3pm), where families will be able to create magical, underwater aqua-worlds in the famous Aardman modelling style in fun 30-minute ‘drop-in’ sessions.

Meanwhile, Emma – whose sculptures are in demand across the globe, appearing in gardens and galleries from Highgrove to the Chelsea Flower Show – will create a new wire sculpture for the festival weekend.

“I grew up on the Yorkshire Coast, and we spent our family holidays around Whitby,” says Emma Stothard.  “I’ve never lost my childhood wonder for this very special place and its magnificent countryside inspires my work today.  My dad used to make crab-pots and go fishing on the Yorkshire Coast, so I was instantly drawn to Whitby’s Fish & Ships Festival.  Fishing’s such an important part of the local character, and I was surrounded by it as a child!”

“For my new work, ‘A Whitby Fisher Lass’, I wanted to pay tribute to the women of Whitby’s fishing families, whose story may not be as well known,” Emma adds.  “As a local lass myself, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by the fisher lasses – and overawed by the back-breaking work they did alongside the men to support local industry.  I’ve been researching Frank Meadow Sutcliffe’s remarkable photographs of Victorian Whitby to find out more about the town’s women, and I may even have someone in mind to bring to life – but you’ll have to visit the festival to find out more!”

During the weekend, visitors will also be able to follow a new Whitby Fish & Ships art trail with highlights including:

  • ‘Harbour’ street art, where students from Caedmon College & Eskdale School are joining forces to bring a new imaginative approach to the old fishing warehouses on Pier Road, in what will become a permanent installation
  • Local artist, Serena Partridge will be cooking up a felted fish supper, served with a scoop of imagination, in family felt-making workshops on Sunday 19 May at Whitby Library, followed by a chance to make ships sail the seas in flip-book animation sessions.
  • Local schools and college students are recreating fish & ships in intricate origami in an exhibition for Whitby’s Pannett Art Gallery.

“It’s wonderful that so many inspiring people are coming together for Whitby’s Fish & Ships Festival,” says Councillor Martin Smith, Scarborough Borough Council’s Portfolio holder for Tourism.  “It’s shaping up to be an exciting and memorable weekend of seaside entertainment, which also showcases how Whitby’s great sea-faring heritage is inspiring local people today, with displays of scrumptious local seafood, working life, artistry and craftsmanship.  The festival is helping place Whitby on a map, not only as a fishing town of the past, but as a great English fishing town of today, putting high quality seafood on Britain’s plates in its own unique and sustainable way.”