Orkney Islands Council
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Scapa Flow Museum Painting Conservation Appeal

Scapa Flow Museum Painting Conservation Appeal
17 August 2018

An oil painting which at one time adorned the walls of the canteen at the Royal Navy Base in Lyness has been selected to be restored via public donations.

A £10,000 target to pay for skilled restoration has been set, to be raised through visitor donations.

The restored painting will be one of the highlights of the refurbished Scapa Flow Museum when it reopens in March 2020 - with donation boxes now available at the temporary exhibitions in Hoy and Kirkwall for those wishing to contribute to the restoration of the painting.  

The section of oil painting on hessian was taken from the frieze that decorated a wall in the canteen during World War 2.

Like the wartime buildings, the frieze was meant to be temporary, and was created using available materials. The delicate painted surface on rough hessian has suffered over time, particularly in the unsuitable environment at the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum.

The large size of the panel (292.5 x 140.5cm), and the restricted space in which it was displayed, meant that it had not been moved in several years, and this has contributed further to its poor condition.

The piece was painted by Duncan Letters, a shipwright working for Metal Industries, and presented to the Museum’s collection by the architect, John Brandon-Jones, who was posted to Lyness and worked as a civil engineer from 1939 to 1945.

Curator, Rachel Boak, said, “This is a really important work of art for Lyness because it was created on site by someone working at the base. Many wartime structures have been lost because of the poor materials used and the temporary nature of their purpose, so the preservation of the buildings in which the Scapa Flow Museum is housed, and the survival of furnishings, objects, and oral history from the site, is incredibly important as a record of the experiences of service personnel stationed there.

"The frieze panel shows that wartime life was not just captured in black and white and highlights a non-military aspect of the base as a place for entertainment and socialising.

"We need the skills of a specialist conservator and framer to prepare and display the panel in the best possible condition. Our fundraising target is £10,000 and we’re appealing for help from our visitors to raise the money for this work and to ensure the long-term survival of the painting.”

The museum is currently undergoing a major refurbishment project, with funding from Orkney Islands Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and the Orkney LEADER fund.

The project will involve the restoration of the historic buildings, the enhancement of interpretation and displays, and the creation of a new building which will house an exhibition space, café, toilet facilities and information areas. New showcases, lighting and environmental controls will allow the museum to display objects which have never been on show before.

While the museum is closed to the public, temporary displays have been set up at Orkney Museum in Kirkwall.

A temporary exhibition on the wartime history of Scapa Flow is also on show at the Hoy Hotel in Lyness. It features touch-screen computers giving a 360-degree tour of the main Museum buildings and site, showcases stories, and highlights some of the latest research into Scapa Flow and its history. The exhibition has been part-funded by the Island of Hoy Development Trust. Regular guided walks around Lyness, led by Museum staff, have been taking place twice weekly since April.