A remarkable piece of jewellery called Superquarry Squash Blossom is currently on display at the Kiosk exhibition at An Lanntair. It explores the play of light and dark in the human condition.
Exactly thirty years ago, an earth-shaking experience very nearly took a grip of the Isle of Harris. A multinational company based in England, Redland Aggregates, attempted to establish the biggest roadstone quarry in the world on Roineabhal, the mountain that rises over Rodel and Leverburgh. The plan was defeated after a massive campaign.
On the one hand, supporters of the quarry had hoped for hundreds of jobs. The public inquiry concluded that only about three dozen would be created. On the other hand, as the late Norman Macleod of Bridge House, Leverburgh, put it, the quarry would destroy Roineabhal as the “fair maid” of Harris, and turn it into “the gravel pit of Europe”.
Into the dark and light of the arguments came Chief Stone Eagle, an environmental leader of the Mi’Kmaq First Nation on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. He had helped to stop a similar superquarry there. The press headlines at the public inquiry went ballistic. ‘Stone Eagle flies in to stop superquarry’ said one.
As I have written about in Soil and Soul, Stone Eagle carried his own shades of dark and light. He had been deeply damaged as a child when he had been ripped away from his parents and forcibly sent to one of Canada’s notorious reservation schools. In recent weeks, harrowing reports have emerged of mass graves where hundreds of these children had been buried after suffering abuse. As I came to know Stone Eagle better, I learned that he too wrestled with the dark and light, the wounds and the healing, within himself. As he later told me after a conviction in a court of law: “Don’t pray for me, pray with me.”
Maeve Gillies is from a family that is steeped in Gaelic tradition bearing. Her necklace is made from silver and from dark and light polished ‘moonrock’ from Roineabhal. A ‘squash necklace’ is this genre of Native American necklace. Eagles grasp the central stone in their talons.
My wife and I went to see the piece in An Lanntair recently. It blew me away, bringing a tear to the eye. This is a profoundly important piece of art. Ms Gillies has handled the sensitivities around the superquarry and Stone Eagle with great sensitivity. It speaks not just to what happened with the quarry, or of Chief Stone Eagle. It speaks to the light and dark in every one of us.
Great art touches on the sacred. It opens up our eyes to the deeper realms of our humanity. Go and view the piece if you have a chance before the exhibition closes on Saturday 21st August. The eagle that holds the dark and light together is also the totem symbol of St John the Evangelist. That’s why you see an eagle on many a church lectern.
This is not just a work of art. This piece of jewellery is a profound meditation on the theology of fall and redemption. This, in ways too deep for words, is a meditation on you and me.
– Alastair Macintosh
Tom Maciver models Maeve Gillies’ ‘Superquarry Squash Blossom’ necklace