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Important Stories in Unexpected Places: Hull Maritime launch series of pop-up exhibitions for 2023.

As part of our community programme, a new series of pop-up displays and exhibitions has launched for 2023 and 2024.

These pop-ups will tell important stories in unexpected places, from shop windows to fish & chips shops, over the next two years. They invite you to think a little differently about our maritime heritage and find out more about Hull Maritime.

Our first pop-up in the series, A-Fishing for the Whale, shares Hull’s whaling story in new creative ways and explores the legacies of whaling for the city’s musical heritage and historical collections

Find out more about A-Fishing for the Whale

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, fishing crews from Hull travelled to the Arctic to hunt whales and a thriving industry existed in the city based on the oil, blubber, whalebone (baleen) and other products that were brought back. Killing whales is now seen as a cruel and unnecessary industry, but it remains an important part of Hull’s heritage story.

Today whaling continues to shape our city through art, music, and architecture. The title for this exhibition, for example, is a lyric taken from traditional whaling song The Bonny Ship the Diamond – sang by folk music icons The Waterson’s in their 1966 film Travelling for a Living (which you can see at Ferens Art Gallery on 19 April – book here) and more recently recreated by local group the Spare Hands for Where the Whalefish Blow (2013).

Currently on display in Princes Quay Shopping Centre (Monument Bridge entrance, next to Millie’s Cookies), A-Fishing for the Whale features three textile works by renowned artist Caroline Hack, drawing inspiration from local histories of the whaling industry and the collections of the Hull Maritime Museum. The artworks will be on display from 9am to 5.30pm between 12-26 April. More pieces by Caroline Hack, including an exciting newly-commissioned work-in-progress based on folk song The Greenland Whale Fisheries (which will be also on display at out event on the 19 April)

The exhibition is in partnership with the Charismatic Encounters project and forms part of Yorkshire Coast Whale Week 2023, a week-long series of events in Hull, Whitby, and online which explore our region’s relationship to whales and other cetaceans over the last 400 years. The programme includes talks on whale watching, collecting oral histories, filmmaking, and ecology.

This textile piece is based on historical accounts and illustrations found in our museum collections and archives
The Whaling Grounds (2018)

British Arctic Whaling started around the 1600s and was at its peak in Hull in the early 1800s. As the industry expanded, whales became increasingly scarce due to over-hunting, and the ‘whaling grounds’ in which crews would hunt were extended further and further. As well as searching new areas of the Arctic, crews would also hunt in open waters rather than bays in their search for ever-decreasing populations of whales.

This textile piece is based on historical accounts and illustrations found in our museum collections and archives, as well as Caroline Hack’s own experiences exploring the Arctic over the past twelve years. The ships and polar bear are based on whaling paintings from the Hull Maritime Museum and the scenery is drawn from sketches Hack made in Spitsbergen in 2012 and Greenland in 2014. The map is inspired by an account of a whaling voyage by John Laing, a surgeon who sailed with the famous whaling captain William Scoresby of Whitby in 1806.

Caroline used paintings from the maritime collection as her inspiriation
beset (2018)

British Arctic Whaling was a challenging and risky business. One of the great perils facing whaling crews was the possibility of getting trapped in the ice, and either having the ship be destroyed through crushing or being forced to wait in the harsh cold and darkness, isolated from help or rescue. Ships did not routinely carry enough fuel or stocks to heat ships or feed crews in these situations.

Historical accounts such as that of Hull ship the Diana, which became trapped in ice in Davis Strait in 1866, tell us just how harrowing the experience could be – from dealing with cold and damp, the declining health and death of fellow crew members, and the regular terror of being hit by icebergs. This textile piece by Hack is based on the journals of a ship’s surgeon who was on board the Diana at the time, as well as paintings in our Hull Maritime Museum collections that show ships beset in Arctic ice. We hold many items in our collection that tell the story of the Diana which you can explore online here.

Stoved! (2019)
Maritime painting by John Ward from maritime collection
STOVED (2019)

The third piece in our exhibition is inspired by an image that Hack found on an old set of whaling cigarette cards. It depicts the dangers of early non-industrialised whaling for fishing crews, and equally emphasises the perils of the industry for the whales themselves.

Hunting whales was a long, dangerous, and violent process. When lookouts on a ship spotted a whale, smaller boats that could be rowed close the creature were lowered, and harpoons were used to attach these boats to the whales. After a number of hours the weight of ropes and boats would slow whales enough for them to be killed – but the animal’s huge tail flukes could easily splinter wooden boats scattering the whalemen, who usually could not swim, into the sea.

These dangers are also the subject of famous folk song The Greenland Whale Fishery, the topic of Caroline Hack’s newest work-in-progress. You can see this work on display and learn more about the connections between whaling, folk music and textile art at our event at on Wednesday 19 April. Book your place here.

About Caroline Hack

Caroline Hack is a renowned international artist whose work explores stories and legacies of British Arctic Whaling through textiles, print, and artists’ books. Historical accounts, objects, artworks and folk songs from Hull all feature heavily in Hack’s work, many of which have been found in the Hull Maritime Museum and our city’s historic collections.

Caroline’s work has been exhibited around the UK and in the USA, and she has been visiting and working in Hull since 2010. You can learn more about Caroline Hack’s work in our interview with her here.

We are proud to present A-Fishing for the Whale and our artist talk & film screening event in partnership with Charismatic Encounters and Yorkshire Whale Week 2023.

Find out more about Charismatic Encounters

Charismatic Encounters is a collaborative research project between the University of Leeds, University Paris Nanterre and NGO the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) about the role of whales and other cetaceans in the coastal and maritime heritage of two regions: the Yorkshire coast and the transnational Basque region. Working with key stakeholders and individuals in Yorkshire, responsible for the stewardship of and public engagement with living animals and whaling history, including Hull Maritime Museum, the project highlights the central role of cetaceans in the region’s tangible and intangible heritage.

You can find out more about Charismatic Encounters in our interview with researcher Dr Sophia Nicolov, here.

Have you been to see A-Fishing for the Whale? Let us know what you thought, here.