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7th November 2014 - 1 February 2015

 -  Exhibitions


A multi-media installation by Derek and Deirdre Robertson exploring the traditions and superstitions surrounding fishing, particularly the “dressed herrings” of Dundee.

dressed herrings

Examining the theme of “fate” through the presentation of interlinking motifs, this installation explores the complementary traditions of west-coast fishing communities and their counterparts on the east-coast, and the strange-but-true tale of a drowned fisherman, a lost painting and overlaid stories of superstition and fate. The work is a cultural portrait centred around a powerful story.

The centre-piece of the work is the painting of a drowned fisherman completed and sold by Derek twenty-seven years ago which has become an object that has itself determined fates and established friendships. The installation also incorporates assemblages which refer to the almost forgotten tradition of dressed herrings: dried fish that were decorated at New Year and hung in the home for the next twelve months to avert bad luck. The motifs of the painting, installation and strings of eerily-hanging, dead fish reference the lines of fate, heritage, ancestry and tradition.

The exhibition has been developed and expanded since it was previously shown at Cupar Arts Festival in 2013.

7th November 2014 - 1 February 2015

Entry : included in museum admission, accompanied children FREE

Fisherman portrait

Derek Robertson painted a very personal story portrait in memory of a close family friend. Cathel Hugh Munro, a fisherman from the Sutherland coast, was drowned just a few days after Derek and Deirdre had visited him. Derek came to sell the picture but, later regretting his decision, decided to try to track it down again. The Sunday Post picked up the story and launched a campaign asking if anyone knew where it was. A woman recognised her childhood sweetheart as the man in the picture and many other pieces of information were delivered but no painting.

Ten or 15 years later, Richard Barrett got in touch and said that he had the picture in his possession in Lowestoft - the final port in the traditional herring fishing year. Richard, a singer and herring fisherman, had written an award-winning song about the picture and had begun work on a novel inspired by it. He agreed to sell the painting back to Derek and the pair were reunited.

Dressed Herrings

The tradition of dressing herrings as a good luck charm for Hogmanay is thought to be unique to Dundee. The archives of the Dundee Courier contain many references and photographs of the custom which began to die out in the early 1970s. Stalls at the Overgate Market would sell prepared herrings for people to buy to give to each other as a “first foot” gift. A pair of herrings would then be kept in the house, at the front door, until it was replaced the following year.

Deirdre’s own granny prepared her own herrings. She kept the head and tail but got rid of the main flesh of the body before dressing it. The fish would wear elaborate outfits made of paper or scraps of fabric.

The exhibition is a combination of these layers of the story and they are projected as a painting, film and song. You can view a film created for the earlier installation at Cupar at


The Scottish Fisheries Museum Trust Ltd
St Ayles, Harbourhead, Anstruther, Fife KY10 3AB
Tel (within UK): 01333 310628
Tel (from outside UK): +44 1333 310628
Charity Number: SC 006185 VAT Reg Number: 270 2790 64
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