Selected artists embark on research into crofters’ troubles in Staffin

Artists Tom Smith and Henry Castle with Emma Nicolson and DL Mackenzie on a croft in Staffin

Tom Smith and Henry Castle talk with a local crofter in the Staffin area.

Two artists have been selected by ATLAS Arts and Staffin Community Trust (Urras An Taobh Sear) following an open call that saw over forty applications received from across the globe.

Sculptor, Henry Castle, and design collective, Lateral North, visited the Isle of Skye last week to embark on their research into the crofters’ troubles in the Staffin area in the 1880s. At this time, crofters were locked in bitter disputes with landowners because of hefty rent increases, no security of tenure, reductions in their croft land and the threat of eviction.

This project, funded by Creative Scotland, aims to involve the community and the trust in an exploration of what a contemporary memorial that acknowledges the historically significant crofters’ land struggle could be.

Over the course of several days, the artists travelled the landscape, met Staffin residents and crofters, and studied documents held in the archive centre in Portree.


Dugald Ross from Staffin Community Trust met with the artists and said: “Spending time with Henry and Tom gave us the opportunity to convey local images of 19th century crofters standing up against unscrupulous landlordism in north Skye and we look forward to seeing the outcome of their research into how the Land League Rebellion may be commemorated.”

A man wearing all black is sitting on a chair with a white paper maché sculpture on their head and an image of Scotland on the wall to his side.

Tom Smith, of Lateral North commented: “We are delighted to be involved in a commission which represents such a significant period in the history of the Highlands and Islands. From initial conversations with Staffin residents, we have realised the strong relationship and extensive understanding the community has of its crofting history. By delving deeper into the stories of Staffin we hope to uncover significant moments which have taken place during the crofters’ uprising and produce a body of research that is reflective of its people and place.”

Henry Castle walking through the Forest of Dean with one of his sculptures in the background.

Henry Castle was inspired by his recent visit: “My trip to Staffin has revealed to me a particular sense of this very strong community, which embodies a living history of its past. Through thorough research and personal experience of spending time in Staffin, I look forward to developing a body of work which celebrates and explores aspects of the place in a way which is as fresh to this unique community, as it is to those who know little or nothing about its history.”

“We’re really excited to see what Tom and Henry come up with. I’m sure the time spent in the area will allow them to respond sensitively and imaginatively to the task of bringing these significant people and events from the past into conversation with future generations of locals and visitors. From their initial visit they have already found some interesting avenues of research and have been matching specific events to sites across the area.” Emma Nicolson, Director ATLAS Arts.

Shona Cameron and Janet Lamont, the great grandaughter of Norman Stewart standing on the site of his old croft

Janet Lamont, the great granddaughter of Tormod Choinnich Stiùbhart, ‘Parnell’, on the site of his former croft.