An exhibition of photographs from the artist’s collection
The title of this show comes from the name of Harry Berry and his wife Jeanie’s home near Melsetter. The title also describes his collection of photographs. A sea view.
The collection, kept in old rusted biscuit tins and photographic paper boxes, contains photographs of boats and ships. Some are well known – The Otterbank, the floating bank that served the isles (now on display at Scapa Flow Visitor Centre) and scenes from the salavage of the German High Seas Fleet. Not all of these photographs were taken by Harry, some are the work of Tom Kent, but en masse they show a love and a respect for the sea. Many were used as source material for his paintings. Often Harry painted rescues carried out by the Longhope Lifeboat, many of these can be seen at the YM and the Lifeboat Museum in Longhope. These were often donated by Harry to raise funds.
Harry was born in Peckham, London in 1905. He joined the Royal Navy aged 15 rising to the rank of Chief Petty Officer. After the war Harry settled in Lyness, married local girl Jeannie Guthrie, and reportedly never crossed the Pentland Firth again. But even after leaving the navy Harry’s life was to be dominated by the sea with his work in the salvage industry at Lyness and later as Customs Officer.
Harry’s artistic capabilities were employed in his work as a sign writer and relettering memorials and gravestones. In his workshop Harry painted his dramatic sea scenes and made models, a coat of arms for the County of Orkney (now in Orkney Museum) and souvenirs such as smoking chimney cottage ashtrays. He even made his own fibreglass false teeth – though that may have been one of the tall tales he was known for. Harry’s reputation as a raconteur meant he was in demand at functions. In his latter years a book of his stories was published by The Orkney Press, The Driftwood Fiddle, 1990. He recorded some for BBC Radio Orkney in his rich cockney accent.
A sax and banjo player, Harry performed in a band with his wife Jeannie at the piano. Harry never fully recovered from the death of his wife and died in St Peter’s House, Stromness in 1994. Perhaps his most seen work is on the parish border – the fence and headstone for Betty Corrigall, made in fibreglass to withstand the peatbog conditions.
Here at the Hoy Kirk his work can be seen above the pulpit. There hangs a cross made from wood from the wreck of HMS Vanguard. Harry Berry’s hand is a real part of the heritage of Hoy.
Sources: John Budge; Paul Hepplestone in the introduction to The Driftwood Fiddle; Johnny Pottinger in his article ‘An Orkney Cockney – in memory of Harry Berry’ in Living Orkney; Orkney Library & Archive; and Who Was Who in Orkney, W.S. Hewison. Recordings Orkney Library & Archive OSA RO7/157 & OSA TA/43.