Three Sheep and a Famous Artist

North Ronaldsay ram, ewe and lamb acquired by Stromness Museum in 1953 with an NFA grant of £1.10s.

Stromness Museum had the distinction of being the first museum to receive an award from the Fund when, in December 1953, the Local Museums Purchase Fund, as it was then called, awarded a grant of one pound and ten shillings for the acquisition of three specimens of North Ronaldsay sheep.

Picture credit: Wee Eck2

Picture credit: Wee Eck2

The North Ronaldsay sheep is a recognised rare breed and represents an early stage in the evolution of domestic sheep. A recent study showed that today’s breed is genetically similar to remains of sheep found at the neolithic village of Skara Brae in mainland Orkney. They live most of their lives on the shore outside the sheep dyke that runs around the island of North Ronaldsay, the most northerly of the Orkney islands. The dyke keeps them off the better grazing and they survive on seaweed. The group is one of the key exhibits in the Natural History Gallery at Stromness Museum. The ram stands proudly high on a rock, much as he would have on the North Ronaldsay shore, surveying his flock. In the current display the North Ronaldsay sheep are joined by a selection of resident Orkney mammals.

Picture credit: Rebecca Marr

Picture credit: Rebecca Marr

Though an important acquisition, the sheep were to gain further significance to the collection when a renowned Orcadian artist offered to paint a backdrop for the group. Stanley Cursiter (1887-1976) was appointed King’s Limner and Painter in Scotland following his retirement as Director of the National Galleries of Scotland in 1948. Cursiter spent his summers in Stromness, eventually retiring here. He was a great supporter of Stromness Museum and this painting, one of the largest Cursiter landscapes known, is an important part of the museum’s collection.

Kathleen Ireland
Hon President

Janette Park
Hon Curator
Stromness Museum

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