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Community / Mysterious art project looks to pay homage to old guising tradition

A NEW art project aiming to give the old guising tradition of skekkling a contemporary twist has been mysteriously revealing itself through postboxes across Shetland.

An artist under the pen name Skekkler has created 15 linocut prints of a skekkler and sent them off to a number of companies and organisations, such as the library and the museum.

Skekkling, or skekling, was a form of guising native to Shetland which saw tricksters don straw costumes, identity hidden, and go around houses over the winter months to perform skits and acts in return for items like food, drink or money.

They would only reveal their identity if a householder correctly guessed who was under the costume.

While the tradition – which is said to have continued in the main until the mid 1800s and later in the North Isles – has died out to be replaced by a modern day equivalent of guising, the Skekkler is giving a nod to the past by sending surprise pieces of art to unsuspecting recipients.

It features the tag line ‘Knock knock – du his been skekkled!’.

Speaking under anonymity, the Skekkler said the inspiration for the project came just before Halloween.

“Hits aawye’s bin wan o my favourite times o da year; da dark nichts, aabody dressed up n oot guisin, gittin spooked,” they said.

“Den I realised dat widna be happenin dis year due tae Covid an social distancing, an I felt sad – especially fir da bairns. Dis wid hiv been sum o dare first Halloween’s n dey widna git da full rig o whit its meant tae be lik.

“Den I tout aboot me Grandfolk’s childhood an windered whit dare guising wid hiv been lik.

“Dey lived in mare isolated conditions an miby didna hay da costumes/street lichts lik we do noo. Da tout crossed my mind as tae hoo spooky hit widda bin openin da door tae a guiser back den – especially we aa da folklore dat dey hid.

“I minded aboot da skekklers an how du hed tae open da door tae dem an welcome dem in; treat dem tae maet n a dram. Wid I let wan in dat aesily? I wisna so sure… but whit an adrenaline rush hit must’ve bin tae be skekkled an tae hiv been a skekkler.”

The Skekkler said culture and traditions are fascinating and should be treasured, but unfortunately many are being lost.

“Skekkling his died oot ower da years an I dinna want my bairns no tae keen aboot hit so I decided dan an dare dat I wid need to day something to keep hit alive,” they said.

“Da very nixt day I set to wirk makkin linocut print cairds dat immitate openin your door ta fin a skekkler upo your doorstep.”

The artist said they initially targeted local business who might spread the word on social media after they received the print.

The reaction to the project has meant that the Skekkler is set to continue to create more prints, with pieces able to be bought and sent to people anonymously.

“Da response his been so positive – hit is dat encouraging and ower exciting as dis is set tae be a long term project,” they said.

“Every winter I plan tae release a series o limited edition skekklers available to purchase fir aabody n onybody wishing tae skekkle dare friends n family.

“Da skekklers will be sent directly fae me tae your chosen hooses so dat complete anonymity is maintained, heightening da fun fir aabody!

“Dis is my wye o paying homage to wir history, wi a modern twist, an a means o keeping skekkling alive.”

A recreated skekkler costume, meanwhile, can be found in the Shetland Museum in Lerwick.