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Arts / Portrait of MRI fundraiser Harriet donated to museum

Some of the members of the MRI Maakers group with Harriet Middleton pictured to the left of the portrait. Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

A PORTRAIT of a local fundraiser which featured on a national TV programme was officially unveiled at the Shetland Museum and Archives last night (Sunday).

The painting, of Harriet Middleton, was created by renowned portrait artist Stuart Pearson Wright.

The artwork was created to celebrate Middleton’s efforts in raising money for the Shetland MRI scanner appeal through knitting.

It was made for the BBC’s Extraordinary Portraits television programme, which aired last year.

The painting will now form part of the Shetland Museum’s permanent collection and will be on display to the public in the coming weeks.

Middleton led a community knitting programme in 2019 and set up the MRI Maakers group.

There was worldwide interest in Harriet’s Hat, a Fair Isle design she created herself, with its patterns – and other knitted items – sold and auctioned online to a global audience.

More than £100,000 was raised for the appeal.

The event on Sunday was attended by Middleton and her family, as well as Pearson Wright.

Members of the MRI Maakers group were there too, as was NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson and SIC councillor John Fraser.

Harriet Middleton with Stuart Pearson Wright. Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

Lifelong knitter Middleton said: “It was such a surprise and honour to have been invited to sit for an official portrait and, once I got over the initial shock, I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to travel down to London to meet with Stuart for the television programme, and then welcome him to Shetland so that he could understand the sense of place and my background and begin work on the painting.

“The outcome is tremendous and I appreciate how he has captured my passion for Shetland’s knitting heritage.

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“I view the painting as a wonderful tribute to all those in the MRI Maakers group, and beyond, who made the fundraising appeal such a success.”

Pearson Wright added: “I am usually reluctant to appear in television programmes about portrait painting.

“In the past I’ve found that the process of being filmed whilst trying to make a painting gets in the way of the process and usually ends up with a bad piece of painting.

“However, when I was approached by the producers of Extraordinary Portraits (Chatterbox) I was bowled over by Harriet’s story – and the chance to travel to the Shetland Islands to meet her, was one I couldn’t turn down.

“Harriet and I got on very well both during our sitting, and also during the unveiling of the portrait in London, but my trip to Shetland was all too brief.

“It had been my hope to find an opportunity to return to the island.

“Then as I pondered what would become of the painting itself I remembered something that Harriet had said about her grandchildren being able to learn about her story through the portrait and I decided that I ought to donate the painting to the museum in Lerwick for future generations to be inspired by Harriet’s story.

“So, it’s a great pleasure to be back in Shetland, this time with my own family.”

Knitting fundraiser for MRI appeal sparks global interest

Dickson said the health board was “thrilled” that Middleton and her Maakers group have been honoured in such a fitting way.

“Harriet led the group to raise a phenomenal amount of money towards the procurement of an MRI scanner for Shetland in what was a truly astounding community wide fundraising appeal,” he said.

“Being able to access MRI scans here in Shetland will be of benefit for people, and will reduce the need for them to travel off island at a time when they are not well.”

SIC councillor Fraser meanwhile honoured a “local hero” and thanked Middleton and her family for having the vision to start an appeal for Shetland’s MRI scanner.

The MRI appeal reached its target of £1.65 million in 2020.

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