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Isobel Wylie Hutchison was a botanist, arctic traveller, filmmaker, writer and poet. During her 1927 visit to Greenland, she commissioned this flat bottomed model oomiak.

Fact file

Date

c. 1927

Made from

Skin, seal, wood

From

Nanortalik, Greenland

Dimensions

29.50" L

On display

National Museum of Scotland, Level 1, World Cultures (Living Lands)

Did you know?

According to Carlowrie Castle (where she was born), Isobel was a polyglot who could speak Italian, Gaelic, Greek, Hebrew, Danish, Icelandic, Greenlandic and some Inuit words.

Isobel Wylie Hutchison was born into a wealthy family in 1889 in Kirkliston, near Edinburgh. She was well-educated, training in horticulture at Studley College in Warwickshire, and made many long-distance treks across Scotland.

In 1925, Hutchison undertook an arduous journey on foot across Iceland. She then spent several months in 1927 in Greenland, returning the following year. It was on one of these trips that she commissioned this model oomiak (boat).

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

  • Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

    Model oomiak (Americas, South Greenland, Nanortalik, Inuit, c. 1927)

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“Up and on I climbed, filling my press with specimens, trailing white saxifrage, whose bright-green cushion made a rock-garden out of the slopes above a little stream golden with mimulus, and covered the mossy hollow where a bird had made her nest and laid in it four blue eggs… The constant hush of the air in the spruce boughs was like the sound of falling water.”
- Travelling in the Aleutians, from ‘Stepping Stones from Alaska to Asia’ by Isobel Wylie Hutchison

Personal connections

Hutchison’s collections reflect her experiences and interests as well as the culture of the communities among whom she lived and travelled. In 1930, she donated objects from her time in Greenland to the Museum and was then commissioned to make a larger collection from Alaska. 

Brown-black basket made of baleen, with bone knob in centre carved in form of a seated polar bear: North America, USA, Alaska, Barrow, Inuit, c. 1933

In 1933, she travelled around the north coast of Alaska to Aklavik in the Northwest Territories of Canada, finishing the journey by dog sledge.

Hutchison collected thousands of plant specimens for the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and Edinburgh, and for the British Museum. She shared her findings by giving talks on the BBC and lectures to many academic organisations. Hutchison also had several articles published in journals, newspapers and magazines, including National Geographic.

Hutchison enjoyed the friendship and respect of other polar explorers. She was awarded the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Fellowship Diploma in 1932 and the prestigious Mungo Park Medal in 1934. She was also made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society of London.

Although Hutchison stopped travelling in the 1960s, she continued to leave an active life, including cycling over 200 miles from Carlowrie Castle to Bettyhill in the Highlands - making the trip in a week by cycling up to forty miles a day. She died at Carlowrie in 1982, aged 92, and is buried in the northern cemetery in Kirkliston with her eldest sister.

IWH in Eskimo Coat

Image owned by the National Library of Scotland (www.nls.uk inventory number acc 9713/116)

References

Hoyle, Gwynth. 'Flowers in the Snow: The Life of Isobel Wylie Hutchison', University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

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