Sheila Fleet OBE

The University of Edinburgh has conferred an Honorary Degree of Master of Arts on Sheila Fleet OBE in recognition of her outstanding jewellery design and support for rural communities. Friday 27th June was a special day for Sheila and her family as they all gathered at Edinburgh College of Art.

Sheila Fleet and family

Sheila trained at Edinburgh Art College in the mid 1960s graduating with a Diploma in Jewellery and Fashion. Her three sisters and three nieces also all attended Edinburgh Art College. In his laureation speech, Professor Chris Breward, Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, said they “almost constitute a family school of art of their own”.

The University could not have been more welcoming or kinder, hosting a beautiful lunch especially for Sheila and her family and a tour of the College before the ceremony.

”As I walked down the College Sculpture Court I loved the energy and smell of the old building. It brought back very happy memories” said Sheila.

Grandson Hamish was fascinated by some of the equipment in the jewellery department! Here he is inspecting the rolling mills for thinning strips of metal with his Dad Martin. He liked all the moving parts with its wheels and gears!

Martin and Hamish

The 4 sisters sharing memories on Edinburgh College of Art staircase, Sheila is holding her treasured original College scarf from the 60s!

Fleet sisters

From top – Connie – Drawing and Painting 1960-64, Connie taught Art at Kirkwall Grammar School until retiring. Many of her students went on to do Art, often at Edinburgh College of Art.

Sheila – Jewellery and Fashion 1963-67, worked 21 years as a designer in the jewellery industry before setting up on her own in 1993.

Dorothy  – Glass and Ceramics 1965-69, Dot has worked with Sheila for many years, assisting with presentation and displays all over Scotland, and more recently in the north of England, always supported by her husband, Norman. See our March 2014 blog – Dot & Norman’s Adventure.

Leila – Tapestry 1976-80, opened the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery in 1996 to show her hand-woven tapestries. See

Sheila and her 3 sisters and 2 brothers grew up on Rinibar Farm on Hoxa, South Ronaldsay in Orkney surrounded by wonderful views as the sea meets the sky.

”Our mother encouraged us all to draw and be creative from a very early age. She was a talented artist herself though she didn’t have the opportunity to formally train,“ said Sheila. “She took up watercolours in her 80s and painted nearly every afternoon. Hundreds of treasured watercolors emerged from her hand as she worked at a small oval gate-legged table using just a few pastels, a simple paintbox and a jam jar of water”.

Mother, Johan Dearness, drew her inspiration from nature around her.

flowers 1 flowers 2 flowers 3

The artistic talent continued into the next generation. Connie’s daughter, Norna, studied Constructed Textiles 1989-93, Leila’s daughter Johan studied Painting 2006-2010 and Sheila’s brother, John, has a daughter also named Leila who studied Performance Costume Design 2005-09. Norna followed Connie into teaching Art and Johan now has her own studio and exhibition space within the Hoxa Tapestry Gallery. Niece Leila now works with Tait & Style, a unique textile shop in Orkney. Owner Ingrid Tait also comes from a very artistic Orkney family. Her mother is Ola Gorie, one of the original pioneers of local arts & crafts and jewellery design in Orkney.

All wearing Sheila Fleet Jewellery

All the ladies are wearing Sheila’s jewellery!  From left, sister Leila – Tidal Island, niece Leila – Rowan, niece Johan – Spiral, Sheila  – Creel, niece Norna – Daisies for Emily, sister Connie – Hoxa Reflections, sister Dorothy – Shoreline Pebble.

At the graduation ceremony Professor Chris Breward praised Sheila for her valued role in mentoring students at the College. He quoted the words Sheila had passed on to students from her father “You’ll never have more time than you have today”. “Wise words” Professor Breward said, from someone who knows that “to succeed in a creative role, productivity must be balanced by reflection and an awareness that we need to grasp the potential of the day.”

Sheila spoke in reply saying “I am very honoured to accept this award. Thank you from an Orkney lass who never expected to be given such an honour”.

receiving her degree 1 receiving her award 2receiving her degree 3

”It’s been an amazing experience. Edinburgh University have treated us royally. The whole occasion was very special, beyond what I envisaged and very memorable“ said Sheila. “Sadly, my husband, Rick, didn’t see this day but he knew about it. My parents would have been very proud too. I want to thank the University, my brothers and sisters, all my family and friends for their support and my magnificent team at Sheila Fleet Jewellery.“

Smiles all round, a happy moment for Sheila and family and friend, Anna.  Also pictured are the Principal of the University of Edinburgh, Professor Sir Timothy O Shea (right of Sheila) and Principal of Edinburgh College of Art, Professor Chris Breward, (left of Sheila)

receiving her degree 4receiving her degree 5

“I would also like to thank all my customers over the past two decades for their support. It’s been amazing! Thank you too for your support in reading this blog and for all the likes, congratulations and messages of support. All much appreciated. I extend an invitation to anyone reading this to come to my Workshop and see my jewellery being made in Orkney.”