Otter by Iain Cotton

Otter by Iain Cotton


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Carved on a slate pebble from Kintra Bay beach from the isle of Islay in Scotland, by Iain Cotton, this work is 32 x 29cm, and celebrates the word ‘Otter’. This piece was created as part of our exhibition ‘The Lost Words - Forget-me-not.’ For this exhibition artists have created a permanent record of the natural words removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.


A semiaquatic fish-eating mammal of the weasel family, with an elongated body, dense fur, and webbed feet.

Lutra and other genera, family Mustelidae: several species, including the European otter (L. lutra).

ORIGIN: Old English otr, ot(t)or, of Germanic origin; related to Greek hudros ‘water snake’.

OTTERS are shy and elusive, so I was delighted to catch a glimpse of a sea otter on a stony beach on the Isle of Mull last year – an amazingly rare experience of life in the wild. This year I looked for otters on the Isle of Islay but didn’t see any.  We did find a beach with extraordinary sea-weathered slate at Kintra Bay. I couldn't resist bringing a small boulder home.

The idea that the word for these magical creatures might be lost to a generation of children is heartbreaking. In an age when the rift between people and the natural world is widening, it is essential to celebrate these lost words and give them back to children (and adults). This exhibition presents a wonderful opportunity to bring together the Western Isles and slate and otters and carved letters.

Much of my work is about connections between people and place, human experience in the landscape. The quotation from Wendell Berry that Robert Macfarlane used to support his mission to retrieve the lost words has a particular resonance for me: ‘People exploit what they have merely concluded to be of value, but they defend what they love, and to defend what we love we need a particularising language, for we love what we particularly know.’ Having the opportunity to respond to the lost words project is a real joy. And I am so thrilled to be able to connect with the work of Jackie Morris through my part in this exhibition.

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