The state of things

Here Comes the Sun, Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts, Whisper to me alone

“..I’m glad you like it as it was a joy to stitch. Your idea just sparked something inside me, making me want to do some stitching which was very welcome as I’m finding it difficult to settle to anything at the moment.”

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

 

Sara Scott Sun2

Sara Scott, Here Comes the Sun

 

I’m beginning to hear recurrent themes in the feedback to our two current projects Here Comes the Sun and A Necklace of Stars.  Many of our participants are finding it difficult to settle to anything. People describe having fuzzy heads, being overly tired, difficulties in even making even small decisions.

 

“What’s stopping me? It’s the state of things, I’m normally busy, involved with other things.  Normally I paint and paint and sew and sew, but I haven’t in ages. It’s been very, very strange. I can go outside, and talk to my neighbours, and clap for the NHS, but it’s the first time in my life I’ve been like this. I need something to give me a kick up the backside.”

Participant A Necklace of Stars

vintage dyed pillowcase

Here Comes the Sun. Vintage pillowcase, dyed, ready for embroidered poetry.

 

But counter to that, I have had heard from many other people saying that doing something creative is helping them re-focus and spark something in the brain. How interesting our brains are!

For many it has given a prompt to create something with embroidery for the first time in many years and connect with different generations of the same family:

“Thank you so much from my daughter and I for encouraging us to dig out my late grandmothers stash of embroidery threads to choose some sunny colours for our sun quilt squares. My grandmother was a very enthusiastic and skilled needlewomen and she would have loved the idea of this quilt…. (about her daughters embroidery) It is a while since I picked up an embroidery needle and as my stitches show I am more than a little rusty (for which I appologise) I have, however really enjoyed focusing on something creative during these strangest of times. We look forward to seeing the finished quilt.”

Participant, Here Comes the Sun.

One of the delights of the projects is the way news spreads by word of mouth. Having a project to work on gives us all opportunities to think, talk and focus on something different with friends and family, an escape from the news, and Covid. 

Have shared widely, and this has kick-started a WhatsApp group, as I was asked to set up a crafty one a couple of weeks ago. We can encourage each other daily in there and do other bits and bobs too.

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

What a beautiful idea. I’m definitely going to do this, and share with friends

Participant, Here Comes the Sun

 

Catherine's sun

Catherine Tombs embroidery for Here Comes the Sun. 

But there is always more sharing to do, the more people engaged in our projects with different perspectives on life, the more exciting and greater the depth the project our project gains.

Everyone signed up to our project A Necklace of Stars is currently housebound. Many where before the lock down. So far we have worked with people aged from 65 to 90. Many haven’t done any embroidery since school, but some are very experienced and confident in the creative arts. Everyone has a unique way of looking at the theme of the stars, everyone a story to tell.

Phil and I continually look at ways we can make the projects accessible to everyone, whatever their circumstances. Thanks to support from Arts Council England, we’re thrilled to be working with Booth Centre to invite people who are, or have been homeless to join in. They are being invited to draw suns that our volunteers will stitch on their behalf, a kind of art commissioning without any money changing hands. In addition I will be sending out packs of needles, threads and materials to people at the Booth who want to have a go at sewing themselves. I’m so thrilled to be working in this way and can’t wait to see how it progresses. 

Sarah B's sun

Sarah Burgess, embroidery for Here Comes the Sun.

Todays blog was written by Lois Blackburn, lead artist arthur+martha

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

Here Comes the Sun, A quilt in the time of Covid 19. Part of the Whisper to me Alone project.

The sun, our closest star

Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts

The Sun

 

In the morning the sun rose in the East and lay

Pale and delicately formed, tentatively

Regarding the tasks for the day.

Wakening, warming gently, watching attentively.

 

Then, growing in strength and sullenness

Swelling, reddening and ageing,

Began to dry, to burn and scorch;

Settling finally in a deep burst of anger in the West.

 

Maxine Broadbent

 

 

Our new project Necklace of Stars is our first project under the restrictions of lockdown, so our usual workshops have been replaced by phone calls and emails. We’re working with older people in Derbyshire to make a collection of poems, writing, songs themed around lullabies and the night sky. These words will be recorded and exhibited in conversation with a quilt that is stitched with stars.

 

Lullabies often explore themes of safety and danger. The hush-a-bye baby has the cradle rocked gently by the tune of that old song, but then the cradle falls. In some of the poems that are starting to emerge, there is also a hint of danger. The bursting anger of the sun. Beyond the safety of our walls during lockdown lies threat — and yet those safe walls hold us in, can become prison-like.

 

The writers have all used their words to stretch out beyond the limitations of four walls, to dream of the wide world, floating like seed heads beyond all restrictions, or else travelling in memory to other times. Because of lockdown, and the sunny weather, there’s time for some people to really throw themselves into this work:

 

“I’m delighted. I’ve been out all day in the garden photographing flowers to inspire my writing. But now — I’m knackered!”

(Participant)

 

detail, design board

Liz Jennen’s embroidered star square, and fabric ready to be stitched.

 

Above and below, we have two poems from the growing collection — one a whole lifetime, told in the rising and setting of the sun, the other a lullaby of pure delight, a celebration of sunshine food:

 

 

Kingston Lullaby

 

Hush little baby don’t you cry

Mama’s gonna make you a plantain fry,

And if that plantain fry don’t please,

Mama’s gonna rustle up some rice and peas.

 

And if rice and peas don’t have appeal

Saltfish and ackee will be your next meal.

And if saltfish and ackee comes too slow,

Mama’s gonna pick you a ripe mango.

 

And if that mango’s not your wish,

Mama’s gonna make you a breadfruit dish.

And if that breadfruit dish is raw

Mama’s gonna find you a nice pawpaw.

 

And if all this ain’t got what it takes

Mama’s gonna fry you some jonnycakes.

And if even jonnycakes make you frown,

You’ll still be the fattest little baby in town.

 

Glen Mulliner

design board, NOS

Necklace of Stars, quilt in progress, samples by Lois Blackburn and Liz Jennens.

 

Todays blog was written by Philip Davenport, lead writer arthur+martha

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

A space to be normal

Necklace of Stars, Projects, quilts

All the structures of everything have gone. My brain space is in a muddle, little decisions have become difficult… I’m finding my brain is to busy- this (A Necklace of Stars) has given me space to be more normal. It’s a very interesting effect, it’s kick started me again.” Participant.

 

So much of this new project  a Necklace of Stars feels so familiar, the wonderful mix of participants,  bringing a wealth of different skills, experiences, levels of confidence, everyone bringing something different to the mix.

Many of the participants haven’t done any embroidery for many years. One women sounded very unconfident at the beginning of the conversation, not even wanting to do her own drawings:

 

I’ve not done any embroidery for donkey’s years, I used to do tray clothes, and ragging- hearth carpets. I’m not crafty-  but this sounds brilliant.” Participant

 

Jennens Liz

Liz’s embroidered square for a Necklace of Stars

 

Then much is surreal- our encounters are over the phone, through the post, our phone conversations move from life in a time of Covid, to embroidered tray cloths, lazy dazy stitch, grandchildren, to the fear of shopping, fear of the virus.  Occasionally it is painfully sad, the lady who was isolated, not just by her health conditions, but by the virus.

 

“I’m very lonely,  the only person I see is once a week, and that’s at a distance.” Participant

 

But everyone I’ve spoken to so far is keen to join in with the project. There is an innate understanding that keeping busy, keeping the hands and brains occupied doing something creative is a positive thing, now more than ever.

 

Before I got married, I used to embroider tray clothes. I’ve started knitting again for charity, the Red Cross.”  Participant

 

There is a real delight in the idea that their work will join others, combining together to create one piece. And always the excitement that the individuals will one day have an opportunity to get together, meet each other and celebrate their achievements on the project.

I might not have seen anybody stitch yet, but it’s still been a brilliant start to a project, full of hope. We’ve had our first embroidered square sent back to us from Liz, pictured above. We weren’t expecting any to come in the post for a while, so this was an extra special delight.

And selfishly, it’s helping me get through these times too. It gives focus to my days, something to look forward to- new ways of working, full of excitement and delight.

 

You’ve made my day.

“I’ve absolutely loved talking to you.”  Participants.

 

Lois Blackburn. Lead artist

star solar system

Lois’s sample solar system, for a Necklace of Stars

 

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

 

 

The dandelions of time

Necklace of Stars, Projects

Today was the first writing day for our new project Necklace of Stars. And this of course is new in another way, it’s the first project we have run under the restrictions of lockdown.

We are aiming make a collection of poems, writing, songs all themed around lullabies and the night sky. These pieces will be recorded and exhibited in conversation with a quilt that is stitched with stars.

Rather than meeting face-to-face with the makers, we’ll use phone calls and email to communicate for the time being. 

All of which means this is the first time I have run a poetry group without seeing anybody’s faces, simply responding to their voices over the phone. But what friendly voices! And what stories I have heard already! 

I have been on a flight over and African lake, brightly lit by the reflected moon. I have visited a soup kitchen. I have spent some time in a blacksmiths smithy watching the horses being shoed while barges pass on the nearby canal. And I’ve heard the first verse of a poem about the dandelions of time, that mark all of our days…

A Necklace of Stars is a collaboration between housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire,  arthur+martha,  Arts Derbyshire   DCC Public Health and Derbyshire County Council Home Library Service. 

Combatting isolation with a Necklace of Stars

Necklace of Stars, Projects

A Necklace of Stars  LAUNCH

Older adults aged 65+ from across Derbyshire are being invited to take part in a new project ‘A Necklace of Stars’. During the Covid-19 crisis, instructions and support for making embroidery, poetry and lullabies will be provided via post, on-line and on the phone for those who are housebound. 

A Necklace of Stars is an Arts Council England supported collaboration between Arts Derbyshire, DCC Public Health, Derbyshire Library Services and arts organisation arthur+martha. Collectively, we will make an embroidered quilt with a poem and song soundtrack, inspired by lullabies. Lullabies bring calm and comfort, and also tell insightful stories that pass on the depth of human experience from generation to generation.

 

cross stitch star

 

Using embroidery, poetry and repurposed bed sheets, pillow cases and pyjamas, stars will dance across the quilt. At a time when so many of us are suffering the negative effects of isolation lock-down, this project couldn’t be more timely. It will help to build confidence and wellbeing, reduce loneliness, forge connections and re-ignite creativity.

This project will culminate in a 12-month exhibition showing the quilt, poems and soundtrack in a variety of cultural venues across Derbyshire. 

If you are interested in taking part in this project (whether you have no experience or plenty), or know of someone who might enjoy getting involved, please contact Sally Roberts on 07395 904386 or email sallyartsderbyshire@gmail.com You can also look at our page a-necklace-of-stars/ to find out more.

Hello to love

A Book of Ours, Projects

Stephen Raw was our expert guide today, leading us into the complex mystery that is calligraphy, particularly the discipline of the medieval script.

 

“It’s the curse of making the word visible,” as he says cheerfully. “How do we see our thoughts? What colour and what shape? And how do we get that onto paper? That’s where it takes the time…”

 

All of the group plunged into that inky ocean to make their pages of calligraphy. Like learner swimmers, they started cautiously but were soon splashing about, making a glorious mess and making beauty, often on the same page.

 

caligraphy practice

 

Chris developing his Viking runes, stretching out across the page. T at first wrestling with the lettering, and then tracing and retracing, selecting the best letters, seeing the page transforming to her touch. M working long and hard at the correct order of setting each letter down in the right proportions — and then suddenly a phrase has landed in the middle of its page, scripted so beautifully it’s a poem in its own right. Hello to love.

 

Chris

But today contained other kinds of writing too. For one of the other group members it was an opportunity to write about experiences of homelessness, to write at high speed, with a simple biro. To put those experiences down on paper, and to consider them for the first time. Sometimes putting experiences down on paper can be like putting down a heavy weight. Afterwards comes relief. The memories are part of this project too and in due course they’ll find their expression somewhere in the pages of the illuminated manuscript A BOOK OF OURS.

Slowness is the beauty and the curse of getting words down on a piece of paper. We speak very quickly, and think even more rapidly. Writing down those words is a long process, which can be slow, frustrating, exhausting. But that’s also the beauty — working and thinking in slowmotion. There is time to enjoy each stroke of each letter, the choice of colour, the density of the ink, the music and meaning of each sentence, each word. And perhaps with this, comes more understanding.

Lawrence looked up from his paper, hands blotted with ink.

“I love all this,” he said.

 

 

With thanks to everyone at Back on Track and to all the National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I am your fan

A Book of Ours, Projects

Hello dude

Hei hvordan har du det

Hello anyone

With a kind heart

Hello peace of mind and good times

Babies, opportunities

Hello Mother Earth

May I be your son?

Hello to a job with decent money

Hello Hong Kong

Hello children

With my family, I dance in the rain.

 

Who do you treasure? Who are the people who’ve made a mark on your life — and what is that mark? Can you find their traces in the things that you believe now, the things that you have said and done? Last week at Back on Track, people wrote a poem about hellos and goodbyes. Some of lines are commemorate the dead, others commemorate significant farewells. It also welcomes in the new, opens a window to the living.

 At the top and tail of this blog entry are extracts from the poem Ballad No. 4. It’s a long collaborative poem for The Office of the Dead, the last section of A BOOK OF OURS. It is a response to Ballad IV by the medieval poet Christine de Pizan — a poem that’s a list of farewells. Every few weeks we come back to this poem and add some names. Sadly some of them are recent names, claimed by drugs and street life.

Alongside poetry making was art making. Lawrence, a longstanding member of the group, arrived early and was working on his page before we had even had a chance to unpack all the art and poetry equipment. His latest page is taking shape, he’s been adding colour to his page, flashes of gold,  the luminosity of the inks, it’s reminiscent of stained glass windows. As the session went on, we observed Lawrence going through many emotions; frustration as a colour smudges, delight and pride when the artwork develops. The design of the page is directly inspired by the medieval manuscripts we have been studying, but with Lawrence adds twist of humour, his own story, his way of looking at the world, a boldness of ink and pencil.

Chris was working on his calligraphy skills, also riding a roller coaster of learning, of emotions. The members of the group are finding new skills, surprising themselves, the Book of Ours is truly a thing of delight.

Lawrence

The rest of the morning was spent making triolets, painting portraits with words — portraits of people we care about, people who will stay with us forever even if they’ve gone.

It was only the second time this group has worked together and it was already an day rich in making connections and making art. As we work, the group are starting to bond, to trust one another. And as they do so they’ll encourage each another to go deeper, to be more daring, to expose the heart.

 

Farewell Dreadlocks

“Farvel, friend.”

Farewell Man City,

Away matches, blue moon

Farewell Davs, fair friendship

Farewell cheekiness, smile and aura

Farewell graceful dewdrop

Farewell Sean B, dodging the dream police

Snows of yesteryear

Lead you to sleep

Farewell to arms, put down your axe

The music’s over, let your plectrum rest

Wave bye bye to

Wounded fingers

Farewell to my sister

I remember

Her smile. Where is she now

Whose beauty was more than ours?

my guardian angels

 

 

Phil and Lois

 

A quill under your pillow

A Book of Ours, Projects

One of the delights of each different arthur+martha project, is the chance to work with new specialists to gain new skills and inspiration, to see things with fresh eyes. For the Book of Ours project next year we will be joined by singer songwriter Matt Hill, this year we had the delight of working with Calligrapher Stephen Raw. Stephen writes about his experiences here.

Once again I have the feeling that there is something strangely transformative about calligraphy. Even complete beginners somehow grapple with the wretched pen and enjoy their results! How can you write anything when the nib is thick one way and thin the other and only goes in one direction!? (Little wonder that Mr. Biro was so successful with his wonderful invention.) And wrestling with a quill-like pen was exactly what happened in the workshop – look at the smiles on faces proudly showing the fruits of their labour.

Relevant to the ‘Book of Ours’ project is the fact that some of those novice monks copying manuscripts way back when in scriptoriums were actually illiterate. But this is perhaps no surprise when you consider that our letters are only a manipulation of four simple strokes in various combinations: a vertical, a horizontal, a curve and an angle. The rest is creative embellishment. In the workshop I was telling someone about the time in the 1980s when I lived and taught in Papua New Guinea. One day Makali, a caver, came to the art school without any ability to read and write at all. Yet, when given my drawing of text he managed to produce sublime v-cut letters in wood.

He, as Booth Centre participants do, was dealing with pure form in much the same way I might approach unfamiliar Chinese or Singalese script. Nevertheless, the question remains: why our pleasure in calligraphic script? My observation and guess is that it has something to do with the very nature of an internal contrast within a single letter. Any letter has one part that grows from fat to thin and back again in such a beautiful, gradual manner. And what is more, it’s all gratis – the ‘magic’ pen does it all. Keep it flat on the paper, keep the angle the same and hey presto – letters with inbuilt vitality and variation. No need for contortions of wrist and fingers – just get a grip and off you go. I’ll risk sounding patronising but it never ceaes to delight me when it happens. 

The resulting pages in a ‘Book of Ours’ visually speaks of such enjoyment. For sure, some of the letterforms might be wobbly or even ‘scuffed’ (no, not a technical term) but the connection between those monks and the Booth Centre writers is right there in front of us. The process of capturing language and making it visible has always been spellbinding. George Orwell, writing in 1946, said how language is ‘an instrument which we shape for our own purposes’. He wasn’t really talking about the way letters look but he was aware to the importance of fixing language with letters. Without script our lives would be confined to simply conversation or monologue. I love the story – probably apochrophal – of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, who placed a quill under his pillow at night in an attempt to learn how to write. He knew the importance of it but couldn’t be bothered to do the graft of getting frustrated with that wretched pen. Charlemagne could have learnt something from those at the Booth Centre workshop who stuck with it! 

Modern Classics

A Book of Ours, Projects

“Script writers would love to sit around this table, with so many stories to hear. There is no need for us to regurgitate another Hollywood “classic”. Everybody makes a bit of this. There are so many tales brought to this table that are of the now. There’s modern classics here.”

Matthew

James. JPG

 

The Book of Ours is a beautiful, decorative text that talks about homelessness. It is a story made by many storytellers, and it challenges just as it charms. It’s not a straightforward telling of straightforward history, it’s a poetic journey that is expressed through art, as well as language. The stories it tells are memories of childhood, days of wonder, of joy, and they are heard and made in kindness. But they are also at times brutal and shockingly sad.

Today, the storytellers described living conditions in hostels in Poland, the pleasure of being a pagan, fatherhood, the grind of alcoholism and the delight of sunshine on a cold day.

Downstairs as we worked, people packed in the warm rooms of the Booth Centre at mealtimes. The temperature is dropping, especially at night and folk living on the street struggle to stay warm. But  a cliche of homelessness is sleeping rough, whereas the reality is that there are many kinds of homelessness. There are thousands of people sofa surfing, sleeping in cars, staying with a succession of friends. There are also many people coming to eat at homeless shelters because they’re on zero hours contracts and money is too tight to mention. It’s often a secret. Perhaps your friend or family member is experiencing a life like this, perhaps you are.

It’s not a simple picture and the the means we’ve used are not simple either. There are many stories here, many hands have drawn and scribed. All play their part in the telling — and all are welcome, for without them we would be lesser.

 

The Killing floor- Matins

 

With thanks to everyone at The Booth Centre, and to all the National Lottery players and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

 

 

The Angel & the Saint

A Book of Ours, Projects

Yesterday we were listing our own personal saints, the forces of goodness in our lives. The ones who come to the rescue.

 

“Walking through a burning door, without a care.”

(Anon)

Mathew, angel and the saint

 

This new section in the Book of Ours, titled the Suffrages, is made up of short poems describe the special qualities of the “Saints”, the people who bring positivity into our lives. They aren’t necessarily official holy people, as acknowledged by churches or religions, they’re simply the good guys in our lives who we want to acknowledge. They might be a friend, a teacher, a grandparent, a work colleague, a random stranger, but they have touched and transformed us, with wisdom, help of all sorts, kindness, or simply by being there.

In medieval times, the saints were written about in eight line verses called Triolets  and we’ve revisited this sort of poem to make lines that conjure up personal roll calls of saints. We’ve also used the more modern four line Clerihew poem form. In the old Book of Hours, the words of the Suffrages were accompanied by imagery, often showing the Saint in question at the time of martyrdom. The verses recounted the saints’ special qualities, their holy powers which could be called upon with the right prayers. In a way, saints were medieval superheroes and these particular pages of the Book of Hours were like kids’ bubblegum cards, which give a picture of your favourite hero/heroine and list their superpowers.

 

The poems today described parents, workmates, friends and the occasional superstar (Saint Jimi Hendrix).

 

The Book of Ours changes in front of our eyes, week to week. The first and largest section, the Calendar, is nearly complete. Not only is it a day by day account of the whole year, describing significant moments for each day, it is also a poem in itself. A poem that jumps meaning from line to line, because it’s written by many different authors. Sometimes defying logic, driven instead by intuition and luck, the story it tells rolls many experiences together. It is a rich patchwork of diverse lives, dark and light, kind and cruel, illuminated by angels and saints.

Lawrence, Joy

This workshop was part of the project A Book of Ours, creating an illuminated manuscript with people who have experienced homelessness or at risk of.  Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund
The Booth Centre is here to bring about positive change in the lives of people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness, to help them plan for and realise a better future.