Exhibition and archive

Stitching the Wars
PRESS RELEASE
TOUCHABLE HISTORY
A pair of quilts has been embroidered with the wartime history of Derbyshire by older people in the county. History arts project, Stitchingthe Wars opens at Derbyshire Records Office 4thOctober until the 5th January 2018. The two quilts then go into the National Collection held by The Quilters’ Guild. Poems, reminiscence, photos and the Stitching the Wars book will be archived at Derbyshire Records Office.
This award-winning project Stitching the Wars combines history, poetry and embroidery from older people living in rural Derbyshire, including many with dementia. Artist Lois Blackburn from the arts organisation arthur+martha made two collaborative community quilts embroidered with testimony from older people who survived two world wars.
Lois Blackburn commented: “This is art made by the public and we’ve been delighted to witness its growth and the richness of experience it contains. It is touchable history, quilts hand-stitched by over 400 older people with fragments of their stories. One of the great joys of the project has been to witness the pleasure of people with dementia who have taken part, turning memory from a thing to be feared to a thing to be relished. These quilts are a precious contribution to us all.”
The poems that border the quilts and appear in the accompanying book and sound recordings were made in collaboration with poet Philip Davenport. “Sometimes the most extraordinary and powerful things are said in day-to-day conversation. We’ve painstakingly written down people’s words and built them into poems together. Some of these are straightforward accounts of farming, cooking, schooldays, others are accounts of bombing raids and the fight to survive in wartime, and to survive poverty. It’s a chorus of many voices, many experiences.”
The exhibition in Matlock will share, archive photos, recorded readings of poems and reminiscence, and the accompanying book. They speak not only of violence, or sadness, but also of great affection for the past, for their fellow humans and for the beauty of the land around them. In love and in hate, in war and in peace, you’ll find their words here, set amongst stitched fields of greens and browns and blood red.
The project has been supported by Arts Council England, Foundation Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Dales Council, Age UK, The Alzheimer’s Society and The Farming Life Centre. We would like to thank the many, many people who have participated and whose work has made this a very special project.
STW Cover

Talking to John

armour, Projects

We’ve had two weeks away from the Booth Centre, for the project Armour. So much happens so fast in the lives of people who use the centre, two weeks here takes some catching up. At the reception desk, we were greeted by Peggy. She explained that the cards and flowers we saw as we came in were for Michael, who had sadly passed away a few days ago. He joins many other people we have met who experienced homelessness, and died too soon.

We spent much of the morning with John Felix, a documentary film maker (who made two beautiful, sensitive films about arthur+martha projects before The Homeless Libraryand Stitching the Wars). John was with us to start the Armour film, interviewing participants, filming some of the afternoon session.

Gamerson try out

rusted fabric embroidered, trial compositions for the project Armour

As with our previous experiences working alongside John, people seemed very at ease with him, sharing their stories with candour. Over the course of the day, we started to see the project afresh, through the comments gathered by John.

Key themes that came up included: People felt safe to reveal their inner selves to the group, a deeper often more vulnerable side of their lives and personality than otherwise would be shared. Many of the group described themselves as having literacy problems, and having problems at school, but that these were helped by the sessions. They felt they had the support to do something new, something that was difficult at times but incredibly rewarding.

One member spoke about the abuse suffered as a child, but how doing the workshops allowed them to speak about this, and share their story with family and friends. Others spoke about how having the time and space to be creative, to think, was enabling them to see the world differently outside the sessions…

The film will eventually be shown publicly in exhibitions and online, but right now as it develops we are able to see ourselves a little differently and perhaps understand more of the complex lives that this project reflects.

Behind brittle barriers

armour

Armour project, Booth Centre Manchester, 13th July 2017

Behind brittle barriers

Guest blog by singer-songwriter Matt Hill www.quietloner.com 

Here’s a question. Is it possible to get a group of non-musicians together in a room for a couple of hours and get them to write a song? I was asked by arthur+martha to come to the Booth Centre in Manchester to help them find out. I’m pleased to report that it certainly is possible!

Matt and Christine

Matt and Christine at the Booth Centre

Although none of our group had direct experience of writing songs they were certainly no strangers to creativity and ideas came thick and fast.  We started by thinking about the theme of our song – that of armour and protection. We did some exercises to help us find words associated with armour and words related to how armour makes us feel – safe, secure, protected.

To give us some inspiration we spent some time listening to and discussing a song called ‘I am a rock’ which was a hit song for Simon & Garfunkel back in 1965. The character in the song is someone who has been hurt deeply and is now a loner, without friends, hiding behind a self constructed wall.

We wondered what might have happened to this person to make him that way? We thought the most likely cause would be a family or relationship breakdown. Those kinds of problems are a known factor in causing homelessness and we found other parallels to the issues homeless people face.

The discussion touched on the extreme vulnerability of sleeping rough, when a sleeping bag is your only armour. We talked about how drugs and alcohol can create an emotional fortress giving a (false) sense of protection. Above all we felt a sense of strong sadness that the person in ‘I am a rock’ was cutting themselves off from possible support and help. We decided our song would have some elements of positivity about love, faith and support.

‘The whole thing  (‘I am a rock’) is about me. But I am coming out of it. I want to face the music, not run away- to give up on love is to give up on life.’ Karlton

When we came to write our song we zoomed in on the word ‘barrier’. A barrier can be something that is put in place to keep people out. But it can also be put in place to offer us protection and keep us safe. We liked that it had two different sides to it. We discussed the implications of this – positive and negative – on people who put up barriers to others.

notes

An effective technique in songwriting is alliteration where several words beginning with the same letter are strung together. We decided to adopt this and went for ‘Behind brittle barriers’ as our title. We included the word ‘brittle’ to reflect that emotional barriers can be broken down, given the right amount of love and support.

‘I didn’t know I had this in me.’ Christine

After some thrashing out of melody and chords (we definitely wanted the song’s music to sound upbeat) we arrived at a finished version just as our 2 hour deadline approached. We then ran downstairs to do a very quick and impromptu performance! (Video link)
As a songwriter I’ve never worked on a song that was finished so quickly or one that was so truly collaborative. Each person in the group contributed something useful and different and the song reflects that with a broad range of ideas. Above all what I get from the song is a sense of hope – that everyone – brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers – are hiding behind barriers of some kind, but that they are brittle and with hope and faith in each other we can find the support we need.

 

 

SONG LYRICS
Behind brittle barriers

Behind brittle barriers you can’t feel safe

Behind brittle barriers you can’t feel the bass

Barriers block the way, push obstacles away

Behind brittle barriers

 

Cradle me in your arms and keep me safe

Don’t let me loose or lose my faith

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Clashing through conflict (Behind brittle barriers)

Sisters and mothers (Behind brittle barriers)

Encased in emotions (Behind brittle barriers)

Fathers and brothers (Behind brittle barriers)

 

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Soul, child, adult  (Behind brittle barriers)

Don’t lose your faith  (Behind brittle barriers)

Barriers block the way

Push obstacles away

People behind brittle barriers

 

Behind brittle barriers, behind brittle barriers

People behind brittle barriers

 

Stitching

Gavin stitching for the Armour Project

Fear

armour
safe in

Peggy Prestley’s embroidery for Armour, work in progress

Armour Project

Regime

 
Rage that’s used in order to control
relations, intimate partners
to achieve a golden dream a chiselled cold
fear that stings fear
where one isn’t aware
it looks like metal but it’s not.
 
Gavin
Phil writes:
The Booth Centre: there was also anxiety in the air this morning, it hit like a shock wave as I came through the door. Someone was trying high level intimidation, with raised fists, loud shouted outbursts, staring competitions. He was dressed in black, he paced the room, moving erratically and occasionally launching into another confrontation, while the staff tried to defuse his anger. Because people in the Centre are very attuned to threat, their radar was on  alert. They looked over each other’s shoulders while talking, there was an unsettled feel, objects kept being knocked off tables, people bumped into one another. It was as if an earthquake had dropped in for a cuppa.
As is the often the way there, I spoke to some people I have known for years and some I’d only met this morning. Every conversation was fragile, lightly touched by the presence of fear, yelling its head off in the corner. The first person I talked with was fighting back panic, he said. The next was joking with me, but kept checking the threat potential. The last had been awake four days straight, out on the streets. He’d not been eating, because of grief. He looked shrunken, like a an inhabitant of an institution, with over-large, over-bright eyes.
ryan giggs

Footballer Ryan Giggs on visit to the Booth Centre, Manchester. 

But walking alongside fear, and just as powerful, was the feeling of being thoroughly, immediately alive, and the intensity of each shared moment. A day at The Booth Centre is like this, you can squeeze several hours-worth of living into an instant. There’s a surreal-ness to the fast-forward rush of it all. It came as absolutely no surprise that the footballer Ryan Giggs suddenly turned up with a camera crew to meet folk, sign autographs, and add a further manic element. Suddenly beaming smiles and a celebrity frisson punctuated the atmosphere.
In the afternoon, making an oasis of stitching and poems, we read The idea of order at Key West by Wallace Stevens, a poem about reducing chaos. Its subtitle might be how to insure yourself against the effect of the world by finding safety in art. Or in other words, how to write your way out of fear. The writing was made sharper by the recollection of our morning demon, a malevolent drug dealer stalking his own mad shadows.
When I was fighting didn’t think that was dangerous
When a knuckle duster knocked out my tooth
Didn’t think that was dangerous 
And when I was driving 130mph, 
Didn’t think that was dangerous.
When I hold a knife, that’s the closest I come.
That’s closest:
“If I’m not careful with this
In my hand
It is dangerous.”
 
K
 
fish and chips I like to order
I don’t like the word chaos
it brings disorder
danger comes in all sorts
car, bus, tram
suicidal thoughts.
Peter Twigg
following mine

Peter Twigg’s embroidery- work in progress

Stitch in time

Stitching the Wars

It was a big pleasure to launch the Stitching the Wars quilts and book at the newly-opened Buxton Art Gallery and Museum. The first new artworks to be seen in the new-look gallery. The two quilts have been handmade in collaboration with hundreds of older people, with Lois directing the work. (Tom Jones a longstanding project participant, looked at the quilts, nodded and said, “Looking nice.”)

Catherine, Nadine and Brian.jpg

Catherine Serjeant (Blythe House Hospice) Dr Nadine Muller and Brian Oven, participant

 

Phil worked on collaborative poems during the project that distill many people’s experience of the two world wars, and the brief peace between the conflicts. But the poems also explore an understanding that gradually came to light during the project: there were two kinds of wars being fought in these lives, one a military war, the other a war against poverty.

 

Brian and quilt

Brian Oven, a regular participant to Stitching the Wars

A group of participants came to the gallery, some of whom were kind enough to read the poems aloud. The power of these reading resonated through the whole event.
Derbyshire Museums Manager Ros Westwood introduced the project, Lois talked us through the two quilts in detail and Phil gave a little overview of the project:
Stitching the Wars is history, made of stitches, and words, and memories.
The two quilts here have been team-stitched with over 400 older people involved, telling fragments of their stories about the effects of two world wars on life in Derbyshire. They talk about gentleness of rural life, but also hardship and the need to change.
“Sharing of life experience and the task of recording it as writing and art brings deep satisfaction – and the stories are extraordinary. A man who had witnessed Hiroshima just after the bomb. The Sheffield bombings through the eyes of a young boy. Bridling a horse for ploughing, a tradition of many generations…
“These two quilts contain many voices, they are work shared by many hands. Some people bravely faced up to fears and disabilities in the process of making them. Annie, a visually-impaired women, knitted for the first time in years, without sight she used only muscle memory. Dorothy, who has lost the use of one hand, carefully embroidered with the assistance of Olga holding an embroidery frame. And with encouragement Geoff took up needle and thread for the first time in his life.
“One of the biggest hurdles to overcome was the fear of memory itself, because many people who contributed to the quilt have dementia. The pleasure that people got from sharing their memories in a safe environment, was a delight.
“Stitching the Wars speaks about a particular time, but also speaks beyond it’s own time, because it is at heart the story of how life feels. We are all stitches in this story of Britain – sometimes it’s a joyful, colourful tapestry. Sometimes the colours are darker and stitches are needed to heal a wound. We talk together, we work together and sometimes we help each other to heal.”
Lois and Phil with Fresh Air & Poverty quilt

Artist Lois Blackburn and poet Philip Davenport, with Fresh Air and Poverty quilt

A Stitching the Wars quilt will be on view at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum until September 2017, the other quilt will be on tour around Derbyshire. The Book Stitching the Wars will be available to purchase through the museum shop. 

We are thrilled to share we have just had confirmation that the two Stitching the Wars quilts will be going on to form part of the National collection at The Quilters’ Guild in October. http://www.quiltmuseum.org.uk/collections/

Quilts with a story to tell

Projects, Stitching the Wars

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

QUILTS WITH A STORY TO TELL AT BUXTON MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY

A pair of quilts embroidered with the wartime history of Derbyshire is set to go on display. History arts project, Stitching the Wars, opens at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on 7 June, 1-3pm
STW Cover

This award-winning project combines history, poetry and embroidery by older people living in rural Derbyshire, including many with dementia. The two quilts are embroidered with testimony from older people who survived two world wars.

Councillor Barry Lewis, Leader of Derbyshire County Council and Designate Cabinet Member for Strategic Leadership, Culture and Tourism said: “These beautiful quilts, and the memories behind them, make for a fascinating and moving exhibition. They are a lovely demonstration of the value of projects that combine community and local history to create art.”

Artist Lois Blackburn from the arts organisation arthur+martha is behind the collaborative community quilts. Ms Blackburn said: “This is touchable history, quilts hand-stitched by over 400 older people with fragments of their stories. One of the great joys of the project has been to witness the pleasure of people with dementia who have taken part, turning memory from a thing to be feared to a thing to be relished.”

The opening event, on 7 June from 1pm to 3pm, will also see the launch of an accompanying book, containing photos, stories and poems. One of the quilts ‘Fresh Air and Poverty’, will remain on display until 30th September.

The project received grants totalling £38,880 from Arts Council England, Foundation Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Dales Council, Age UK, The Alzheimer’s Society and The Farming Life Centre.

For media enquiries please contact the DCC communications office on 01629 538205.

Solice from memory dark

armour, Projects

When I was homeless, I used to put my head in a box- I was sleeping on a park bench, with cardboard to keep the draft from below and a box to keep the wind of my head. A box, a lovely form of protection- it works very well.”  Georgina.

Our third session at the Booth Centre, for the project Armour, and this time we were joined by artist/poet/performer Johnny Woodhams.

It’s a hard to explain in words sometimes, better to experience. As I have talked about in previous blogs, The Booth Centre does something remarkable- gives a safe space to some of the most vulnerable in society. And more than that, creates a tolerant, optimistic, creative working space that I feel privileged to work in.

‘Making art, takes your mind away from things.’ Garry

 Shrine
Shrine, part of the Armour project

With Johnny leading the session, the room took on a jovial atmosphere and somehow, at odds to the stereo types of the pained artist, in stickered misery,the laughter and support allowed people to talk about some darkness, darkness that nobody would want to face. One man, living with his fiancée and son, recently dying in a house fire, created a shrine. A deeply personal brave piece, that effected all of the viewers.

‘Making art, helps an erratic mind, it stimulates- you’ve found the secrete to help homeless people.’ Dave.

Johnny had filled a two tables with an eclectic mix of objects, bones, wooden boxes, an old violin, books, tiny figures of people. Without pausing anon, (a veteran of the armed forces) choose a large piece of tree bark and started writing his train of thought onto it.

Peter's bark

“The sway from your branches, to and fro, my home, not to share, my solace from memory dark, noice, panic, fear, tearing at my brain… you comfort me still, my house, my treehouse’  (insert photo)

Quietly spoken, he explained to me later, that he had spent 2 years living in a tree house, only coming down to the ground in the dead of night.

Gary’s artwork coincidentally picks up on another aspects of trees- their life cycle and the importance of trees/cardboard and wood in a homeless persons life. Taking us back in a circle to Georgina….

Lois Blackburn

 Johnny and Armour
Johnny Woodhams at the Booth Centre

I had no real idea what I was expecting to find and feel at the Booth Centre having never been there before. I was afraid that my concept for the session might be met with boredom or resentment…after all what do I know about what it’s like to live on the street? What I found was the best ‘family’ of folk I’ve met in a long time….staff, volunteers and visitors alike…genuine, welcoming, comforting and inclusive….what an absolutely great place.

The outcomes of the session were raw and hugely emotive but the power of humour and strength were ever present throughout the day….I cannot wait to go back….I can see a hundred more things we could do! Writing is at it’s best when it is honest  and rooted in truth…there are some bloody great writers here but often my favourite pieces are the most basic and simplistic because no language is wasted…it is as the person speaks….

This session was utterly touching, emotive and beautiful even in its sadest themes…it lifted my spirits enormously and reminded me how important the power of art is even more so in these current climes….

Any one of us could easily fall into this position…the mixture of amazing characters was complete testament to this…..

Johnny Woodhams