We learn from each other

Projects, War Widows Stories

Yesterday I had the privilege to join the Devon War Widows’ Association for a very special afternoon tea. Privilege may sound a strong way of describing it, but it feels very real. The meeting echoed others with the War Widows; a group of women who I’ve never met before, a short time describing the project, a while of quiet conversation and contemplation, then people start to open up. People share memories of their late husbands, of the drive for survival for themselves, their children. Of the mess of emotions, the hierarchy surrounding widowhood- husbands who died in conflict and those who died after as a result of conflict, campaigns for pension rights, for better recognition … and much else. And laughter to, and debates over which is the right way to make a cream tea- cream on first or jam?

Irene Wills beautiful contribution to the War Widows’ Quilt

Materials, instructions, treads and SAE for the making of the War Widows’ Quilt where handed out to everyone. And as I was starting to pack up, Irene C. who had been sitting next to me during much of the tea, leaned over and explained:

“This is the most interesting meeting I’ve ever been to. There have been things to think about, it’s made things seem real- Audrey whose 90, will have very different memories than someone younger, or those who husbands have died as a result of a conflict. It’s made me think about it in a different way, to re-evaluate how to think about war widows.

Having something to make, to do, (the quilt) makes you feel part of it- I’m proud of being a Plymouth member, but now I feel part of the wider group of war widows. We learn from each other.”

A big thank you to all the women of the Devon War Widows’ Association that made me feel so welcome and shared so much of themselves.

History from the inside

Books and publications

THE WARM /&/ THE COLD

History from the inside

“Testimony forged into art…” Ian McMillan

A unique, many-voiced history told in poetry and art made by homeless people, older people (many with dementia) and young offenders launches at Manchester Central Library on 10 June 12-4pm. The event is part of Manchester Histories Festival 2018 Celebrations Day.

THE WARM /&/ THE COLD is an illustrated poetry book by many authors. Hundreds of marginalized people have collaborated to makepoems, artworks, and quilts, ceramics – all adorned with their life stories. Arts organisation arthur+martha have worked for several years with diverse communities in North West England: an alternative history of British life, insider stories that find nothing new in austerity, but have plenty of survival tips.

alice and cut up

Artist Lois Blackburn: “Sometimes you’ve just got to pin your heart on your sleeve and say who you really are. We’ve been privileged to share these moments with the people who’ve contributed, its history told with inside knowledge. On some days this project has been heartbreaking, but many times it has also been a joy.”

Embroidered into quilts, written onto tourist postcards, made into tattoo designs, and ceramics designs, and printed as posters, these poetic testimonies stretch outside the usual arena of literature, to include people whose words and very existence are often unrecorded and ignored.

Steve and Andy

The book launch links to a song and visual performance at The People’s History Museum on Monday 11thJune, lunchtime 12-1 with artist Lois Blackburn (arthur+martha)  singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, of the new work ‘Moving Panorma’.

Poet Philip Davenport: “Our work follows an ancient tradition of passing on people’s history through poems, songs, artworks and stitch. It also continues the work of people like Ewan McColl and Charles Reznikov, who shared people’s words in the form of poems and songs, as a form of protest. The launch coincides with our 11th birthday as an organisation — and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the moment.”

naughty boy

The illustrated poetry book has been funded by the National Association for Literary Development and gathers hundreds of the collaborators within its pages. It also includes a Foreword by Ian McMillan and Afterword by Jerome Rothenberg; the project was helped by poets Stephen Emmerson, Dr Scott Thurston, Steve Giasson, Rebecca Guest and copland smith. THE WARM /&/ THE COLD has been made possible by longstanding arthur+martha partners The Booth Centre homeless day centre.

 

Launch date: Manchester Central Library, 10 June 12-4pm

Book price: £10

 

Sushila

 

Notes for Editors

1) This event is part of Manchester Histories Festival 2018, the 5th edition of the Greater Manchester-wide biennial festival with the theme protest, democracy, and freedom of speech. Delivered by Manchester Histories the 2018 Festival will offer a long-weekender of music, film, debate, talks, performance, walking tours, arts and more. Visit http://www.manchesterhistories.co.uk

2) The Booth Centre brings about positive change in the lives of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and helps them plan for and realise a better future. They do this by providing advice to find accommodation, education, training and help to secure employment, free healthy meals, support in tackling issues with health and addiction, and creative activities to boost confidence and self esteem. The Booth Centre is an independent, registered charity (no. 1062674)

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The journey of two quilts

Stitching the Wars

I’m currently looking at the Stitching the Wars quilts, I’m checking to see if there are any repairs to be made. They’re about to take another journey, this time their off to York to the Quilters’ Guild to be archived in their collection. While I’m stitching, making repairs my mind is musing about the life this quilt has already had.  It’s a quilt that is been made by many hands, (over 500 people contributed) some nimble, some inflicted with arthritis, seen by sharp eyes and those with limited sight. whilst making it people chatted, their minds wondered, they shared memories, day to day concerns and delights. For some the simple pleasure was working with rich colours,  many delighting in the pleasure of enjoying different textures of fabric in their hands, from silks to felts, to knits, velvets and tweeds, for people living with dementia, this multi sensory experience can be hugely beneficial.

Fresh air and Poverty

‘Fresh Air and Poverty’ at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

 

Workshops took place in day centres, a hospice, craft groups, dementia cafes, Libraries, always with cups of tea and biscuits. Materials for the quilts was donated, brought from charity shops and occasionally from fabric shops. Fabric was dyed in big baths of colour, inspired by the Derbyshire landscape for a bombers moon and by colours associated with wealth and grandeur, for fresh air and  poverty.

As the quilts grew in size we found space to look at them and put them together where ever we could, whether that was the floor of a library, or the largest tables we could find. I would stand bouncing on a chair to try and get a view of the whole. When you are making quilts it’s all about the touch, then they take on a different life, in exhibitions, there is rarely touching allowed.

 

bombers-moon

‘A Bomber’s Moon, photographed at National Trusts Lyme Park © Garry Lomas

I am very keen that the work gets shown in a wide variety of venues. First of all the quilts get shown to the people who have collaborated in the making of them. Then we have mixed grand venues with more humble exhibition spaces. From the National Trusts Lyme Park,  a viewing by Prince Charles at the Farming Life Centre,  the walls at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum, they have sat along side books in a tour of Derbyshire libraries, and exhibited at Derbyshire Record Office, archives shown alongside photos from our book, and from Pictures of the Past.

Dorothy with quilt

Dorothy, one of our participants, and her embroidery ‘Clouds Farm’.

Every time I look at the quilts I see something different and memories are sparked for me, memories of the people who made the work and the stories they shared, the struggles they overcame to stitch, to remember. The delight in sharing,  the excitement in seeing the work coming together. The awards of having your voice and talents shared and respected.  As I look at it today the colours have never seen seemed so vivid, the work so full of life. I’ve had my hands  and eyes over every square inch of this quilt and yet I am seeing something new today. It’s nearly time for me to let them go and pass them on for another life and I can’t think of a better place for them to go to. In the safe hands of The Quilters’ Guild, the quilts will be photographed, kept safe for posterity and will be a available for exhibitions, as learning tools, to be enjoyed and a record of all the people who helped make them. Seeing them today has reignited my passion for this art form there is so much more to explore and to share. I am thrilled that these two quilts that has meant so much to the people who have made them, will be looked after with so much care and shared around the world.

 

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

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.