Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Royal Belter

We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection. This week Glenys from Gallery Oldham brought in a collection of souvenir Royal ceramics for the group to handle.

Doreen and Irene's Royal beakers

Lois writes about the process:

It's refreshing to take words, painting and drawing off flat paper and onto a three dimensional shape, it encourages thinking in the round - continuous circular texts or drawings.

I used my own collection of Royal Souvenir ceramics to inspire the background of the paper beakers, painting simple circular frames, stripes and washes of colour in blues and gold. If time allowed, all the painting would be done by the participants, but in this case I wanted to get a head start, allowing time in the session for reminiscence and poetry making.

Denise's Royal Beaker

Our group includes people who find it physically difficult to draw, some who have little confidence and some people who are open to anything, so as ever I approached the art making as a bit of fluff, a game, encouraging people not to be to precious or concerned about the end results. Their task was to paint or draw a themselves as Royals, or if that was too much to simply write a message. Denise's (above) borrows from the Royal mugshot tradition, immortalising her date of birth and her name with the additional HRH.

Other members of the group illustrated their beakers with pictures of Royal Selves, a gloomy Prince Charles and sundry crowns. There was a real sense of fun and delight at the end results.

Reet brought along two of her young relatives, who charmed everyone with their enthusiasm and confidence. This like so many of the creative ideas arthur+martha use is one that can be adapted for participation by any age-group, no matter how blue their blood.

More photos can be found at

Thursday, 21 February 2013

safe with my mum

We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection. 

Yesterday at The Grange I made some short films of Reet and Irene reading their poems from the previous week, clips of the readings are shown here. 

For more about this project please see making memories

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

wedding ring

We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection.

Philip writes:

Our afternoon session at Werneth Lodge on 13 February was with a group of older people with a wide range of abilities. We tried a writing technique that's often served us well when there are many voices to accomodate and a number people have difficulty writing. It's a trick that I inadvertently invented when we were working in Stockport, training a student. Two people make notes of a conversation with a participant or participants. The notes are then read back line by line, each reader alternating. This creates an echoing effect, but with lots of variants, because no two people will write exactly the same notes from a conversation. In fact when Lois and I tried it at the workshop in Werneth Lodge, our notes were remarkably different, but the following poem gives a sense of this method.

The conversation was stimulated by Lois' own wedding memorabilia.

wedding ring

white wedding pink flowers

very long time ago

a garter

married a long time

a helluva long time


a bit of a scent

the faint scent of cloves

we choose to forget

a wedding ring

a buttonhole the men wore

the bride a bouquet

a long white dress

wore white

at All Saints

he a carnation

and a party after

and a couple of drinks

a garter to

hold your stockings up

hold your socks up

to the knee

plenty of confetti

nice to be wed in a church

everyone went

something borrowed

something old

we spoke latin

pink roses

carnations a spray

white wedding, pink flowers

a long time ago

my hair mother washed

put rollers in, that was it

washed, curled around

a rose petal heart-shaped


a garter with little bows

always someone to take a photo

everybody went to a wedding

with their garters

a knees-up

I remember mine quite well

jump over the table

white wedding, nice

weather a long time ago

always somebody there to

take a photograph

a corsage, a buttonhole

my first stockings


a nervous wreck

four older sisters all married

but me

a do at the pub

father watching

he didn't like the beer

so we went running round the corner

a gold shoe, a wedding gift

a little tear, one, two, three

Bill's mother, my mother

white pillars

oh the wedding cake, mother-made

two-tier, little white pillars

a cake tin, keep them locked in

for christenings

a ring of roses keep them tight

with icing

two little figures on top

wearing white

no hanky panky beforehand

a wedding ring

a wedding band



had a boy in 55

he's married now

my son has

got his life and

so it goes round.

Group Poem

13 Feb 2013

Werneth Lodge

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Great British Tea Ceremony

Videos: Philip reading poems by Irene and Doreen, Oldham Feb 2013

Philip writes:

We're working in partnership with Gallery Oldham to help rethink their reminiscence boxes as tools to stimulate art, writing and shared reflection. The two videos document poems written using a very simple prop - teacups.

Today Lois and I brought in a mixture of teas and the group tasted them from old china cups - letting the tastes lead the reminiscence. Tea is one of the Great British Comforts. It's a lull point in the day when work stops and people have a moment of respite. During close family moments, moments of rest, or in crisis, the Brits reach for their Rosie Lee.

The two poems in the videos touch on the comfort tea brings (Irene's mum and her constancy and lemondrops) but also evoke a much harsher day-to-day  in the 1930s, when long working hours and lack of money were most people's lot (Doreen's recollection). Sadly, both participants requested that I read out their work for them on this occasion, but you can hear the beauty of their voices as they add comments along the way.

We've been trying a whole series of art and poetry exercises with older people, in response to the objects that might typically be in a reminiscence box - ceramics, old toys, cotton mill photos and so on. The poems featured in this particular blog were written by participants employing a simple, but effective technique. A single sheet of paper is folded in half and two separate pieces about two contrasting subjects are written into each column. The paper is then opened out and by reading across the opened page, both pieces blend together. Here, we asked people to write their taste impressions in one column and then memories of tea-drinking with their mothers in the other column.

A third poem, written by Reet during this session, gives an idea of how this looks on the page:

oolong teapot on the hob
in front of fire fruit
black leaded range
mum had a gentle

earl grey voice
but heavy-handed (ouch!)
I'm trying to fathom the taste
wonderful hot oxo made me cosy

lapsang souchong safe
my mum the smell is medicine
taste of smoke in the comfort.

These pieces were written quickly and during the distraction of conversation, but they also carry some of the spontaneous charm of that moment and the memories evoked. The poems might be re-edited, reworked, whatever people wish to do with them. The point is that they help distill memory and allow it to be shared - and valued.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

clogs chafing me

Glenys from Gallery Oldham joined us yesterday in workshops for making memories. She had with her a reminiscence box themed on the Cotton Mills. It was a subject that everyone in the room was affected by in some way, with relatives in the mills, or mill experience themselves. From the Industrial Revolution until the 20th Century, Oldham was a major centre of textile manufacture, particularly cotton spinning. It was wonderful to witness the objects and photos come alive as the group sparked into conversation.

Doreen reflected on her mother:  I would sit there with her in the mill sometimes if I were ill. Nobody said anything. Would have me meals with her. She never wanted me to go in there to work, she were determined. She swore I wouldn’t go into a mill, and I didn’t. She started in the ring room, did cones to go down to the card room. Used to sit in the ring room and have me dinner there. My mother wouldn’t have allowed me to work there. I sat for many hours whilst she worked. Took jam butties, she couldn’t afford childcare.

She spoke in a matter of fact way about poverty and held the attention of the whole group.

Had irons on me clogs, they were very uncomfy, chafed me ankles. Had to wear them as they were cheap. Got them at a shop at the top of Barker Street and there were May's Pawn shop lower down. Used to take clothes for me mother. Have them out for the weekend, then back in the pawn shop. Our best clothes and shoes. Course you were embarrassed, you would go round the back door- make sure no one was looking. Only posh people went in the front door- but they weren’t hawking stuff.

A women hawker came to us. Had a cinder bag selling second-hand clothes in it - I never had new clothes. Never had no shoes proper me, had clogs because they gave them out. We were allowed so many a year. Was born in 1936. Never had carpets on the floor, we did the donkey stones on the floor inside. Mother did peg rugs, some lovely designs. We must have been very poor, we didn’t think about it. 

Me mother was on the means test. It makes you different as you grow up. I made sure I gave my children everything. I think I went a bit over the top, spoilt them a bit.

Denise embroidering her picture of a clog.
embroidered shuttle
I offered members of the group squares of calico and coloured threads and invited them to explore the objects in more depth by drawing them, then embroidering them onto the fabric. Some gave polite excuses (hands not able to hold a needle anymore) others picked up the artwork straightaway and got on with the creative exercise. The conversation turned to the joy of stitching, past hobbies...

Doreen embroidering a shuttle

At the end of the session, the group reflected on the session: When people start talking it jogs your memory, it's really interesting. I got plenty off my chest, thank you. Doreen.

I didn’t come at first because I didn’t think I could remember anything, but when I came last week I thought how grand it were. Irene.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

This was my buffet

I always experience a mix of nerves and excitement as I venture into a new venue, like yesterday as I entered Werneth Lodge for the first time, as part of the project 'making memories'. Things were put into perspective by the reminiscence of one of the women who joined us. 'T' came to England from Hungry as a 14 year old to work in the mills, leaving all her friends and family behind, speaking no English and knowing no-one.

"The Russians came through and raped all the women. I was only 12 years old and they would have raped me. My father hid me under my younger brothers and sisters, they sat on me hiding me. They were only little, but I was well-hidden. 

"They advertised to work in England, I was 14 or 15. My friend and me came, she went to Rochdale and I ended up here. Had to learn English, everyday I spoke to the girls, so I learnt. I lived in a hostel at first, all girls together. Had to learn fast in the mill, had to learn everything, everyday had to learn. I spoke to them all day long.

"Did shift work till I retired, I ran two machines from 6am to 2pm I liked the work. In the card room, you had to comb your hair when you came out of that room it was so dusty, covered in cotton. I didn’t like anything in my hair, I could have had a mask, but all that sweating, didn’t like it. I must have breathed in a lot of cotton. I tried to claim, but they said I wasn’t bad enough to claim - sometimes I couldn’t breath because of it… they say I’m not bad enough.

"We would lip read it were that noisy, and speak with your hands. Mostly women in the mill. The men did nothing, sat with their arms folded watching us working hard. Piece work, wrote it from the clock. Then is the tea ready? I worked 8 hours, then had to make the bloody tea, and he was at home… Started work at 6 o clock till 2.00 for years. I liked it."

'This was my buffet' before embroidery

I asked Joan whether they got bored doing the same job everyday day in day out: "We were that busy, winding, would set them all off, then sit on my wooden buffet and watch it go round, and when it got big enough into a big basket. Threaded each one separate, pull it all along." 

All the group enjoyed looking at the handling materials, I noted Joan whole stance changed as she handled the objects and viewed the photos, she became very animated, and wanted to share her experience and knowledge with the others. 

Conversation was full of laughter and joy, even if the subject matter was difficult at times. Throughout the session members of staff where drawn by the laughter, peered round the door to see what was going on.

Stitching for this group was to difficult for me alone, it will need one-to-one support to get more complex creative activity going here. However Joan did a beautiful drawing of her 'buffet' (a wooden stall used in the mill) to be embroidered another day.

Friday, 1 February 2013

working memory: exhibition

An exhibition of new artwork by arthur+martha's Lead Artist Lois Blackburn has started a tour in Derbyshire. It shows part of a collection of artwork, reminiscences and ­embroidery exploring the working lives of older people living in the region.

on your hands and knees scrubbing mono print, marbled paper. Lois Blackburn 2013

The project gathers memories on the theme of work. It recalls a time when most young people started work at 14, left school on a Friday, started work on the Monday. This was a time when a job was for life, with long working days, poor conditions, and often a six-day week. Artist, Lois Blackburn has reproduced reminiscences using people’s own words, and illustrated the stories in collage and embroidery, put together as handmade books.

Join the Naafi, monoprint and marbled paper, Lois Blackburn 2013

The people Lois engaged with spoke of hardship, boredom, friendships, expectations, families, and duty… with a mixture of humour, poignancy, honesty and often great affection for a time past. Lois hopes that these words and pictures will inspire and prompt further conversations, reminiscences, and pictures.

Working memories, hand made book Lois Blackburn 2013

This exhibition is a celebration of all of the wonderful people who have so generously shared their memories with Lois over the months.

A big thank you to all of the groups, volunteers, and staff who have made this possible. Bakewell Dementia Cafe,  Bakewell Age UK,  Buxton Dementia CafĂ©,  60 Not Out New Mills,
Stroke Support Group New Mills.

two pot dogs, embroidery, Lois Blackburn 2012

The schedule for the touring exhibition is;

Jan – March 2013 – Long Eaton Library
April – June 2013 – Glossop Library
July – Sept 2013 – Alfreton Library
Oct – Dec 2013 – Dronfield Library
Jan – March 2014 – Bolsover Library

scrubbing, embroidery, Lois Blackburn 2012
For more photos please visit

stitch them together, embroidery, Lois Blackburn 2012
The project working memories was funded by Arts Council England, Derbyshire Dales District Council and Derbyshire Community Foundation.