Friday, 28 June 2013

New films launched on youtube

Five new short films made by arthur+martha's Lead Artist Lois Blackburn have just been launched on YouTube.  They combine reminiscences, photography and illustrations, exploring the working lives of older people living in the Derbyshire.

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. The films combine oral history, with Lois's illustrations and photos from the wonderful collection at

Scrubbing collaged marbled paper and monoprint, 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. You can now view them on YouTube by clicking on the following links:

These films are 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.

The project working memories was funded by Arts Council England, Derbyshire Dales District Council and Derbyshire Community Foundation.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

A museum in miniature

Objects of our affection
Warrington Museum & Art Gallery, 26 June 2013

We're working with a group of carers to re-label objects at Warrington Museum, creating new viewpoints and stories from items we've encountered in the museum displays and the stores. Not only is this a chance to creatively re-think some of the museum collection, it is also a much-needed respite for the carers from their demanding roles.

By the Fire Sylvia

Seagull, Josie 2013
This week we started in the handling stores, I invited participants to choose 5 objects from 5 different boxes. Objects had to remind them of someone or something, or a time in their life.

They were then given the task of writing about each of their objects in 5 lines. A break from the writing came with an opportunity to play with clay- creating a miniature of one or more of their objects in air dry clay. Then back to the words, choosing the most pertinent line and re-writing it 5 times on a swing tag- changing the order of the words each time. 

Their museum in miniature made me re-look at the objects: In response to taxidermy seagull, Josie wrote 'Never to smell sea or drift along on the wind'... For a clog, Sylvia evoked the memory of the sound and light with 'Sparkling, twinkling with each step' 
I enjoy the thought provoking final line of Derek's swing tag, 'chosen for printing its memories'

Pressed Leaf, Dave 2013

Sparking Clog, Sylvia 2013

Book, Carol 2013

Barge Jug, Derek 2013

Lying in Wait, Christine 2013

Printing Memories, Derek 2013
Derek, Sylvia, Carol and Christine

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Holidays at home

Objects of Our Affection 18th June

A trip to the handling stores, allowed a relaxed encounter with the objects in the museum, unlike the museum stores, no white gloves were needed to reveal the collected objects. This collection is used by museum staff for workshops with children and reminiscence with older people, I felt like a child at Christmas unwrapping one box after another. 

I invited the participants to try and find objects in the handling collection that revealed something about themselves. Colin's eyes lit up when he found a Babies Gas Mask.

Colin and Babies Gas Mask
In 1938 the British Government gave everyone including babies gas masks to protect them in case the German's dropped poison gas bombs on Britain. The gas mask was for children up to 2 years old. The parents would place the baby inside the mask so that the head was inside the steel helmet, and the baby could see through the visor. I can't imagine the horror of having to put one of these on my children or even the 'friendlier' so called 'Mickey Mouse' gas mask for the older children.

"Mickey Mouse" Gas Mask, with Courtesy of Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

And yet for Colin the Babies Gas Mask just brought up joyous memories, he recalled using them as a boy after the war, as space helmets in dress-up play. A beautiful reflection of the space race and how children can turn virtually anything into play. 

Another strand in the sessions used the photos from last weeks trip to the Museum Stores, and photos from the Handling Collection mixed with writing selecting lines from their poems.

'Broken watch' photo/poem Colin

Flat Iron photo/poem, Sylvia

Participants found connections between museum objects (and sometimes their own eg. Colin brought in a broken watch belonging to his birth mother, the only object of hers he owns) and lines recalling memories about loved ones, or descriptions of their own lives. The group open up more each time we meet and gradually reveal some of the realities of the life as a carer, with the help of these art and poetry exercises. When I asked Sylvia to described herself in relation to an object she explained;

"a cog in a wheel, just keeps going, every things going all the time, going, going, going, when you stop, you go to sleep"

Like a cog in a wheel. photo/poem Sylvia

Carol described herself 'like glue, I seem to be the one who keeps the family together, I hold everything together... I never associated myself as a carer, I just fell into it, I didn't realise at first- you do a little bit, then a little bit more and then before you know it you're there"

Josie, monoprinting

Josie created some monoprints inspired by the beach hut she has created in the garden.

"me summer house. We don't go out, my daughter won't go on holiday, so we go to me beach hut. It's my thing, floating my boat. No radio or telly, me table cloth with seashells, its only little, double doors, fairy lights. You lock the front door and you don't hear anybody. My daughter 32 with learning difficulties, she's happy staying in, wont go on holiday- so we have our holidays at home." 

Holidays at home, monoprint, Josie

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

around the world: a memory boxes tour

Photo Courtesy of Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

As part of our project 'Making Memories' I have been researching how other arts organisations and Museums & Art Galleries have been using Memory Boxes. Our brief is to devise creative activities for use with Memory Boxes, so it makes sense to learn from best practice from around the world. In no particular order here are some projects that stood out to me...

Chloe Meineck Music Memory Box invites people with dementia to interact with familiar objects chosen or handmade by the owner to represent friends, family and key memories. Each object triggers a specific piece of music to be played, stiring lost memories.

Curiosity Creative have been working with Flo-Culture on a iPad based digital storytelling and digital inclusion project called Memory Box. They collected 16 digital stories, all produced on iPads inspired by memories of Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Little Boxes of Memories: Entelechy has partnered with Lewisham Hospital and the Museum of London to share memories of socially isolated 80 –100 year old Londoners. They devise ‘little boxes’ rummage boxes, fragrance boxes, mini-cinema boxes… that capture and retell memories. The Little Boxes of Memory were subsequently taken performed with audiences of pupils and teachers at special schools around London and Lewisham care homes.

Memory/Life Story Work Manual This project works with the NACWOLA women of Uganda, developed by Jonathan Morgan with the Memory Box Project, then developed into the Memory Action Projects. Its an amazing project, deeply moving and inspiring in turns.

‘Memory work was begun by a group of HIV positive mothers in Uganda who used memory books and boxes to help them disclose their positive status to their children, as well as to begin the process of future planning together.’

As they state on their website ‘This is not to say that memory boxes are only for HIV positive people or that HIV positive people who make them should mostly write about their HIV status, or that they should only be used to prepare for death. Many of the people we have worked with have used them to fight for life. Anyone who wants to work creatively with his or her story can make a memory box. One person, a parent and child, a whole family or a group can make the memory box. This manual will be useful for anyone who runs groups as part of their work.’

In Uganda the box was more or less any container in which to keep the memory book. In South Africa, memory boxes have become important objects in their own right. The 12 sides are like pages of a book, surfaces on to which things can be written, painted, drawn and stuck.  One example was made by AIDS orphan Pinky Zondi (16) containing snapshots of her mother, and older sister who both died of AIDS related infections. In a region where close to 40% of pregnant mothers test HIV positive and many children have to deal with loss, this is an attempt to deal with their psychosocial needs.

Much of the instruction is based around drawing such as “Idea 1: Draw a symbol or design a panel that expresses your past or where you come from. You might want to draw your clan symbol or your totem or any symbol that represents where you come from culturally or geographically. You might want to include some photos from your past. 

Then write a few words that can fit onto the same panel to explain your symbol or panel.”

Holding Memories:
Anna Goulding is a researcher looking at workshops in the Art museums and Galleries in North East England led by artist for people with dementia. Rather than the focus being on reminiscence, the Art work acts as stimulus for participants to create something new in an inventive way. The example in the film shows artist Clare Ford working with simple drama activities based on objects in the museum/gallery, and felt making.

Museums and Art Galleries

Up and down the country museums have their own Memory Box schemes, however I have only found one that suggests associated creative activity. If you know of others, please do me know.

Mansfield District Council
The House of Memories
Horsham Museum & Art Gallery
Chelmsford Museum
Colchester+Ipswich Museums
Outside the Box Reading Museum.

Beamish Museum offer useful tips on running a reminiscence session and include a couple of simple creative ideas such as baking or making a rag rug.


An artists memory box

A very different take on the form of memory box is the artists memory box,  Sheryl Oring Collective Memory” was an interactive public performance. She posed the question “what would you like the world to remember about 9/11? To an audience in New York City on the 10th anniversary 2011. 

Published in 2012 in an addition of 10, each box contains 315 index cards with messages dictated during the Collective Memory performances. Passersby were invited to share their thoughts about what they would like the world to remember about the devastating events of 9/11

We would love to hear about any other examples of Memory Box use you might have from around the world. Thanks Lois

Photo Courtesy of Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

Monday, 17 June 2013

Objects of our affection

Press Release

How do you encourage a fresh look at objects in a museum? We find are drawn magpie-like to the shiny and the bizarre and the familiar too – but what do we miss? What stories are hidden within these bits and pieces of the past?

Feejee mermaids at Warrington Museum & Art Gallery

Warrington Museum is running a new project in collaboration with carers, who are writing about the memories and flights of fancy that come to them when searching through the museum collections. The idea is to humanise the objects, rather than thinking about dates and latin name tags – and who better to do that than people who care for others?

The project is run by arts organisation arthur+martha, artist Lois Blackburn and poet Philip Davenport. Lois describes the response from carers who have got involved: “It's been funny, moving, companionable – and the work that has been made is all of those things too. This has been one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever worked on. My little boy was green with envy when he heard about us rooting about in the Star Wars collection they've got here! The idea is that the sessions give carers a break from their busy lives, to do something completely and utterly different. It's a fun distraction, but people can also talk more seriously if they want.”

If you are a carer living in Warrington or nearby, you'd be very welcome to join in on Tuesday workshops, morning or afternoon. Please contact Warrington Museum & Art Gallery directly.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Spark

We are working with Gallery Oldham to devise creative activities for use with reminiscence boxes. This project is funded by the Barings Foundation and is in partnership with Gallery Oldham.

Philip writes:

Our final workshops in Oldham for the summer have just finished. Both morning and afternoon sessions were a shared delight. People seemed to be in a larkish mood and expansive enough to take risks. It was a great day in itself, but also a very joyous fashion in which to finish this stage of our project.

'You do have some fascinating subjects to talk about, its livened us all up you being here' Ida.

We're running sessions not just for their own sake, but to develop a set of creative activities for use in combination with reminiscence boxes. Such boxes are now a common item in many care venues, but arts activities to go with them and reflect the memories they generate appears to be a new idea.

Over the ten years we've worked with older people in care settings, we have tried and tested many ways of making art and poetry with the folks we've encountered. A poem or artwork can intensify the experience that someone's recounted. It's a way of transforming reminiscence, passing it onto others, or keeping it as a reminder of moments that might otherwise be lost.

We work in collaboration with the individuals we meet. The pieces are always people's own words, drawings, textiles, sound recordings. Our part is to bring ideas that might spark a poem or artwork. We also select and edit some of the material, which is why we describe it as collaboration – we're lending our skills and the people in the sessions give both their abilities and memories.

For a while we've worried how we can put all of this into some simple instructions for rushed care workers. How can you boil down those experiences and complex interactions into a few words? Now we're coming around to the idea that the instructions shouldn't even try to replicate what we do, they're simply about enabling other people to work in the ways they choose, with plenty of room to improvise.

Today was a case in point – we went in with the idea of discussing the British Empire and adapted this as we went along, improvising to suit the mood and interest of the groups, including tea-drinking, gramophone records and church ceremonies at Oxford along the way. It's leaving space to improvise that is the key, because in those unplanned spaces is oxygen for the precious spark.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

bet on your own

Objects of our affection. Warrington Museum, 11 June

Flat Iron, photo Courtesy of Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

my gran:

a house with black leaded grate

fire heated the oven

boiled the kettle

the old iron

spit on it to make sure it was hot

on a scrubbed table three irons going

a round scrubbed table

bleached wood, an old sheet on it

burnt iron marks, the smell


(by participant Sylvia)

Today we were thinking through the human connections that thread random objects together. How those bits of bric-a-brac many of us have cluttering our homes are more than rubbish, they're a symbol for someone we care about. So the morning's discussion was, on the surface, about a compass, a watch, a necklace, some wool, and a crisp bag. But really, it touched on the nature of how we connect with people, particularly family. The issue of caring for others was very strongly present – fostering, looking after someone with special needs and being fostered all came up in conversation.

Compass, photo with kind permission of Colin.

We asked people to describe someone close to them by talking about an object associated with them. We then complemented this with some museum objects. The intensity of feeling about handling objects varied from matter-of-fact through to near spiritual. But all the people in both morning and afternoon sessions were moved to talk with great warmth about the people they love, using objects as a kind of metaphor and a focus.
Archives, Courtesy of Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

The highpoint of the session was a trip to the museum archives, going behind the scenes to delve amongst the wondrous store of antiquities and novelties that Warrington Museum has to offer. Our guide and mentor in all this was archivist Craig. He not only gave us a whistle-stop tour of a range of historical relics from dugout canoes to plastic bags via taxidermy, botanical specimens and Star War memorabilia, but he also hunted out objects that related to people's personal memories. It is moving to me how much meaning we hang onto these items, these stand-ins for someone or something else.

Butter paddles, Courtesy of Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

butter paddle   for pats

came from my gran

pigeons on the back of my moped

you could bet on your own

my father born 1890s

went in the First War

like a lot of lads

lied about his age

coughing shrapnel onto a tin plate

at teatime

(by participant Dave)

Friday, 7 June 2013

my daughter the sun

Objects of our affection
Warrington Museum 4 June

We've been working with a group of carers, investigating the objects in Warrington Museum (the oldest public museum in the country) and using poetry and art to re-label them. We're interested in bringing the personal stories of participants and those they care for into this process - so that the objects truly are symbols of affection.
Lois writes:

How do you encourage a fresh look at objects in a museum? I find myself drawn magpie-like to the shiny and the bizarre and the familiar too – but what do I miss, and others like me? Today's exercise at Warrington faced this square-on. We asked participants to view the collection looking for images of stars, moons, suns, constellations. These could be direct representations like the sun and moon-faces decorating a grandfather clock. Or much looser connections like a collection of starburst-shaped medals, a heap of cannon balls or seed pods from long past.

Participants carefully made pencil drawings of these little interplanetary symbols scattered around the museum. The drawings were brought back to the artroom and reworked into visual poems, using pen and ink and brushes,

Poems are often the answers to a series of questions. Here are the questions we asked for this exercise. Can you describe your friends and family as stars, planets, moons? Use the language of astronomy to depict their personalities and relationship to you?

Today's pieces were affectionate, funny, sensitive portraits of loved ones.

Participant comments


Today was totally different for me – I like structure and order – it's not the way I think about things. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to me that this writing was a good description of my family. It was my family. Sometimes it helps not to think of people as themselves but to be a bit more abstract.


It's different to being taught it in a right or wrong way. Today I'm feeling scribbly. I see things and experience them as I am today and the process you use is subtle enough to not get in the way. I was completely gone, totally absorbed in the drawing. I can be away with the fairies, not have any concept of time when doing stuff like this. If you're a carer, you're away from that role.

My mum the bright yellow star. Liz is glittering in the darkness. Edward, this is just him, fiery. Full of energy and yet that little dark bit he's got to keep to himself. I always try to see beyond what's in front of me. In the carer's group its not what you see at face value. We have a lady who comes I the group, bossy, you can take her literally. And yet if you stand back you can see her in a different light. This exercise gives you another outlook.


My daughter like the sun, strong, motherly. Warm and strong. Richard my son trailing through the universe, occasionally crashing to earth. Shooting through life. I've enjoyed it, takes you out of the comfort zone a bit which is stimulating. It's made me look in cabinets I wouldn't have looked in, that was really exciting. You always think when you're at home you've got time to do creative things, but don't get round to it. This has made me excited again.


I enjoyed looking around the museum but matching the words to the pictures was hard. Its made me use different words to describe the people in my life, rather than the everyday. No swearwords! It changes it from just being a picture, makes it deeper. It's not just my picture any more, it's going under the surface.