The Journeys project at Nantwich Museum was a journey unto itself as it took me on an adventure outside of Lancashire into a new place to explore, South Cheshire! Throughout the project I wore my infamous black boots and at times my pith helmet sporting maps and shoes.
I met Kate Dobson, Community Development Manager at Nantwich Museum in March 2017. Alex Bird, Sector Development Officer at The Museum Development North West Team so kindly connected the pair of us. Kate had enquired about needing an artist to work with their Dementia Friendship Group that meet on the first Monday of the month.
Alex was familiar with my creative experience working with patients at Trafford General Hospital through The Wings and Things Artist in Residence and also the group Fabulous Forgetful Friends. Both this work was delivered through the Whitworth Art Gallery and Manchester Museum with Wendy Gallagher, the Arts and Health Coordinator helming those projects.
I made a reconnaissance visit to Nantwich on the 31st of March 2017 exploring both Nantwich and the museum collection. I was particularly inspired by the shoe and grandfather clock collections.
During this visit Kate and I discussed using shoes as a focus symbolising different types of journeys. Thus, between April and July the museum was diligently collecting a mountain of recycled shoes.
My first session was delivered on the 3rd July. We had a @ 20 participants. Firstly, some people brought in objects to share and we eagerly listened to stories. Participants also were able to explore the museum’s handling collection of shoes.
During this shoe handling, there were also a pair of clogs that I brought. Seemingly no one had memories about clogs. I found this very interesting. Much of my work has been in Lancashire, known for its textile mills and many older folk I have worked with have memories of working in the mills with memories of clogs. Thus no memories of clogs but we did have a former professional footballer in our group, John who played for Everton!
Everyone then got stuck in being shoe designers and thinking about personal journeys. It was a bit difficult to get started, as this was not a typical drawing or painting exercise. Some people did paint, but not in the traditional sense.
There was lots of cutting and gluing exploring different materials giving different sensory experiences: leather feels different from silk or shoelaces or paper evoking different type of memory.
Our second session on the 4th September found the participants bringing more objects in for sharing. One lovely lady brought in a watercolour scene of France painted by her husband. There was a lot of oooing and aching inspiring a lively discussion of places people had been on holiday.
We placed the painting in the middle of the room as part of a temporal sculpture made out of the remaining recycled shoes. This was interesting mixing what one might deem a traditional piece of artwork with a temporal contemporary artwork.
During this second session everyone became engaged with cutting silhouettes of shoes out of maps, tracing silhouettes of shoes onto paper, colouring and writing memories and/or statements about shoes and personal journeys.
Our third session was to finish artworks for the exhibition. Throughout the session people had an option to stamp, paint, cut, glue and/or write. Thus, encouraging different types of activities for all levels of of skill-base and diverse interests.
I had cut up some of the recycled shoes that could be painted on and decorated with stamping shoe images. Stamping added a new type of activity. Several people spent the session stamping onto an old cupboard door that was to be the frame and encapsulate the shoe bits people were decorating on the day.
One of the highlights of this third session was when Ellen shared her wedding photograph and told her story of moving from Australia and settling in England. In talking about her wedding day she said, ‘Apart from having my two daughters, that day was the most wonderful day in my life. It’s been 54 years… It was all nice. I am very grateful that I can share that here today. Thank you.’
Another story was told by a couple who had visited Antarctica. Dorothy talked about the wildlife and scenery particularly, ‘Lovely penguins with their babies stood with their backs to the wind. Little babies on their feet all huddled with their mummy. I can’t explain it to you. It was so beautiful…The icebergs, the bits that broke off they were like a resinous thing, beautiful blues all colours in them and they just floated past you like crystals.
Here is a picture of the Antarctica shoes by Dorothy and Jim in the exhibition. The photographs were taken on that trip.
The Exhibition was hung yesterday and is an eclectic mix of stories, three-dimensional shoes turned artwork and collages.
I am very grateful for the privilege of working with the Dementia Friendship Group. Thank you Nantwich Museum!
The Journey Exhibition:
Cheshire, CW5 5BQ
14th November 2017 – 20th January 2018.
Regular opening hours are: Tuesdays – Saturdays from 10:30-4:30. Closed Sundays and Mondays.
The Museum will be closed Friday 22nd December at 4:30 and reopening Tuesday 2nd January at 10:30.