For the last three months, I’ve been working with community groups in Ashton-under-Lyne on a project based around illegal money lending. Aimed at educating and raising awareness about the dangers of loan sharks community groups created lots of textile patchwork art that I am in the process of upholstering onto a two-seather sofa.
Whilst similar in style to the Bentley Library Chair, this sofa features more drawing, writing and printmaking than the other one which had a lot more sewing, applique and other needlecrafts on – maybe due to demographics of the groups and also timescale of the project.
Funded by the national Illegal Money Lending Team, the sofa will be used around Tameside as an educational and promotional tool before going to it’s permanent home at Cashbox Credit Union in Ashton.
The Bentley Library Chair was part of the Right Up Our Street (RUOS) Project, which is part of Arts Council, England’s Creative People and Places Fund. As part of the RUOS funding, every artist involved has to keep an artist’s diary, write progress reports and an evaluation report once the project is finished. I’ve just submitted my final report and wanted to share a few of the comments we got at the launch of the Bentley Chair at Bentley Library. They make me really proud to have been a part of this fantastic and successful project (I honestly didn’t bribe anyone for these comments!)…
“Never been so impressed in something in all of my life, and when you see your work among it… wow”
“It’s absolutely fantastic. Brings the community together – an absolute pleasure for all!”
“What a fabulous piece of community work. It got everyone talking and evoked a lot of memories. A thing to treasure, lots of memories for young and old.”
“I really think the chair is absolutely beautiful and I feel proud being part of it.”
“I think it’s amazing- I’m so pleased. My grandson’s drawing is on the front. It would look the business in my new kitchen!”
I was asked quite early on in the project what the point of the chair was (which I thought was a really good question) and at the time felt that creativity, teamwork, ownership, engagement, pride and self belief were some of the main reasons for doing the project. I think that these comments show that this was achieved – well done everyone for taking that leap of faith and believing we could make this brilliant piece of art – who said a canvas had to be square!
The Bentley Library Chair has finally been unveiled at Bentley Library in Doncaster. A busy afternoon launch saw over 70 people attend to check out their textile artwork that had been lovingly and carefully (trust me!) upholstered onto a Parker Knoll Wingback Sofa.
This project has been one of my all-time favourites since I’ve been a freelancer – lovely people that I’ve become friends with, a meaningful process and a successful outcome. I think one of the reasons it was so successful was that I spent a lot of time getting to know the groups I was working with, doing research, working out what they wanted to do and also learning from them. If I’d had my way, we would be looking at images of a mosaic chair right now but the groups were very definite in their wish to create something textile-based – so we went with a patchwork sofa that eventually was made up of over 100 people’s artwork.
The artwork includes fabric painting, block printing, applique, knitting, crochet, patchwork, quilting, embroidery, woodwork, photography, digital printing, encaustic art, free-motion embroidery and machine embroidery – there’s probably more…
Everything was then sewn together and I upholstered the finished work onto the sofa, having stripped it first – I had to remove over 1500 staples to get back to the wooden frame! Now finished, it is going to live at Bentley Library as a story chair – though I secretly want it in my living room. Bentley Library – you know where to look if it ever goes missing!
The project was part of the Right Up Our Street research programme in Doncaster, which has just received another three years funding – well done everyone!
On Saturday 23rd May it was Festival Oldham time again and I delivered a drop-in workshop making Oldham Wish Flags. This involved 28 metres of fabric (I don’t joke) that I had to cut into 6×14 inch rectangles using pinking shears. I even ironed them (and you know its a special occasion when I get the iron out!).
Oldham Arts Development asked me to make some example flags – I had great fun coming up with some wishes and then turning these into little bits of fabric artwork using paint pens, eva foam and some block printing.
We had a great day at the festival (we were part of of the ‘Rooted’ section) outside Gallery Oldham. Tori, a member of the Dovestone Youth Rangers, and her friend Poppy came along to help Richard and myself and they did a marvellous job of prepping all the flags and hanging them on rope once completed. We made over 100 flags in total to add to the ones I’d already completed. They are all going to be displayed in the foyer of Gallery Oldham so come down and have a look – there’s some great wishes. My personal favourites ‘I wish I was a fairy’ and ‘I wish I could teach basic IT to senior citizens of society’ – aaaahhhhh!
I’m currently working with three brilliant groups in Bentley, Doncaster on the Library Chair Project for the Arts Council England funded Right Up Our Street. The groups all have a vast wealth of knowledge and skills when it comes to art, craft and other creative stuff – we’ve got a sewing machinist trainer, artists, creative and play facilitators, fabric painters, dressmakers, knitters, crocheters and lots of crafters with years of experience!
We’re just getting started on actual creative sessions and have concentrated on fabric painting so far, painting onto wet fabric then adding detail with fabric pens and opaque fabric paint once dry. The patches are looking good and I’m getting excited about putting them all together.
Lots of the groups are also starting to come up with individual ideas for what to include on the chair – local and family poetry, some handmade wooden buttons, tie-dye sections, crocheted flowers, patchwork quilting, kids’ self portraits, local school badges and emblems, cross-stitch work and lots more – brilliant! We’ve even had a hand-knitted square promised from a lovely lady called Dawn who’s blind. I met her and her wonderful guide dog Zeke at Bentley Library last week.
Over the next few sessions we’re going to concentrate on some block printing and maybe some stencilling. I’m also doing a drop-in session at Spiltmilk Dance’s VE Day Celebration on 9th May – I’m hoping to get lots of tales and stories from everyone that attends.
I’ve been commissioned by Right Up Our Street to create a story chair for the community library at Bentley in Doncaster. I will be working with three local groups to create artwork for the chair using lots of different textiles and fabric techniques, which will eventually be upholstered into a finished chair. We’ll be using Bentley as the theme, so they’ll be lots of stories and history about the area, alongside notable events and people used as imagery and wording. I’m also hoping for a few Bentley jokes, poems and some creative writing to include!
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been meeting some lovely people and groups from the area, all of whom seem up for the challenge – we’ve already got loads of ideas and suggestions for what we might include on the chair, alongside some practical thoughts about the making and upkeep of a public seat. The next job will be to decide exactly what to put on the chair and also have a go at some different textile / fabric techniques. The groups I’m working with have loads of different skills from crocheting, quilting and knitting through to printmaking and painting so I’m going to try and organise some skill-sharing sessions amongst the groups too.
I’m not the only one to be working in Bentley. Spiltmilk Dance are also working with local groups towards a celebration event for the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Their event is on 9th May at the Bentley Pavilion and will feature lots of dancing, cake (yesssss!) and victory rolls.
On 14th March, Richard Dawson (Arbarus) and myself launched the Abirdabode Exhibition at Gallery Oldham. The exhibition celebrates eight months of hard work by various groups across Oldham to create art bird boxes* and showcases these bird boxes alongside the Art Bird Flock, which was created at public drop-in sessions over the last year. Almost 250 people attended the launch and was a great success – people seem to really love the art bird boxes and we got a lot of great comments and feedback.
All of the bird boxes created have been made to the BTO’s (British Trust for Ornithology) recommended guidelines and following the exhibition, will be installed around Oldham to become the Oldham Art Bird Box Trail.
The groups we worked with included the Dove Stone Youth Rangers, the Barrier Breakers, Grassroots Community Project and Age UK Oldham.
Dove Stone Youth Rangers (DSYR) are a group of young people from Oldham aged 11-19 years and meet every Sunday to plan and participate in activities focused on the environment and the outdoors. The Dove Stone Youth Rangers created their bird boxes from concept right through to finished product, drawing plans, making macquettes, using power tools and bandsaws to create the nest boxes. They also spent several (chilly) sessions in my workshop painting and decorating their bird boxes ready for the exhibition.
The Barrier Breakers are a group of young people supported by Oldham Integrated Youth Service and gives young people the opportunity to have fun with friends whist working on issues that affect children and young people with additional needs. The Barrier Breakers came up with their own ideas and themes then created their bird boxes from kits of parts, using power tools to construct their boxes and also cut out wooden detailing for individual designs.
The Grassroots Community Project is a community orchard and allotment and supports adults with additional needs and young people excluded from education. We worked with Grassroots to create the ‘Andy Abode, a large-scale bird box created from reclaimed and re-purposed materials. The group created the bird box from scratch, constructing the frame, creating the different claddings for each side and also building a sparrow hotel to be installed on the inside. Following the exhibition the ‘Andy Abode will return to Grassroots and will be used as a shed and storage for Andy, who works there.
We also worked with a group from Age UK Oldham to decorate some bird boxes. The group created a ‘terrace’ of boxes with each one representing a redbrick house, complete with windows, doors, chimneys and even a TV aerial. Though they didn’t make the exhibition launch, Age UK Oldham organised a special trip to Gallery Oldham so the artists could see their creations. We met them there to show them round and indulge in a spot of tea and cake at the Naked Bean Cafe.
All in all, a fantastic launch of the Abirdabode Exhibition, which runs from now until 2nd May 2015 at Gallery Oldham. If you’d like to know more about abirdabode have a look at the project website here. We are also asking for people to nominate locations for the bird boxes once the exhibition is completed. The location should ideally be in the Oldham Borough and be a ‘community’ space or organisation, a school, a public park, allotments or gardens for supported housing etc. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to nominate a bird box location.
Here’s just a few of the bird boxes made during the project…