A second began under the table with a mantrap’s rust.
A third began on a windswept hilltop where a grass-grown ridge hid an ancient story of pain and sorrow.
I have worked with Buxton Museum and Art Gallery on and off for some 17 years now. Activities have ranged from writing the poetic version of their audio trail to running events that have wandered from lantern making to crystal growing, puppet mammoths to the precise drawing of Victorian designs and random mermaids
In 2016, the museum was closed for a refit funded by the Heritage Lottery. As part of that Collections in the Landscape project, I was asked to coordinate a programme of events that took the collection out into the landscapes it came from. (Just Derbyshire, no thrilling field trips to Egypt or the fossil beds of the mid-west USA). We took fossils to limestone gorges, brought a handling collection to the local Victorian garden, unwrapped geological specimens in dripping caves. As the CITL project developed a second Collections project also grew.
Six artists working in different media were brought in to respond to themes within the collection. With museum being closed and galleries up for redesign, there was time to pause and reflect, a chance to look at different ideas. There was a potter, a visual artist, a sculptor, a textile worker, a musician composer and me as a storyteller and a poet. I can’t speak for the others but for myself “The Collection of the Artists” went abruptly from being enjoyable and entertaining to, like the skeleton from Liff’s Low*, being very personal, very telling. Still enjoyable. Still rewarding. But with bones enough to shake a soul.
My challenge within the project themes was to explore “home”, in particular the shift that must have – might have – presumably – came when Mesolithic wanderers became settled Neolithic growers. There was a question about a sense of belonging to a place, to a neighbourhood and not to a journey, not to a migration across landscapes. These were the people who went on to raise Arbor Low and draw lines and alignments across the Peaks mirroring the changing patterns of the skies.
So, I sat and turned over bones in my hands. I gazed into the eye sockets of the ancient dead. I worked with children from Biggin School below Liff’s Low’s hill and we talked about life here thousands of years ago. We could become his family. We could tell his story. Our story of him. Of course, it was our story of him! Of course, all the other pieces I wrote were my stories of them. I am a storyteller, not an archaeologist. I am also a zoologist so every so often my analytical, natural history head speaks up – and gets over excited at auroch’s bones or the proximity of a cave bear skull. But I am a storyteller. In this context, my job isn’t to tell the science story, it is to remember – and to remind other people – that these were people too, to wrap bones in warm flesh, to imagine lives and let them live again in words and the images those words create.
And pulling a skin curtain against the wind,
We are as hefted to the hills as our sheep.
(from: Becoming Home, G MacLellan)
Collection of the Artists was a Buxton Museum and Art Gallery project supported by Derbyshire County Council, Heritage Lottery and Arts Council, England. The finished pieces by the artists are on display (or can be heard) in the Wonders of the Peak gallery in the Museum.
More of my work from Collection of the Artists can be found in a booklet: Tales from the Wonders that is available from the museum shop or direct from me (£3.50 including P&P within UK)
The project as a whole can be explored on the Museum site, here
Your museum: if you would like that personal story touch in your collection – or are interested in an event or longer project, drop me an email and we can have a chat
*Liff’s Low: a tumulus excavated by Bateman in the 1860s. The skeleton taken from the tomb is a key part of the new Wonders of the Peak gallery
LIFF’S LOW NIGHT CHARM – a lullaby grown from the ideas of children in Biggin School
Do not fear the darkness,
As the firelight dies,
My little horse girl.
Your father is a wolf,
And the night
Holds no fear
For the hunter.
Do not fear the cold, As the firelight dies,
My little fox boy.
Your mother is a bear,
And the cold,
Is never cold,
….read the whole Night Charm in Tales from the Wonders
Two training courses are growing on the Toad horizon just now
Courses like this are aimed at teachers, rangers, environmental education specialists and playworkers and, really, anyone who is looking for activities to deliver to a group of children (or families) along creative environmental themes
Workshops aim to offer participants the chance to experiment, to experience activities for themselves and to talk about resources, workshop patterns and the tricks that make for effective delivery
If you want to find out more about the content of a workshop, you are welcome to contact me, (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you want to book or make a booking enquiry, please contact the organisers
This workshop will include activities that can be used to help groups of all ages use language to explore, enjoy and celebrate their environment. We will play with words: creating stories, poems, instant adventures and terrible tales.
A day to enjoy words, this workshop encourages participants to find “adventures everywhere”… anywhere. It will offer activities designed to draw inspiration from simple observation, fostering confidence in participants own skills and encouraging innovation within supportive activity structures. The activities used will also allow ideas to merge as a number of short activities flow together to give longer more intricate adventures
The activities used here have been tried and tested with family groups, on adult events and with school children – often in situations where Literacy is an issue and activities are needed that remove worry and fear and encourage simple enjoyment of words
a day finding characters, making characters, turning ourselves into wild and wonderful things: a mixture of working with found and natural materials with alternatives using more traditional materials.
Our activities today will start with some first principles in puppetry, those little tricks that can turn just about anything into a character to send off adventuring, before moving on to improvising with piles of twigs, leaves and mud. As the workshop progresses we will add more intricate ideas, looking at shadow puppet landscapes and movements, at mask forms that lend themselves to a whole ecology of characters and wonderfully strange creatures who can wake up a wall of rocks laughing
The programme will include
first puppets: ideas for instant animation
improvising with natural materials: add string and a lump of clay and we’re off!
straightforward activities to incorporate into other sessions needing few materials
essential shapes and techniques to apply in other situations
more intricate forms of masks, puppets and shadow puppets for more determined workshops or public events
building giants: processes for making both big puppets and mosntrous masks
Families: unless otherwise stated, these events are aimed at family groups – stray adults are welcome to come and join us, too: to listen laugh and make things as suits.
Appropriate ages: If you are 7 years old or less, can you please bring a grown-up with you and don’t lose them during the session.
Stern word: I try to keep things as relaxed and cheerful as possible during sessions but I do reserve the right to ask people to leave if their behaviour disrupts the rest of the group and I generally recommend getting to a drop-in event at least 40 minutes before the scheduled end of the event as I often have to pack up and move somewhere else quite quickly!
Last minute bookings: I still have odd days here and there (some are very strange!) if you would like a session for your site or your own group. Contact me at email@example.com or 07791 096857 to find out more
Light up the woods
Plas Power Woods, Wrexham
Mixing lanterns, with woodland storytelling, campfire warmth and the thrill of wandering through a wood at night. You will find me deep in the woods, on a log by a stream telling stories of enchanted owls, tree-magic and occasional bears. This event is becoming a hugely popular annual event. Tickets are limited and advance booking is needed!
Another regular feature and another annual delight. Join us for an afternoon of delicious apples, orchards, stories, art, and baking apples and potatoes in the fire. Bring your own apples and you can scrunch them into the juice – bring your own chutneys and swap them or their recipes. I am here to tell stories and lead some Museum moments: we’re collecting apple thoughts and orchard stories.
Get inspired by the landscape of Cromford Mills and High Peak Junction and sketch, scribble or draw your favourite bits onto our big drawing. Using a variety of materials, we’ll work together to create an amazing picture, 20 metres or more long, that tells the story of this special place: the birthplace of the factory system in the valley that changed the world. Part of Derwent Valley Mills Discovery Days.
Calacas: make your own tiny Day of the Dead characters
In the final days before Hallowe’en, join me for an afternoon with tiny skeletal people. Inspired by Mexican Day of the Dead ideas, we’ll make little skeletal people doing everyday thigns…there may be skeleton footballers, musicians, ladies in ball gowns, gentlemen in tophats and tails – or ladies in tophats and gentlemen in ballgowns…who knows what way the bones will inspire us!
Green Man Gallery, Buxton (Hardwick Square south, , SK17 6PY
Cost £6.00 (accompanying adult free – but adults could always book a place and make their own Calacas!)
Drop in in person, or call: 01298 937375 (card payment).
And if you survive that, you might like to call in for
Boggarts and Freetings: spooky stories for Hallowe’en week
Still at the Green Man Gallery, between 5 and 6pm (more or less), £3 a ticket and stories for laughter, shock, delight and dismay and a nice shiver or two for the arrival of winter!
Wednesday 26th October
Explore the secrets of the skulls, learn to read the clues hidden in eyesockets, teeth and the bony curves of zygomatic arches and sagittal crests. Meet some skulls, draw some bones, take your own bone-folder home. (Bring your own mystery bones with you, if you like to baffle us – only nothing too drippy and messy, thank you!)
Buxton Museum’s Pop-up Museum will be there to, so come and see some of the Treasures of the Peak and talk to museum experts…
I’ll be there at the bony end of things!
A free family day
National Trust, Ilam
11am – 3pm. Free event but car parking charges may apply
Draw, colour, collage, etch and sketch your way around Pavilion Gardens as we celebrate the Big Draw in Buxton. Collect some materials from us by the Pavilion, then get exploring around the gardens and see what inspires your artwork. If it’s raining, there’s plenty to do and draw inside – from the wonderful winter garden to the bustle of the cafe and gallery.
Creeping Toad activities are tailored to suit your individual needs rather than chosen from a set menu of options. But, here are some examples of recent (2013 – 2015) creative adventures that might whet your appetite and give you some suggestions to shout at the Toad about…
pirates: environmentally-inspired pirates, finding nature’s treasures, writing pirate books, making maps, giant lantern pirate ships, parrots, puppets and lots of wildness: the Tiny! Pirates have appeared several times (working with Buxton community group Stone and Water), a judging panel of mermaids supervised sailing in Mottram St Andrew, pirate treasures inspired new stories… More pirate workshops »
challenging assumptions: ethics in environmental education session at Losehill Hall, Peak National Park
some fishy moments: in 2014 and 2015, with musician Steve Brown, I worked on a whole series of lovely river sessions with schools involved in the Ribble Rivers Trust’s “River in the Classroom” project, hatching trout for release back into local rivers. In September 2015, I was busy making pop-up rivers and finger-puppet river creatures at Scotland’s Salmon Festival
Festival of Outdoor Learning,Hollowford, Castleton: and msot eyars I’ll be at this lively weekend doing workshops that might be anything from making tiny books to spinning stories out of weather and wood..
homes: living in caves and castles: working with props, drama and sheer imagination: cave people in search of new homes, Stone Age lives, spooky houses and mysterious castles as part of the Summer Reading Challenge in 2013
adventures everywhere: using the school for inspiration to build a class adventure, finding stories everywhere, anywhere, out of anything
touring Scotland: I’m usually up in the Highlands twice a year, telling stories, making puppets, and enjoying the wild ideas and wonderful imaginations of children in schools and everyone on public events