A Life of Stone

exploring geology through visual art and drama:
a creative, inspirational, challenging journey into the bones of our Earth, a chance to remember that our home is older than we can easily imagine… a dream of stones

'Life of Stone' leafletIt is easy to forget the rocks beneath our feet and to overlook the sheer splendour of their variety. It is easy to miss the processes that shape our world and the long, slow, turning, changing, growth and transformation of a life of stone…

The Life of Stone project took participants on an adventure into the core of our world. Celebrating the wonder of familiar places, we explored the features of the local landscape: its rocky outcrops, gravelly deposits and the resources we draw from its richness. Renewing our understanding of our own dependence on stone, we visited quarries, worked in geology collections, climbed hills and examined the stones in car parks. The stones themselves reminded us of how the underlying bedrock shapes the flora and fauna we meet above it.

Behind all of this we worked with an awareness of timescales so long they barely notice our lives and histories but whose mountain-making, slow melting and violent eruptions shape the very earth we live our quick lives upon.

All of this information and new understanding fed our imagination and inspiration. Our stone-knowledge shaped families of puppets, guided dramas, inspired a dance of slow erosion and mountain building, coloured banners of limestone grykes and hard-edged tors. We cast new fossils as we shaped our own memories of the past and looked ahead, fossilising what we think will survive of our modern times. Stone stories and rock poems charted our awareness, patterns of words to hold our attention and express our emotion, reminding both ourselves and our visitors that stone calls to feelings, too.

All these Stone Adventures built towards final performances. We transformed school halls, and a country park to create new worlds for our visitors: parents, family, friends, the local community, the rest of our school, visitors from out of town. There we offered them a chance to experience geology in new and thrilling ways: to see our flags, touch our fossils, meet our stone people. Until, finally, a child sits on a stage and listens to the pebble she holds in her hand as it tells the story of its life. A story that rolls back through centuries of civilisations, through millenia of Ice Ages, through eras of life, reaching back and back and back through light and shadow, colour, drama and deep, slow movement, back into the ancient formless darkness.

Aims within A Life of Stone

  • to introduce children to some basic principles of geology and familiarise them with a range of rock types and human uses of stone
  • encourage an appreciation of the history of the Earth in geological terms and timescales
  • enhance children’s awareness of the value of their immediate environment by exploring our use of it both now and in the past
  • introduce young people and through them their local community to ideas of sustainable and unsustainable use of resources
  • foster participants’ confidence in themselves as imaginative, artistic people able to see the creative possibilities of scientific disciplines and ready to engage with and enjoy such disciplines
  • to explore the integration of scientific and artistic disciplines in a school environment: providing case studies for other work and encouraging more creative and stimulating approaches to scientific studies

Activities in A Life of Stone

geological processes: designed to offer participants direct experience of different rocks, rock-shaping processes and human use of stone either through field visits or working with museum collections

classroom studies: research with the chance to handle and closely examine diffferent rock types

stone puppets: distilling the qualities and attributes of different stone types as characters, giving stones “families” and “stories”

banner making: large hangings displaying details of rocks as different habitats

fossil-making: understanding fossil-making by casting our own fossils of natural materials then deciding what of our current lifestyles will fossilise and preparing “fossils for the future”

uses of stone: miniature sculpture and icon-like triptychs will hold our understanding of where we use different stones and why and how they influence our live

drama, dance, poems and stories: used throughout workshops, these artforms will help guide creativity and create small performances and be used to help express feelings and discoveries, encouraging participants to explore their own responses to their learning and achievements

“A Memory of Stone”: a main drama project running alongside shorter activities, combining dramatic and movement performance skills with shadow puppets and projections to tell the story of a stone’s life

A Life of Stone at Wesley Methodist Primary School, Radcliffe, Manchester

A Life of Stone





Partners in a Life of Stone

Creeping Toad: Gordon MacLellan lead artsworker on “A Life of Stone”. Creeping Toad “works with groups to celebrate the relationships between people and the places where they live and work and play”. A trained zoologist and teacher, Gordon has an international reputation as a challenging and inspiring facilitator, surprising groups into achieving the impossible

Forest Dance: a non-profit organisation that aimed to create and foster links between the scientific community, artists and the general public. They set out to promote and explore the use of the arts for the purposes of environmental education, but are now, sadly, no longer active.

Cheshire Countryside Services: responsible for the management and interpretation of Tegg’s Nose Country Park, the main field site for one of the projects. CCS staff supported the project with administration and fund-raising and with their detailed site knowledge and guidance in field work.

“A Life of Stone” has run twice in its full form in 2002 (Radcliffe, Lancashire in January 2002 and Sutton, Cheshire, June 2002), working with several groups of children over a number of weeks to create full scale dance performances and puppet shows. The pilot project featured joint work between Museum education staff and the artists in the geology galleries at Manchester Museum while the Cheshire project drew countryside rangers and artists together on site in the remains of a sandstone quarry. Other sessions have included short public events, encouraging people to make a creative connection to the stones they walk on. As the idea grew, it continued to evolve with a seven days of one day workshops for schools and the public as part of Science Week for the Lancashire Museums Service in Burnley, in March 2003.

“A Life of Stone” at Thornham Field Centre included a training workshop for teachers, museum and environmental educators and volunteers with local countryside and heritage centres. This was followed by one day school workshops on site, continuing ways of exploring wide concepts in concise ways with young people without losing the excitement and creativity that had marked the earlier projects.

StarMatter: a new publication featuring some of the Life of Stone school work as case studies. StarMatter challenges ideas about life, time and our place in the universe. StarMatter offers ideas, information, inspiration and excitment to help address issues of sustainability by shifting our perception and encouraging us to look at the world around us, its systems and processes from other perspectives. Ordering information can be found under Books from Creeping Toad.

“A Life of Stone” in Manchester and Cheshire has been supported by:

  • Forestdance
  • Cheshire County Council Countryside Services
  • Cheshire County Council Community Development
  • William Dean Countryside and Educational Trust
  • Awards for All: Lottery Grants for Local Groups
A Life of Stone with Hollinhey Primary School

A Life of Stone with Hollinhey Primary School

pulling together
laughing puppet

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Environmental storytelling, art and celebration – Education, Training & Workshops