For the past five months, I’ve been a creative practitioner in a primary school, working with a storyteller to produce a record of the stories about the local area surrounding the school. We have covered a vast time period, from the Bronze age, right up to the mid-19th century. I have been using printmaking with the children to produce flags and banners to decorate a structure in the grounds now known as the ‘Tŷ unnos’, or ‘One-Night house’. In old Welsh law, it was stated that anyone who could build a house on common ground in a night, with a fire in the hearth by morning could own the land as a freehold.
This project has been a good thing on many levels. Firstly, through the stories researched and brought to life by Lowri, we have been celebrating, drawing and printmaking about forgotten truths. Since history is usually written by the victors – wealthy and often unscrupulous, we rarely get to hear the stories of the dispossessed whose lives they have trampled. Such was the fate of the dwellers of the Great Heath back in the 1800s when the Marquess of Bute successfully prosecuted a ‘squatter’ and began systematically to evict the Heath dwellers by setting their homes on fire. Through acting and drawing, we have brought a voice to the forgotten people of the Heath. We have created a banner in honour of the ‘Amazing Amazonians of the Heath’ – women, who, according to reports of the time, ‘acted the part of Amazonians, having armed themselves with pitchforks…’
We have also brought to life a poor young woman named Catherine Price who worked as a maid in one of the big houses, and in 1791, was hung at the gibbet on the Heath for stealing a plate and some clothes. She is imprinted on another of the banners that hang from the window of the Tŷ unnos, telling her story to the generations of children that play there.
Banners and flags are interspersed all around the Tŷ unnos, drawn and printed by the children and myself in response to the tales. The map below is a record of traditional Welsh myths that Lowri shared with the children.
For this five week course, we are sharing stories, poems and art from ancient cultures around the world. This week, we looked at Māori culture and the story of Maui the demi-god who pulls up Te Ika a Maui (known today as the North Island of New Zealand), with his magic fishing hook. The slashes and cuts made by his brothers fighting over the land were said to have created the many mountains and valleys of the North Island today.
After listening to the story and looking at some images of Maori sculpture and art (rich in symbolic pattterns), the children drew some pictures in their books and wrote down some ideas for their own stories, such as imagining what else may have been hooked on the magic fishing hook, and how Maui felt when his brothers refused to take him fishing.
After the break, the children chose one of their drawings to develop into a print. We used styrofoam to etch into, ran the ink over it and printed it – one to take home, and one for their books. They then worked on their own stories. There was no pressure to read them out, but the children enjoyed sharing their ideas and knowledge about myths in general. Most didn’t know much about Maori culture, but lots about the Greek myths, which we agreed to investigate next week. One boy decided to write part two of his story when he got home.
For our Saturday afternoon drop-in session to experiment with cyanotype, or sun prints, participants brought along an assortment of things to try out on the photo-sensitive paper. Beads and seeds, feathers and flowers fresh from the garden were laid out and placed under the UV light bed for exposure.
Creating compositions using a variety of materials.
The most effective were often the most transparent or delicate items. Mary brought along a tracing on acetate of grasses she had made for a lino cut, and this worked beautifully, with small skeins of wool for clouds. Experimenting with double-exposure techniques added depth and interest: netting placed over the exposed grasses gave the effect of light rippling through them.
Rosalind, who is a wonderful illustrator, began to draw her designs on tracing paper, adding photogram items such as glass beads to enhance the composition. The tracing paper also adds varying tones.
Glass bottles from a flea market became ghostly alchemist’s wares. Sally’s double exposure using feathers and dried hydrangea flowers was also magical.
‘Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardour, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shames, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.’
— Aldous Huxley
We began the session drawing faces, practicing on tracing paper before transferring to the styrofoam. The children quickly got the hang of etching into it, creating wonderfully detailed characters.
They were excited about seeing the progression from their drawing to being able to pull multiple prints from their etchings, and were soon confident enough to go straight into etching out their ideas.
Next, the children chose a leaf from a selection collected in the park, and attempted to name the type of tree it was from. They chose from two coloured inks that I had rolled out, printing the leaves in their own designs to create a background.
Onto this background, styrofoam stamps that the children had drawn and carefully cut out were printed to create the finished pictures. Fantastic work!