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.
Some stunning paintings in response to two stories from Africa today: ‘Why the Sun and Moon Live in the Sky’ – a Nigerian folktale, and ‘The Lion’s Whisker’ – an Ethiopian Folktale.
Elements by Jim age 9
African landscape by Paddy, age 9
Camouflaged Lion by Iolo, age 6
Sun by Paddy, age 9
Witch Doctor by George, age 7
Witch Doctor Dance by Jim, age 9
Elements II by Jim age 9
African Landscape By George, age 7
Lion, by George; Winged Lion with Horn by Paddy, Mask by Paddy, Compound of Sun and Moon for the Water by George, Sun and Water by Iolo.
For the last week of this five week cycle of storytelling and art from around the world, we travelled to Russia to hear about the enigmatic Baba Yaga. She is a many-faceted figure, variously seen as a Moon, Death, Winter, Earth Goddess, totemic matriarchal ancestress, female initiator, or archetypal image.
After discussing some of Baba Yaga’s traits: iron teeth, lives in a house that walks around on chicken legs, sails through the sky in a mortar yielding a pestle, the children listened to one of the many tales involving Baba Yaga: Vasilisa the Brave. It exhibits Baba Yaga’s ambiguous nature – scary, yet wise, and the choices of a girl who triumphs through courage and perseverance.
Below is a selection of the wonderful illustrations of Baba Yaga by children on the course. I’m always amazed at the detail, personality and energy of these drawings that the children do without hesitating as they listen to the stories.
Vasilisa’s magic doll by Lily.
Children’s Storytelling and Art Course, Week four. The children were interested in the concept of having two heads after hearing the Indian folktale about a bird with two heads that can’t agree. They drew pictures of themselves with the head of something or someone they would or would not like to be attached to and we discussed story ideas around what it would be like to sleep/go to school/get dressed etc.
Some responses to the story of the birth of Ganesha, and how he got his elephant head.
Some other Gods, Goddesses, and a demon created using an inverted stencil as a starting point.
For Week 3 of the Children’s Art and Writing course, the children listened to three stories from the Dreamtime creation myths of Aboriginal culture: How the kangeroo got her pouch, Barramundi, (how the fish came to be in the waters), and a Kunwinjku Dreamtime Story of the long-necked turtle and the echidna, telling why they live in separate places. The children learnt about animals from Australia they had never heard of such as the wombat and the spiny anteater (echidna). They painted and drew their own images from the stories after looking at examples of aboriginal art for inspiration.
The children learned how every hill, water hole and tree, living creature and natural phenomenon was believed to have come into existence in the Dreamtime. They learned how everything about aboriginal society is inextricably woven with, and connected to, land.
In Esme’s story, the great god Byamee, who had been in disguise as a wombat, goes into a bar to celebrate his discovery of the creature with the kindest heart. The sky spirits speak to each other in secret symbols.
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.