The after-school story-telling and art sessions have evolved into the children writing their own story in weekly installments that I type up and read back to them the following week. They still listen to folk or creation tales from different cultures each week, and these tend to inspire elements of their own story.
Week one, they decided on the characters and a general outline of the story with the Working title of ‘Miss Ira and her Army of Hyphrans’. All the children had different ideas, so it was a challenge refining them down into a workable plot.
To help with this, I encouraged them to draw the characters and to write their ideas on ‘scrolls’ that could be put on the wall and referred back to during the term.
Boy transforming into a hyphran monster after being injected with the serum.
Characters from the story: The evil Miss Ira, notes about a hyphran monster, a magic boomerang. Lily, the magic stone, the twins Larry and Lara, and Jack.
This week, two girls created a wonderful map of the places where the story is set, including the school where the evil headmistress plots to steal the children’s souls and turn them into hyphrans, the eco-village where the main characters live, adventure playground with portal to the other world. Some of the boys added characters, pets, a hyphran monster and the shed where the twins Larry and Lara carry out their experiments.
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.