Sunday, 11 November 2018

A museum of shadows

Lights and Shadows

museum visitors - or exhibits?

 Saturday 24th November

1 - 4 pm

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

a geode
From sinister shadows to the glow of cave crystals, join us for an afternoon celebrating the shapes and colours of the Museum collection. We’ll be making plastic “windows” – panels you could hang in your own window or roll into a tube to stand over a light

The event is free and we’ll provide materials. 
There is no need to book but allow 30 – 45 minutes for your activity

A BM125 event celebrating 125 years of Buxton Museum and Art Gallery!

Where to go: Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Rd, Buxton, SK17 6DA, 
01629 533540

a window full of dungeon.....

Next events: after this, the next events at the Museum are
Lantern Making Workshops
Saturday 1 December, 10am – 12.30pm & 1pm – 3.30pm
Join Buxton Sparkles to make a lantern for the annual community lantern parade on 8th December.
Free, drop in, all ages welcome.

Winter Skies 
Saturday 15 December, between 1pm and 4pm
Make a mobile that captures the wonder of a winter night, using natural and scrap materials. There might be floating feathers, shining stars or a Santa in his sleigh. Bring your imagination and we’ll bring all the materials you need. With me, Creeping Toad.
Free, drop in, allow 30 minutes to take part.
...or a window full of dragons

Sunday, 4 November 2018

a haunted town

The hauntings of Buxton

Buxton Opera House

October 2018

the company*
Two short workshops in Buxton Opera House last week as part of their spooky Hallowe'en season revealed all sorts of previously unknown horrors in the woods and streets of this old town….

mapping a haunted world
Take a walk through the wild woods of Buxton.
Slip behind the blood-dripping trees,
Past the witches’ broomstick ash,
Past the rocks, the ruins, the quarry,
Under the rocks, under the hill,
Lies a cave of bats and sharp stones, spiders and webs
And a cupboard in that cave is full of showroom dummies.
There will be a party there,
A party for bats and beasts and bogles, and you if you want to join in
But be careful!
Do not eat enchanted food, do not sip enchanted drinks,
Some cakes are chocolate with icing spiders but others are poisoned with bat poo

Keep going,
Keep going,
Don’t stop,
Through the spooky woods,
Past the twisted trees
Between the red-berried holly
And its fierce and spiky leaves
Down the long path
Through all the forest’s dangers
To the mysterious house
Where an old man waits
Dead for a thousand years and no-one has cut the grass in his garden in all that time

And beyond the woods
A ruined church waits
With a graveyard
Where the dead do not rest easy in their graves

On Hallowe’en night
When the rain drops red onto the green leaves of trees,
That’s when the bones walk


 A challenge
If you wait under the broomstick tree until those broomsticks are ripe they will fall like conkers or acorns. If you can catch one before it touches the ground when its magic instantly drains away, you could spend the night flying like the witches through the sky.

Our workshops were short and very full of ideas and drawing, talking, scribbling, making and performing so we didn’t get much time for our stars to pose on their sinister black carpet for photos. We sent our young puppeteers and storymakers back out into the wide world with words, stories, puppets and terrible deeds to tell of…

With many thanks to the puppeteers of the Theatrical Phantoms
workshops and to Buxton Opera House for getting it all going in the first place!
* if anyone does not want themselves to be seen in the photos, let me know


Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Warm flesh on old bones

Warm flesh on old bones

Telling the stories of a museum collection

One story began in a box of bones on a tabletop.

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.

Event: Arbor Low on a misty Midwinter morning

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.
tools fanned across centuries and lives
walk, wander, listen
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.

exploring with friends
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. Lullaby of the Larks, an exhibiton of photographs, paintings, installation and musics from the Collections projects, by Kidology Arts is on at Buxton Museum until 24th November. Details, here

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


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,

Under fur....

The opening verses of a lullably written with ideas from the children of Biggin Primary School. Full Charm can be found in Tales from the Wonders

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Apples and elderberries

Noble chafers and elderberries

in celebration

of orchards and Apple Days

I have been to various orchard events over the last few weeks and out of them the following has grown

More structured blogs will follow over the next few days but for me the following held a lot of the excitement and enchantment of an orchard…

Orchard Summoning
Bring me a beetle,

A chafer, rose or noble,

A dark shimmer of green

A maybug blunder in a spring twilight.

Bring me a yaffle,

Ant bathing and talkative,

The warm apricot blush of bullfinches,

Feasting on the buds of April.

Bring me the roe, the chestnut ghosts

Slipping without sound, shadows within shadow.

Bring me the bats of the deep night,

A flicker of moth and hunger.

Bring me the children who steal

The windfalls from the wasps,

Bring me the laughter under the leaves,

Picnics sprawling between sun and shelter,

Bring me the tales knotted into the roots,

Of the oldest trees,

As Apple Tree Man whispers through the branches.

Bring me sharp apple juice and sweet

The delicate scent of quince,

Bring me bitter rowan and dripping elderberry,

Well jellied for a winter feasting.

Bring me those branches,

Twisted by centuries of skill.

Bring me an orchard to feed

Body and soul and story.

Bring me it all.

Victorian black and conference

Grenadier and quince

Damson, bullace and sloe

Mabbott’s Pearmain, Gascoyne’s Scarlet

Tydeman’s Early, Rossie Pippin

Fillbasket and Qarrenden

Bring me nothing,

But let me share

A joy, a hope, a bounty.

Bring me nothing,

But let me offer

Strong arms and a willing heart

Bring me nothing

But let me offer my love.

Victorian black and conference

Grenadier and quince

Damson, bullace and sloe

 Part of the BM125 project for Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

Friday, 28 September 2018

Trays for treasures activity

Trays for treasures

 make your own box for bits, 

for wonders and curiosities


Following up our Cabinets workshops (make your own, here, and see some examples, here), here is an easy way of making your own open-topped boxes to go in a Cabinet of Curiosity (or any other place that needs them!)

What you will need:
  • A piece of card – our examples are done with old Christmas cards
  • Ruler
  • Pen
  • Scissors
  • Glue (PVA is better than glue stick here)
  • Paper clips or maybe a stapler

1. If you are using a greetings card, cut your card in half along the fold

2. Measure and mark  3 cm from each corner on each side. Join these up so you have a smaller shape within the main card. Our cards were square – it does not matter what shape you start with (squares and rectangles are easiest!). 

3. Cut along along every other line from the edge of the card to the edge of the new box

4. Fold along the lines, folding the sides up to make a box. The cut sections will stick out. – a ruler may help but greetings cards often fold readily into straight lines

5. Use the cut to fold a short tab and tuck this either inside the new box or fold it round the outside. Either way this reinforces the corners. Glue or staple (or do both) to hold the tab in place. If you glue your tab, a paperclip can hold it in place while the glue dries

6. If you use greetings cards, you could fold them so that the picture forms either the inside or outside of the box
inside or outside?

More boxes: change the initial measure to make deeper boxes
This is a blog to support activities that are part of the BM125 project celebrating Buxton Museum and Art Gallery's 125th Birthday. You can find out more about the project here

Friday, 21 September 2018

Limestone and mermaids

Talking Stones!

richly fossiliferous limestone

Derwent Stories and BM125 at Altitude 2018

First there were rocks. And some lovely stones. And fossils. Chalk and limestone, granite and gabbro. Rocks to hold and think about. Trilobites, goniatites, crinoids and teeth.  We hoped these would feed into lovely puppet and word activities inspiring quiet conversation around mineral stories and the arguments of crystals.

Then it rained.

The Altitude Youth Arts Festival at the Mt Cook AdventureCentre where we were working was a lovely afternoon. There was some excellent music to keep us entertained. Songs from young musicians, dance from another young group, some quiet storytelling from others. There was a cap fire in the woods and bushcraft activities to try. And us making pebble puppets on a field while people sailed, shrikeining, down a zip wire overhead.

great fun - and he seems happy!
Great fun!

Our carefully planned activity dissolved a bit in the rain but we made some wonderful puppets all the same. We got people holding rocks. Talking about what they might find in their gardens at home or out on a walk. And they went home with some wonderfully crazy little characters….

Make your own pebble puppet: instructions will follow shortly

BM125: setting out to take the Buxton museum and Art Gallery . Follow the link above to find out more about BM125
collections out into the Peak District landscapes as part of the celebrations for the Museum's 125th birthday, Altitude gave us the chance to talk to people, show them rocks from local places, comapre these with not so local rocks, take that rocks and fossil knowledge and build characters inspired by that knowledge

For all our DS events, we post a "where did we go" note with advice and experience that might help people decide if they would like to go themselves on another occasion

Visiting Altitude
When: Altitude is a Youth Arts Festival within the bigger Wirksworth Festival. As such it happens once a year - watch for dates for next September
Access: activities happen at different sites. Mt Cook Adventure Centre has parking, easy access for wheelchairs and good toilets. Activities were free. The music was great. On a good day it would have been a lovely afternoon to sit on the grass with a picnic, do a bit of making, enjoy the music, and generally relax. At the Eco Centre next door there was more acoustic music
Useful links

Thursday, 20 September 2018

A museum in a box activity

"A box for sea glass from wide, windy beach"

Make your own Cabinet of Curiosity


would you keep our mermaid in a cupboard?
In Victorian times a Cabinet of Curiosity might have had drawers and more drawers, shelves and secret compartments. It might be small but probably large. It might be a glass fronted cabinet full of dried butterflies or stuffed birds. It might be a beautiful case for your preserved mermaid. The Collectors and Curiosities: Buxton and beyond exhibition at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery (runs to 6th October, follow link for details) is full of small treasures and larger curiosities

At the Museum, and other places, I do a lot of Cabinets workshops. Most recently, as part of our BM125 celebrations we had a lively afternoon with 80 visitors making nearly 40 Cabinets between them. Follow the links below to find some of the Cabinets we made and the poems that grew out of our excitements. You do not need to wait for another event – try making your own cabinet, a portable museum for your own home, a treasure chest for summer finds…

Examples of our Cabinets are here
Our Cabinets poem can be heard here

Making a cabinet at home could be as simple as filling a cupboard with treasures (do check with someone vaguely responsible before tipping plates all over the floor). I like making my own so here is a guide to making your own Museum Box for small delights and strangenesses

You will need:
·      a cardboard box – with a hinged lid or a loose one
·      a cutting mat
·      a craft knife
·      ruler
·      felt pen
·      colourful magazine
·      scissors
·      glue: you could use a glue stick but white glue/PVA is stronger
·      paintbrush for PVA
·      a small sheet of acetate: clear plastic film: hunt around, maybe a file cover from a stationery shop, maybe a window from some other box
·      small boxes (see stage….)

1. Have a look at your box and draw a window in the lid: rectangular, oval, wobbly, as long as it is not bigger than your piece of acetate. Cut out the window: use a craft knife on a cutting mat and BE CAREFUL!

2. Decorate your box: we usually use magazine pictures but have done lovely Cabinets with old maps, wrapping paper..whatever takes our fancy. Neat cutting? Rough tearing? What do you prefer?

3. Inside the box as well? Just make sure you don’t glue the box shut by mistake?

4. All done? Add your small boxes…we often do this activity with large groups of people so use small carboard museum trays used for tiny specimens. Rummage around your house and see what you can find. Matchboxes? Packing box? A box jewellery came in? Tiny tins for spice or tea. Origami? Make your own: easy to do. A quick suggestion will follow in the next blog

5. Add the boxes to your Cabinet? Do you want to glue them down – make sure the main Cabinet can still close. Keep them loose?

6. Fit the plastic window to its space: glue or sticky tape the sheet into place on the inside of the lid

Add some treasures! Treasures might not all fit in your small boxes: there might be bags or bundles as well. You might make a miniature guidebook

Next BM125 public event: we’ll be at Apple Day at the Dove Valley Centre on Sunday 14th October. Detals will follow on this blog and on the Creeping Toad facebook page Here we will be celebrating the heritage of orchards and old fruit varieties – a reminder that museums hold memories as much as objects and those objects belonged to lives lived in our wider landscapes. Join us and make your own apple-puppet to tell your own orchard stories