Sunday, 9 August 2020

Dreaming of lemmings

Dreaming of lemmings

challenge and change with Buxton Museum

In Buxton Museum and Art Gallery throughout these distanced months there has been a fascinating exhibition. Built from material from the slowly dismantling “Derbyshire Schools Library Service” collection, “Between Two Worlds” holds a wonderful array of material from beautiful prints to dresses to Inuit carvings from cold northern lands. Everything here holds stories. There are the graceful evocative prints of Clifford Webb and then there is a small, sliver of elegance, carved on a cold night or maybe in one those endless summer days of an Inuit shaman changing into a bird. And, no, we haven’t been able to go and visit the Museum for months but gradually we’re heading for a reopening and meanwhile you could visit the Museum Blog and Youtube channel, read an article or try an activity


More telling than the pieces, are the terms used to curate the collection – not terms chosen by the museum, but words originally used to describe the people involved


“As you are, in fact, abnormal, I think it would be a good idea if you took up art” said Kyffin Williams’ Doctor. Williams had epilepsy. Williams’ work is stunning - striking landscape painting (go on, look him up)


The Museum, however, presents this work not as examples of the work of degenerates, the disabled, the displaced, Old Uncle Tom Cobbley And All (see below) but as statements of power, of creative strength and honesty, ways of telling the stories of people and cultures that stood, or still stand between at points of change where past and future offer possibilities, threats, challenges, cultures standing between two worlds. Working with an Arts Council England Emergency Response Fund grant, the Museum has also invited a whole bundle of local artists to respond to a challenge from the Museum


“We want people to say “Do you remember in 2020? We learnt to do this from the museum website; the museum made us smile; they helped our business to win through… it was brilliant… the museum an influential supporter, a change maker”. “ Brief to artists, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery


I’m a storyteller and poet and a creator of events…for me the museum’s challenge is resolving into a fusion between the Between Two Worlds exhibition and the stories it holds and the world we have found ourselves living in now….this is by way of a starting point post/ Other artists have gone down different paths. We didn't have to use this exhibition but for me...there were carved bones, how could I not?


I like looking at things.

I like feeling into unexpected connections.  

I like carvings, things to hold, to handle, to speculate over…

For me, the museum is helping me ask questions of myself and of the people around me: might not make us smile but might help us ask challenging questions about ourselves and the opportunities that might comes out this disturbed summer


Displaced, we are,

Disabled ,they labelled us.

Imprisoned, depressed, degenerate

All of that, that’s us!

Tolerated sometimes.

Persecuted at others.

Revived by the strength of our hearts.

Challenged, that’s us too.

Challenging: insiders, outsiders

Strangers or friends,

We remember who we are.


We all need to remember who we are, not a superficial O, this is me, but where our inspiration and our identity lies. I feel it is important that we use these strange weeks to stand between these worlds of before and during looking ahead to an after, consciously, awake and questioning:  to look at who we have been in these months, who we could be, should be, haven't been, might yet be.... 

All of which for me strikes a chord with a wonderful Tibetan rap that is about personal, communal and national identity and is about change and determination and also joy. So, please, drop in on Shapaley singing “Made in Tibet”


“we haven’t forgotten where we came from” Shapaley


And after all that, sitting in a box among the Inuit work is a wonderful carving of a lemming. It’s a bit damaged so it’s not on display, but for me lemmings are a delight and a reminder of the value of the overlooked, the despised. Lunch. A small animal who has been the subject of a horrible human-made story for 70 years. No, they don’t throw themselves off cliffs, unless some film director chases them




Grey owl with golden eyes


For running feet,

Under the snow.

Hungry wolverine follows,

A scent trail under the snow.

Lynx and bobcat,

Hawk, fox and wolf,

All follow the whisper of hurried feet,

Under the snow.


Packed lunch.

Two-finger mitten,

Thumb glove,

Toe shoe,

A small slipper,

A hand full,

A cup full,

A whole family nests in an old hat,

A lemming casts a shadow

As round as itself.

The small one,

The quiet one,

Everyone’s lunch

Who holds the world together.

looking for summer lemmings


  • Clifford Webb prints: c. Buxton Museum and Art Gallery
  • Brown Bear in Finland: c Adam Nardell
  • carvings: G MacLellan


1 comment:

  1. love it. Going to read up on lemmings. and can't wait to get back to Buxton Museum...