Category Archives: Communities

A Royal Occasion…

Factory tour at the Emma Bridgewater Factory

Factory tour at the Emma Bridgewater Factory

Over the last few weeks the Herbert Learning Team have been working with Coventry’s Sowe Valley Primary school and the elderly people’s care home that sits across from the school on an intergenerational project that focuses on the Queen’s diamond jubilee.

The aim of the project is to encourage the children and elderly people to share their memories of royal events that have happened over the last 60 years. For the children the only major event that they can remember was the Royal Wedding from last year, but for the care home residents they had a whole bank of stories, memories and even some objects that they could share with the children.

As the project has progressed we have seen the children’s knowledge of the royal family expand beyond expectations. At just 8 and 9 years old the children only really knew the basics of who the Royal family are and why we have them in England. For most of them they knew who the Queen was (phew!) and of course they recognised Wills and Kate… however they were under the impression that Prince William was the Queen’s son and Charles was her husband (oh dear!). We soon sorted that out though with a family tree activity to help them understand who’s who, the order of the family and the line of accession to the throne. After 4 weeks of working with them they can now easily tell us who Prince Charles has been married to, the name of Queen Elizabeth’s father, and who will be the next 2 future Kings of England, plus lots more.

We’ve also been using some of the museum’s royal memorabilia from the years gone by as a trigger for memories for the

Souvenirs in the making

Souvenirs in the making

care home residents, and as an inspiration for everyone to design their own royal souvenir to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee. To help bring the children and elderly people together we treated them to an exciting and unique day at the Emma Bridgewater factory, where we were taken on a tour of the working factories, and saw royal souvenirs in the making and even got to make our own in the design studio. It was a brilliant day and everyone who took part spoke about how much the enjoyed themselves.

The children have grown really fond of the people they have met from the care home, and vice versa. They are always asking about when they will meet again to keep their new found relationship going. We’re glad to say their journey isn’t ending just yet as we’ll all be getting together again for a celebratory street party at the museum to celebrate the jubilee and on the day we’ll present everyone with their fired and finished potteries that they created together. And of course, even the Herbert staff got involved with everything too including sitting on a snazzy spotted throne and the more menial tasks of washing up… well it can’t all be glamorous!

I’ll post again to show you how the pottery collection turned out and what the street party was like. Until next time folks!


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Hue and sky

One of the joys of this job is the range of work we take on, and how it is so easy to be intensely focused on one task while your colleagues are immersed in quite different ones.  The storm and buzz of our forthcoming exhibitions All Dressed Up  and Secret Egypt have largely ignored me, which his just as well given we have Spotlight: Belsen Head fast approaching and the planning for our summer early years exhibition started to gather speed.

Spotlight: Belsen Head continues a thread of exhibitions focussed on a single powerful object, in this case a recently acquired sculpture by Raymond Mason.  We’ve asked some local artists to create responses to the piece, and I feel their approach is testament to the quality of the local arts community, that we have artists prepared to accept the challenge of this commission.  I feel pride in the way Coventry marks Holocaust Memorial Day each year, and it sometimes shocks me that I am part of that process.

Although, on the face of it, completely different, we take our summer exhibition for early years just as seriously as commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day.

Over the past 8 years, we have been able to explore how a gallery can offer creative play opportunities, and to consciously experiment and push boundaries.  We’ll keep most details secret for now, but we are building on developments in 2010’s In the Big Treetop especially in the use of off-ground structures and light.  We’ve invested in more multicoloured lamps, and while the Studio was quiet over New Year, we built a test bed “Iglow” to try out lighting effects – the sense of movement feels wonderful in this clip:

Another area we are exploring is how we can make the growing field of pervasive gaming appropriate to the family and early years audiences we receive throughout the summer.  Lots of reading, then lots of trialling and, lets face it, lots of playing, to do on this one.

The office windows behind the Herbert open onto a strange landscape, particularly with the recent weather.  When I raise my eyes from my screen, I am greeted by a steel sky, grey-clad university buildings and high grey lamp posts on the ring-road.   At the front of the building we have the richer palette and sharper details of the Cathedrals, yet this wash of subtle greys offers an urban alternative to the coastal landscapes evocative of 20th century heroes such as Britten and Jarman..  



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The Last Post

‘Last and final’ tends to put pressure on things to be polished and coherent.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that I can promise that – this is, however, my last blog post.  A small yet significant moment in my last bit week working for the Herbert – as after two and a half years I will be moving on to pastures new.

What a two and a half years it has been! From my first day when I arrived flustered and half and hour late because the train was delayed.  Thankfully this was not held against me and I have been able to work on some fascinating and challenging projects.

One of my very first projects was to work on a project to create a Chinese community film for the British Museum. This was great fun and posed some unique puzzles.  It was great to meet the young people – I had a group of 7 to 17 year olds to work with.  We taught them about oral history and how to do interviews then they interviewed the elders on camera.  Finally, they did some paper cut animation about the stories they had heard. The quirky humour really brightened things up. All this material was edited down to make a film which was shown as part China – Journey to the East, a British Museum touring exhibition.  It was a really special moment to see the film being shown next to priceless objects from ancient China and to see the looks on the young people’s faces when they saw the finished film.

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Peace and Youth

This November has seen an odd collision of events.  We host a number of events as part of Coventry’s annual Peace Festival, which attract many familiar and some new faces to the talks.  Sunday 14th November was both Remembrance Sunday and the 70th anniversary of the Blitz.   The sense of respect for the fallen, veterans’ military pride and peace activism sit side by side and it feels taboo to explore the contradictions, despite my feeling that Coventry’s Blitz is a symbolic moment in the shift in warfare over the last 100 years, from 80% of causalities being soldiers to become 80% civilians.

Artist Presha Dem teaching air-brush skills.

The other dimension, which has made this year remarkable, is our Street Art exhibition.   The ‘in your face’ essence of street art, even in a comparatively refined gallery context, sits strangely with the respect being offered veterans in the Herbert and the neighbouring Cathedrals.

Street Art shows work that is almost universally anti-authoritarian, and much of it is social commentary and calls for peace, often revealing hypocrisy as incisively as Gillray or Hogarth. Street Art is attracting a huge number of visitors, including younger people who so rarely visit galleries, and they are responding strongly to the content, putting the lie to the idea that young people only want the vacuous culture which is sold to them.

Working on the shirts.

Mohammed Ali’s installation portrays people who have been labelled both terrorist and freedom fighter.  Ghandi’s role in history is settled, William as Ouderland is less clearly decided, and when Mohammed talked about Salah Ad-din (Saladin)’s humanity upon liberating Jerusalem in 1187, I realised the weight of historical ideology I hold around the word “liberate”. His work also includes two moving images of Coventry’s Cathedral, and a disturbing piece in which falling bombs are rendered with a beauty resonant of Islamic lattice work.

As a community project linked to Mohammed’s forthcoming event “Breaking Down the Wall”, I was working with young people involved in the “Rep Ur Endz” project – about pride in representing

The CV6 tag on the sleeve.

their districts in the city. The day after we had 2400 visitors to our Blitz family event, I asked the young men about their thoughts about remembrance happenings.  The reply “I haven’t noticed anything” left me wondering how so much civic endeavour can fail to touch thoughtful young people.

These young men are not ‘dis-engaged’ with issues of peace however. The final t-shirt proclaims “Rep Ur Endz CV3” . . . but their preliminary sketches for artwork show a sense of responsibility  and connection to the broader world.

Early artwork sketches – Rep/ Palestine Ur Endz.

Breaking down the wall: featuring Mohammed Ali painting and poets live in the Herbert takes place on Friday 19th November 7pm.

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Rep Cov, Repping Cov – Representing Coventry

The 'REP COV' banner on display at Coventry train station

You may have noticed the banner that mysteriously appeared at Coventry train station with the words REP COV tagged by Herbert and wondered what it was all about?

Or noticed the banner on railings of Coventry University outside cathedral square saying REPPING COV.

Repping Cov

With many of our temporary exhibitions we work with local groups to create community responses.  These are usually shown in the museum alongside the exhibition.  However in this case we wanted to capture the spirit of street art by putting the banners up in public locations.   Huge thanks to Virgin Trains and Coventry University for giving us permission use their locations.

This week my colleague Bring Colour has been working with young people from Positive Futures youth groups to create street art banners.  At an early stage of the design process one of the youth people wrote the words repping cov.  As I have left my youth far behind me I had to ask what he meant.  The young man explained very patiently that it means representing Coventry because that is what we do.  Then he initiated me with a fist bump.  This was picked as a theme for the banners.  In this session the young people wrote or drew some of them designed cartoon characters which were included in the final design.  Some cartoons were of themselves, friends or made up characters but all of them are repping cov.

In the next stage of the design process the young people covered the banners in colourful tags writing their names, tags or whatever was important to them.  The banners were covered in oranges, greens and yellows.  After this the cartoon characters were turned into paper cuts placed on the banner and black paint was sprayed over the surface so that when the paper cuts are removed the outlines of the characters were left behind.  Then the young people drew on details with marker pens.  As a final touch stars were added.


When we showed the final results to the young people they exclaimed in awe-struck voices “Sick”.

I am told that means they are pleased and found the banners to be very good.  Judging by the admiring looks from passers by at the university and the train station the people of Coventry are enjoying them too.

The Street Art exhibition runs until 16 January 2011 and features artworks from the V&A and  the emerging arts from the Street Art scene.

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“¿An illuminated script?”

I have been asked to take part in Coventry Pecha Kucha Volume 1 and share some of the bizarre facts I’ve picked up over the years about Coventry.   This lead me to realise how much I’ve learned through working at The Herbert, so here are ten bijou factettes I’ve learned through the Herbert Illumination talks which take place every month:

1) Far from being a commercialised American import, Trick or Treating still happens in an unbroken tradition in some places in England, for serious prizes too.  The craze started returning to England earlier than I thought too, with British newspapers having articles on how to make costumes in the 1920s or 30s.

2) The central figure in the Keresley Miners Wife’s Support Group banner is in a strong tradition of women leading people to victory, such as the goddess Nike or Liberty.

Delacroix's 'Liberty Leading the People'

John Yeadon's Miners Wife's Support Group Banner, on show in the Herbert's History Gallery

3) Littlewood’s catalogues and shops were built on their football pools empire.   The pools meant they had a wide network of people who could be trusted to collect money and who were already well know in their local communities.  This is vital for the weekly collections for catalogue shopping.

4) The excellent cheesemakers Fowler’s of Earlswood made use of the early days of the railways by guaranteeing any farm close to the railways a good price for their milk, enabling them to supply the rapidly expanding city of Birmingham with fresh milk.

5) Ralph Beyer based the letter shapes he used in Coventry Cathedral on painted letters from Roman catacombs.  This echoes one of his mentors, Eric Gill, who rather than learning Roman lettering in the usual way, from a cast of a cast of a cast of Trajan’s column, went back to the originals and found subtleties lost in the reproduction process.

6) In the 1950s the English Folk Dance & Song Society effectively re-constructed the Playford dances, originally published in 1652.  They decided (for no good reason) that before the dance started, everyone would rise up on the balls of their feet.  It you rose to far, they stopped the dance and tried again, and if you didn’t rise far enough the also stopped it and started again.

7)The wonderful woodland alongside Coventry’s Memorial was planted as a commercial enterprise to provide timbers for naval shipbuilders.

8 ) In Victorian times, sentimental paintings of rural cottages found a huge audience as rural workers moved to the growing industrial cities and wanted a reminder of their past lives.

9) When a car runs through a puddle the splash is actually travelling forwards, so stand behind the puddle if you want to stay dry!

10) Look at many canal bridges in Coventry and you’ll notice panels of more modern bricking and faded yellow painted circles.  This is because during the Blitz, many water mains were damaged, so canal bridges had sections knocked out of them where fire fighters could lower hoses into the cut.   The circles helped people find them in the black-out.  This one is on Stoney Stanton Road.

Canal bridge showing replaced brickwork and marks showing where to drop hoses

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Our new Flickr group

In the run-up to Face to Face, our upcoming photography exhibition, the Herbert has launched a new Flickr group. Woo-hoo!

Why’s that good for you? Well, all images uploaded to the group will appear on an in-gallery screen for the duration of the exhibition.

Face to Face features a series of large-scale ape portraits by photographer James Mollison. We’re encouraging participants to use their cameras to explore some of the exhibition’s themes, particularly those surrounding our relationship with, and our treatment of, the natural world. This is also an excellent opportunity to try your hand at animal portraiture!

To join or find out more, visit:

We hope to see you (and your pictures) there soon!


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Cabbage with peas – Kapusta z grochem

The current Your Coventry display

When I lived in Poland over ten years ago, a friend taught me the idiom Kapusta z grochem – it literally means cabbage with peas, a dish served during dinner on Christmas Eve, but it also means things are a bit of a mish mash.  Sometimes when you are working on lots of projects at once you do a bit of this and a bit of that and your days can feel like, well, kapusta z grochem.  I was thinking of this because I am working on two Polish projects at the minute, both very different, as different as cabbage and peas but equally interesting.  Read the rest of this entry

Deaf Sport in Coventry video

Here it is – the fantastic result of Anne-Marie’s hard work!

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