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Children’s art helps tell some of Islington Museum’s best stories

PUBLISHED: 11:00 07 July 2016

Display objects and related artwork designed by pupils and artists at the Islington Museum

Display objects and related artwork designed by pupils and artists at the Islington Museum

Archant

What do an elm water pipe, some old shampoo, wartime postcards, defaced library books and a pair of ultraviolet goggles have in common?

Children work on prints for the exhibitionChildren work on prints for the exhibition

The answer is that they’re all part of Islington’s rich and varied history, and have helped create a new and exciting exhibition set to open at the Islington Museum today.

Under the title “Imagine Islington”, the museum invited three artists and six primary schools from the borough to explore its archives – and create something.

The artists chose two objects from the museum to form the basis of a piece of artwork they would then put together with the children, aged five to seven.

The idea was to choose a piece that would pique the children’s interest, and get them thinking about the story behind the object.

Artist Sarah Pimenta helping one of the children with their artworkArtist Sarah Pimenta helping one of the children with their artwork

“I find that they’re a lot more involved in the art when there’s a story behind what they’re doing,” explains artist Sarah Pimenta, whose picks included some handmade First World War postcards that a local woman had kept for nearly 80 years.

“They loved the story, they loved the characters, they loved hearing about Margaret [owner of the postcards]. And this formed the basis for them to make their own postcards.”

Sarah’s other choice was an old elm pipe from the 1600s, used to carry water from the New River through Islington.

“I chose my objects based on the story, and the background, and how you could relate it to children. So the water pipe got the children thinking about nature and its many uses, and we made some great rainmakers!”

The ultraviolet goggles used at the Finsbury health centreThe ultraviolet goggles used at the Finsbury health centre

With so much Islington history to choose from in the museum, it’s a wonder the artists were able to narrow the objects down to just two. The choices they did make, however, are both fascinating and thought-provoking.

Some ultraviolet treatment goggles once used at the Finsbury health centre were one of the choices of artist Ella Phillips.

The centre was a 1930s version of the NHS, created to give free healthcare to the poor people of the area. The goggles were worn as protection for children being treated for vitamin D deficiency, and were chosen to inspire the children to think of experimenting, with many creating different colour light bulbs for the exhibition.

A selection of library book covers defaced by famous playwright Joe Orton and his partner in 1959 were another of Ella’s choices.

One of the library books defaced by Joe OrtonOne of the library books defaced by Joe Orton

Orton had cut up old art books and stuck pieces on the covers of the library books to make them look more appealing, a stunt that landed both him and his partner in prison for six months.

Ella used the piece as inspiration for the children to create their own versions of pre-existing objects, creating their own book covers across the year.

The exhibits themselves carry a darker side, though, with Orton’s partner eventually murdering him at their home in Noel Road, Islington, before killing himself in 1967.

Other objects on display with the children’s artwork include a collection of lost artefacts a man discovered in his 1785 Georgian home, including some 19th century shampoo.

Some backpacks made by the childrenSome backpacks made by the children

Curator Roz Currie hopes the exhibition will encourage people to think more about the stories behind the vast collection at the museum’s disposal.

“Basically, in Islington there are all these stories of different generations and how they all come together,” she said.

“I think that’s a really lovely way of approaching objects.”

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