With a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, we are exploring Gawthorpe Hall through oral history, photography and the creative arts in a project called Portraits of the Past. As part of the project artist Kerris Casey-St.Pierre worked with primary school groups local to the Hall. Here she tells us how it went…
This was a really interesting project for me. Like many of the children I had not been to Gawthorpe Hall before, so taking part in the tour with one of the schools groups was fantastic and really informed my decisions about what kind of work I would do with the children afterwards. Being able to see their reactions to the objects in the Hall meant that I could choose things to work with that I knew they would respond to. Taking part in the tour myself created a shared memory with all the groups.
During the tour we did two activities. First we went to the kitchen where we were treated like new staff and told to polish the silver. The children really liked this and learned about the life of a servant. Next we went upstairs to set the table with the silver, learning about where things go and why. The actors in costume engaged children straight away. The Butler was very good and it was hard not to go along with it.
After that we had an upstairs tour of the Hall by the housekeeper. We looked in the entrance and the withdrawing room and learned about Charlotte Bronte. The children were interested in all the different and special things. The Teapoy, a box on a stand where they kept tea locked as it was so expensive, stood out as interesting.
We saw the ceiling and chandeliers, secret doors, commode, cupboard and learnt about the special sideways chimney.
In the Long Gallery we looked at the portraits and were told about the different uses of the long gallery, including for exercise and cricket. The children liked the wallpaper. They were very hands on with the sample and enjoyed being able to feel the gold and velour textures.
They had noticed the monogram KS everywhere.
When I arrived at the schools I first talked to the pupils about their tour and what they remembered. They remembered a lot actually, sometimes with a little prompt. But the fact that there were people in costume and that they had been actively engaged (polishing the cutlery and laying the table) not only captured their imaginations, it had also made it easier for them to relate to the people who would have lived there in the past. Having been there and seen all the objects and heard about them whilst looking at them meant that they recalled most of the information they had been given.
We made Teapoys using flat packed boxes from the scrap store. They had to put the boxes together and think about how they would decorate/customise it. There was no right or wrong and there were lots of different ways to achieve the same thing. We covered and lined them, and some of the groups created their own monogram to personalise their boxes further. Keyholes also developed as the project went on.
Creating their own Teapoy or special chest to keep precious things in gave the children a chance to really express themselves, as well as something special to keep, which will continue to remind them of their visit to the Hall and all that they had learned there.
We also looked at wallpaper, linked to wallpaper in the Hall, and had a go at making or enhancing wallpaper designs ourselves. The children added materials to wallpaper squares to enhance the texture and also added lots of gold shiny papers like the gold leaf to make it bespoke, to make it special. This didn’t always get finished so I left this with the schools, and they seemed very keen to continue and finish after the session.
I used materials from the scrap store and told the pupils about the store, which was also a learning experience as most of them hadn’t heard of it, and was a good connection to recycling and re-use.
The practical experience at the Hall was a really good way of engaging the children and helping them to learn. Walking there was a good experience, walking up the drive and seeing it all and how big it is. The making process also helped the children to connect. They remembered a lot and then made something with a connection to the Hall and to themselves. Everyone really enjoyed the workshop and seemed very engaged throughout, probably because it was very personal to them.
A nice extension for the project, or for future project development, would be to have an exhibition of children’s work in response to the collections, spending longer on the making and take it a step further.
As part of Portraits of the Past MPA is running a Family History Engagement Day on 4 April. The event is FREE but places are limited and booking essential. Find out more on our website.