24 June 2014

A thoughtful exhibition that goes 'Beyond the Mantelpiece'

Pottery towers made with charity shop china form the centrepiece of an exhibition currently showing at Brighton Museum, created by a unique group of artists.

‘Beyond the Mantelpiece’ has been put together by 25 vulnerable adults, some with learning disabilities, and others who have mental health issues.

The artists have been working together for three years as part of the Museum Mentors project and over the past 12 months in partnership with Care Co-Ops.

The project was created specifically for people who are isolated in their communities and the museum has been providing two sessions a week for them to meet and explore their creative skills. Four of the group are often unable to go out but have been able to take part through an outreach worker.

For the last six months the group has been working with the Willett Collection of Popular Pottery in Brighton Museum. The collection illustrates British popular history through its attractive objects and is grouped in themes including ‘philanthropy.’ Inspired by the collection, the group has produced artwork for their exhibition on the theme of ‘charity’.

Debbie Bennett, Museums Mentor co-ordinator, said: “Central to the exhibition is the installation of pottery ‘towers’ made from china bought in charity shops and including transfers of the artists’ work. The project is very much service-user led, is inclusive in its approach and reflects the individual styles of those taking part.”

The group has been inspired by images depicted on the Willett collection and explored 21st century issues such as ‘fracking’ to create a contemporary response to the 19th century pottery on display.

Tom said: “I usually paint landscapes, but for this I’ve been drawing figures, which is difficult but it’s been really good. I took my idea from Dick Turpin.”

The Willett collection includes figures of highway robbery figures Dick Turpin and Tom King created in the 1840s when they had become national legends.

Ann said: “There is a picture on one of the Willett collection vases that shows two men without arms or legs fighting and I thought about how disabled people weren’t given much help in those days and what they had to do to make a living.”

Terry said: “I like painting animals, but for this I’ve done still-life and painted a heart inside a hand which made me think about how that is like love and giving.”

Group members have made an animated film of the artworks they produced which is being shown in the Museum as part of the exhibition.

Film maker Annis Joslin added:  “The project has been good because it has provided an unpressured space where people can explore their creativity in different ways.”

Geoffrey Bowden, chair of Brighton & Hove City Council’s Economic Development and Culture Committee said: “I’m continually impressed by the range of exhibitions put together by Brighton Museum staff, but it is particularly exciting to see a group of local residents using our museum facilities to develop their own talents and exhibit their work.”

The exhibition runs until May 2015.

Further information