Art On Tour on Walney Island, Barrow

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The engagement on Walney Island began with high school students at Walney Island High. They constructed larger than life birds, inspired by the birds on Walney, the colours used by the artist and ideas about survival. Keith Grant was very inspired by the poem, ‘A Shropshire Lad’ by AE Houseman, particularly the phrase ‘forest fleece’, and he used this phrase as a title for one of his paintings. This fragment of the poem inspired our use of textiles to explore and respond to the painting in different ways.

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Walney Island St Columba’s Primary School Year 1 children created small felt pieces that were pieced together to create a landscape for their colony of needle felted birds to fly in. They created wonderful poems about what it is like inside the painting – a selection of them are on display in the gallery. They also invented a story about the artist, bringing this to life with fleecy finger puppets in a puppet show which described the day Keith Grant painted ‘Svolvaer Motif’.

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This image shows the backdrop of the children’s felt work with the artist making his painting, his scarf blowing in the gale, standing on our imagined idea of the ‘fiskener’! It has holes in the floor where the artist did his fishing! On the day the painting came to Combe House Nursing Home the young children performed their puppet show to the residents, read out poems and sang.

The residents at Coomb House largely didn’t like the painting at all when it first arrived, but it generated a huge amount of discussion and surprising connections. Holding the lengths of fleece, one of the residents described how the lanolin helped moisturize shepherds hands during shearing. Her husband had been a hill farmer. Their comments gathered together create a thoughtful response to the painting written below.

Svolvaer Motif

It’s gloomy. It’s depressing.

A horrible painting. Dull and dreary.

Cruel to say – it’s a mess. Not to our choice.

But it wouldn’t do if we were all alike.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

And we’ve talked of brighter landscapes

Blues and felts,

A beautiful book of Norway,

The Lake District on a grander scale.

And a husband’s hands

As soft as the fleece he’s shorn.

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The students from Walney Island High School brought their birds to Combe House, and then worked with residents using a range of materials to weave into nests for the children’s birds. Birds and nests are now on display in the nursing home garden. Thanks to everyone for a fabulous few days on Walney!

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