Wellcome Collection runs a variety of creative workshops with different groups that often prove to be a cathartic and liberating experience for those who take part. Participants gradually let go of their fear of ‘doing it wrong’ and open up to each other and the artist about their lives and challenges whilst being creative together. Orla O’Donnell tells us about the latest workshop she was involved in delivering to a group of young women.
On 13 February 2014 I found myself walking down Euston Road with a small plastic box containing an anatomical heart model. The object and I were bound for New Horizon, based near King’s Cross. It was the start of my six week secondment to Wellcome Collection’s Youth Programme, leading me to wander down the street with a series of strange objects in plastic boxes. Week on week the objects seemed to get more peculiar. They included Chinese shoes for bound feet, a Victorian corset, a microscope, a hair mourning brooch and a glass eye.
New Horizon Youth Centre is a centre for young people who are vulnerable, homeless or at risk; they welcome over 3000 young people a year. Youth Programme set up a series of creative workshops, inspired by our handling collection (the aforementioned strange objects), with their Women’s Group. They were devised by artist Elaine Duigenan and were developed to ignite creativity, stimulate conversation and be a fun break in the sometimes difficult life of the young women.
Our first workshop was inspired by the anatomical heart (due to its close proximity to Valentine’s Day). Alongside hearing stories of heartbreak we created Valentine’s Day cards using an outline image of an anatomical heart. At the start of the project we had planned to ask the young women if we could use some of their pieces in a small display at Wellcome Collection. This week the girls decided to keep their cards as they were destined for friends or to be kept as a personal memento.
Weeks two and three of the project were inspired by historic objects: Chinese shoes for bound feet and a Victorian corset respectively. Both provoked a lot of debate among the young women which continued as they crafted.
Inspired by the size of the tiny shoes, Elaine created two different crafts: one using a template to make a tiny paper shoe reminiscent of a child’s buckled shoe; and the other using origami. It was a little fiddly but effective. We ended up with a delightful parade of tiny shoes.
Week three, inspired by the restrictive nature of the corset, resulted in corset-shaped cards that were beautiful on the outside but inside revealed images of crushed organs.
Although week four was a quiet one, with only four young women in attendance, that did not quell their creativity. Microscopes were used by the young women to gaze at slides of muscles from the heart and stomach wall under a portable Newton’s Microscope. Inspired by what they had seen, the girls created their own art slides using everything from colourful paper to rice.
For the penultimate week we explored a Victorian hair mourning brooch, again using a microscope. This time to allow the young women to have a detailed look at their own hair before diving into the task. The girls created their own hair work keyrings using fake hair and chatted about all things hair: from how it can be used in voodoo to hair extensions.
For the final workshop at New Horizon we focused on prosthetic glass eyes. As the glass eye was passed around there was a mixed reaction from the girls. The making involved dropping nail varnish on glass slides to create eyes that brought to mind the ‘evil eye’ symbol.
It may have been the intoxicating smell of nail varnish in the air but there was a sense of sadness as I said goodbye to the wonderful staff and fabulous young women from New Horizon. I would like to extend I massive thank you to Elaine Duigenan and all the young women and staff from New Horizon for their creativity and enthusiasm throughout this project.
Orla is a Visitor Experience Assistant at Wellcome Collection.