My name is Hannah Cook and I currently study Performing Arts at The University of Salford. My role as a volunteer for the experiment centered around observing Pre-Raphaelite based workshops, led by gallery educators, for primary and secondary schools; interviewing the pupils participating; photographing creative responses; visiting schools for follow up sessions and documenting the workshops on the blog. I am extremely grateful to have been involved creatively at the gallery, working closely with both artists and schools.
Throughout the process it has been interesting to see students identify with the paintings after discovering they could relate to the themes explored. A highlight of mine occurred when Levenshulme High School visited the gallery and the girls related the danger of the Death’s Head Hawksmoth, in Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd, to the recent riots and the fear this evoked within them.
‘We get scared when we watch the news. The media create a hype and today there is more danger in society.’ – Pupil
It was workshop moments like this, that with the absence of interpretation panels, allowed people to express a true response to the paintings and what the paintings meant to them personally, which is what the experiment set out to discover.
Each workshop brought new ideas, different angles, creative interpretations and fantastic insights. As an observer not only was it great to be capturing these moments it was lovely to see children of all ages involving themselves with the stories the paintings had to offer. Year 1 pupils from St James Primary, Rusholme, for example, talked about how the girls in Millais’ Autumn Leaves were ‘collecting leaves to build a home for the hedgehogs’ and the girl in Winter Fuel is ‘little red riding hood because she is wearing a little red hat.’ The class were so inspired by their journey through the gallery they continued to add to their nature journals back at school, venture on autumn walks and leave comments on the blog. It was really exciting for Amanda and I to then go and visit the school for the follow up session because the children were keen to share their progress with us.
While I documented the process, it was really rewarding to see the positive development for the pupil’s participating but also for the teachers, who became confident enough to lead their own art gallery workshop sessions. I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the experiment and have learnt an incredible amount during my time volunteering. My favourite part has been bringing together all the creative responses and brilliant ideas and conveying them through the blog. It’s been a great way to connect everybody who has been a part of the experiment but also to involve those who haven’t. Thank you to everybody I have worked with, I have had a brilliant time.
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