Arts Derbyshire


Necklace of Stars Exhibition

Between 2020-2022 arthur+martha, a Community Interest Company specialising in arts and health, worked with housebound, isolated older people in Derbyshire to make “a necklace of stars” – an embroidered quilt with a poem border and a poetry/song soundtrack inspired by lullabies. The project was a collaboration between the artists and Arts Derbyshire, Derbyshire County Council Public Health and Derbyshire Home Library Service. An exhibition celebrating the project opens at the Record Office on Thursday 9th February.

The quilt was created by artist Lois Blackburn together with the project participants and was made from repurposed bedsheets and pillowcases, cotton and metallic threads, felting, beading, sequins and buttons. The quilt evokes childhood bedtime stories and represents safety, comfort and protection. Its is a door into dreaming and a way to escape lockdown and step into the big universe.

Displayed alongside this quilt are poems, lullabies and detailed images, all reaching up to the night sky. Poet Philip Davenport led the creative writing, working with singer songwriter Matt Hill, who devised melodies, arrangements and further lyrics for the new lullabies.  Lullabies bring calm and comfort, but also tell insightful stories that pass onward human experience from generation to generation.

A Necklace of Stars was made during the Covid pandemic, with the artists working remotely with participants utilising postal packs, phone calls and emails.

Neil Sessions

The heart of the moon

How many of us have stood alone

With our thoughts and feelings

And gazed this vast expanse

We call the universe?

I have, with my aching bones and my troubled mind

And I’ve asked the question – why?

Why does the moon beckon to me

What is this force that is pulling my gaze upon it?

It’s a-luminous appeal

And surface scarred by time

Its craters remind me of the moment

The asteroids struck its heart

But we still both shine.

How the stars wink at me –

Are they calling me, playing a game,

Or simply looking down?

Maybe guiding me to better times.

I take heart when the sun starts to rise

Life itself is enriched by its warmth and energy

It shines so bright.

Now I have the answer why.

Do you?

Helena Reynolds, Arts and Health Coordinator at Arts Derbyshire, writes “It started with Arts Derbyshire’s desire to meet the needs of those whose needs are often forgotten; to use creativity to fight the loneliness experienced by so many of our population; to go deeper in engagement than we had previously been able to do.  And so A Necklace of Stars was conceived – we partnered with skilled artists Lois Blackburn, Phil Davenport and Matt Hill to work with housebound older people one to one in their homes, funded by Arts Council England and Derbyshire County Council Public Health, and working alongside the Derbyshire Home Library Service.  We would create a physical ‘necklace of stars’ – an embroidered quilt with a poem and song soundtrack, inspired by lullabies: exploring calm and comfort, building confidence and wellbeing, reducing loneliness and forging connections, reigniting creativity.

A Necklace of Stars was born in a different, pre-pandemic world, and yet was perfectly shaped to adapt to this new reality. COVID-19 reached our shores just as we were about to set sail on this new adventure.  Loneliness and isolation was now a pandemic within the pandemic; and we had the tools to address this in some small way.  We expanded the definition of ‘housebound’ to include older people at risk of loneliness or isolation through the pandemic, some of whom were shielding.  Instead of travelling to people’s homes we used the telephone and postal services to connect with people who often didn’t have the technology to do video chat.  Participants chatted, stitched, wrote poetry or prose, shared time and energy, wrote songs, felted, found freedom in old ways of connecting, told stories, and made music.  A Necklace of Stars brought calm in a storm, connections in a time of social fragmentation, and inspired creativity in crisis.

A Necklace of Stars has been hugely challenging but also a unique and poignant moment in time.  I am extremely grateful to and proud of all who have worked on the project – staff, artists and participants – who have made it so much more than we could have imagined: and I am thrilled that we can now share this beautiful work with others through the exhibition. I hope that it will bring comfort and calm, and inspire creativity.”

The Necklace of Stars exhibition is free to view at Derbyshire Record Office from Thursday 9thFebruary until Friday 9th June. Normal opening hours apply.

Scan to visit A Necklace of Stars online, where you can listen to the lullabies and download a digital version of the catalogue of poems, lullabies and photographs

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