To keep both children and adults in touch with nature
When I was a child, I would spend all day outside, climbing trees or searching ponds and streams for frogs, newts and sticklebacks. My friends and I would play all day in local woodlands, making up our own games, sometimes we were cowboys and Indians, other times pirates of the open seas. I didn’t live in the countryside, my home was the industrial heartland of the Black Country, the cradle of the industrial revolution.
Nevertheless, I had a childhood of the outdoors, my older brother would point out the names of birds simply by their calls and I could name many wildflowers and trees, as I joined him on early morning walks across the fields, with his two whippets and a ferret.
During my many years as a secondary schoolteacher, I was constantly surprised to hear that many of the young people in my care didn’t know the names of many of the small animals, flowers, trees and birds in their own gardens or local parks. I remember one child asking me, in all seriousness, what is a newt?
A recent survey of British primary school children found that 8-11 year olds were `substantially better` able to identify types of Pokemon characters, rather than species of common UK wildlife.
I was also hugely disappointed to find that the subject of Rural Studies or Rural Science was taken off our school curriculum, denying many young people the opportunity to learn about farming, rural crafts, skills, traditions and ecology. The subject was seen, as no longer having any educational value! What a great loss to our children.
The Lost Words, is a collaborative project between writer Robert Macfarlane and artist Jackie Morris, and is a response to their belief that nature is also in retreat from children`s stories and imaginations. It combines their considerable creative talents, to help celebrate the relationship between language and the living world, and nature`s power to spark the imagination.
I loved the beautiful paintings on display alongside the `spell poems`, between them I feel they succeeded in creating their spells, aimed at taking the viewer on a magical journey.
It certainly got me thinking about our declining relationship with nature. This is a timely reminder of how important and magical our relationship should be. Art and Literature can help us bridge that gap once more, particularly when reading stories to our children.
Robert Macfarlane has created a series of twenty spell poems, one for each lost word, whilst artist Jackie Morris, inspired by her lifelong passion for landscape and wildlife, has painted more than fifty beautiful watercolours, using gold-leaf to help take viewers on a special magical journey, in rooms immersed in floor to ceiling pictorial graphics
`Jackie and I have worked for two years to make a `spell – book` that might – by the magic of poem, spell and icon, re-wild the language we use and the stories we tell about the everyday nature that surrounds us and of which we are a part`
Robert Macfarlane – Writer and poet
The exhibition was further enhanced for me, by having artist Jackie Morris on site reading some of the `spell poems`, adding a much greater depth and emphasis to the works in the exhibition. It was indeed a magical experience, one which children particularly would appreciate.
`I want the Lost Words to delight the mind and the eye and send children to sleep dreaming of wild things`
Jackie Morris – Artist and water colourist
There were also tactile `interpretative stations` for children to explore inside the building and the imaginative, `Spell Walks` encouraging visitors to venture out into the grounds of Compton Verney, to embrace nature. Two specially commissioned digital trails can be downloaded straight to you phone, so that you can take further inspiration from the words and images of Macfarlane and Morris, making your phone go wild!
I thought it was a beautiful exhibition which combines the best of art and poetry. Take the children along too.! Stand and read the spell poems whilst looking at the superb art work. You too will be taken on a memorable journey. And don’t forget to download to your phone and explore the `Spell Walks`out in the beautiful landscaped gardens of Capability Brown. Man made landscapes, not natural, but beautiful nevertheless! Not to be missed.
`In response to this widening gulf between childhood and the natural world, Macfarlane and Morris are seeking to conjure vanishing wildness back into existence through their writing and paintings, and we are delighted we are able to give them a platform to do this at Compton Verney`
Antonia Harrison – Curator
`The Lost Words` is also available as a brilliantly illustrated coffee table book, published by Hamish Hamilton and priced at £20.
Jackie and I have always thought of The Lost Words not as a children’s book but as ‘a book for all ages’ – or perhaps a book for children aged 3 to 100. We wanted it to be quite unlike any other book that exists: to catch at the beauty and wonder – but also the eeriness and otherness – of the natural world. So the cover needed somehow to speak of this strangeness, too, rather than trying to mimic an existing style. That’s how we came to this final design: ghostly in the wind spun seeds of the dandelion head, lush in the charm of goldfinches that flit across it.
The Lost Words,
01926 645 500
All Illustrations © Jackie Morris
October 21st – December 17th 2017
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