MaxLiteracy 2014–15

In 2014 applications were invited for the inaugural Max Reinhardt Literacy Awards, funded by the Max Reinhardt Charitable Trust. The programme was developed to enable galleries, art museums and visual arts venues to support a dedicated programme of creative writing and literacy work with schools.

The Awards are run in partnership with Engage, the National Association for Gallery Education and the National Association for Writers in Education (NAWE). Funding from the Awards allowed three venues, Falmouth Art Gallery, Kettle’s Yard and Manchester Art Gallery to employ a creative writer to work with a local school on a creative writing or literacy project, taking inspiration from the venue’s collections, displays or building. In 2016, additional funding was secured from The Ernest Cook Trust.

Falmouth Art Gallery

Falmouth Art Gallery has an outstanding collection of over 2,000 artworks ranging from Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist paintings to contemporary prints, photography and a children’s illustration archive. The collection includes the largest contemporary collection of automata in a public museum and they regularly commission new ones. This collection provided the inspiration for a series of writing and art workshops exploring the theme of a dystopian future specifically aimed at improving boys’ literacy. This theme — along with character development — was also part of the students’ coursework at the time and the project was designed to support the school in delivering this.

Sessions were held in the gallery space so that the boys could explore different examples of automata. The cleverness of the mechanisms could be observed first hand, and were used to help the boys design their own creations through the use of cams and pulleys. The resulting sculptures recycled from old materials quickly took on imagined characteristics and functions as the students worked in groups, making and discussing their ideas as the shapes began to form. The works of Patrick Woodroffe was hung in the gallery at the time and these provided an additional stimulus as his paintings contain elements of the fantastical, such as the blending of the biological and mechanical. The boys developed their own science fiction tales based around their own creations and discussions with their class which were later published in a book — Road to Automata.

Kettle’s Yard

Between 1957 and 1973 Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede. Jim had worked at the Tate Gallery in London, and supported his artist friends including Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Christopher Wood and David Jones by purchasing works early in their careers. Jim carefully positioned these artworks alongside furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects in his home, with the aim of creating a harmonic whole. The project took place through four sessions, and the school also adjusted the order of the curriculum topics so that the project was fully integrated. The term topic was rivers, so a nautical theme was developed, which capitalised on the character of the Kettle’s Yard collection. The pupils’ visits to the gallery explored maritime themes found across the collection and they were encouraged to think about how individual objects ‘make conversation’ with each other. Pupils acted as guides to family relatives and explored how Jim and Helen Ede developed their collection, and how Jim loaned artworks to students. With the support of teachers and parents, they wrote letters to Jim and Helen explaining which objects they might like to borrow from the house and what they would loan in their place. The workshops also included origami boats filled with ideas and stories inspired by the works at Kettle’s Yard, and messages in bottles written by ‘shipwrecked’ pupils. A temporary exhibition of work by Ian Hamilton-Finlay was on display at the Gallery and this was used as additional stimulation. Pupils thought about the visual impact of the written word and created their own sea and sky of words. The Award was a starting point for an ongoing relationship between Grove Primary School and the Gallery and was sustained throughout the Gallery’s closure for a major building redevelopment. The Grove Primary School pupils gave poetry readings at the opening of the new building in February 2018.

Manchester Art Gallery

Manchester Art Gallery contains nearly 13,000 items including painting, sculpture, drawings, watercolours, prints, posters and photographs. Best known for it’s world-famous Pre-Raphaelite paintings, the collection also includes British and European art from the 17th century right up to the present day as well as a huge collection of craft and design objects including ceramics, furniture, metalwork, wallpaper and dolls houses. Over the years Manchester Art Gallery has developed an interest in creative writing through a long term partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University’s English PGCE course. Working together they run training days for students that have resulted in an increasingly varied and sophisticated series of approaches in using art as a visual pathway to creative writing. A student from the course, now Head of English at Tarporley High School, asked for support in meeting the challenges of the new English GCSE, specifically developing writing from an image.

This became the MaxLiteracy Award, delivered with two groups of year 9 students over two months. The gallery educator and writer identified Under Windsor Bridge by Adolphe Valette, painted in 1912, as the focus, as they felt it could draw in the pupils and provide them with ample to write about and discuss. Although the image wasn’t specific to the school curriculum, the process of writing in response to an image was an element of the GCSE exam, and the Award provided Tarporley High with a way to explore clear strategies for educational approaches in the future. Frameworks and techniques were supplied by the writer, from word splurges, kennings and haikus, to first and third person narratives, which provided the scaffold to turn ideas into crafted pieces of writing. As an artist, performer, writer and poet, Mike Garry brought a sense of drama to the workshops, which particularly engaged pupils and educators involved. It established a sense of intimacy and constructive engagement over an extended period. The improvement in the students’ writing during the project was so significant that Tarporley High School now visits the Gallery on an annual basis with all of its Year 9 pupils.