Far Far Away - The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment, Manchester Art Gallery

It has been a busy summer of creating Pre-Raphaelite story worlds and paper play!

As part of Manchester Art Gallery's current Pre-Raphaelite Experiment, I worked alongside artists Katie McCall, Sarah Marsh and Family Learning Manager, Alex Thorp to develop, create, install and co-ordinate activities in a large, interactive story world on the top floor of Manchester Art Gallery.

Programmed for the summer holidays, 'Far, Far Away' invited children aged 0-11 years and their adults to follow a treasure hunt through the Pre-Raphaelite galleries, finding characters from different paintings along the way. Families were encouraged to work together to make up their own stories inspired by the different exhibited paintings. As a way of sparking their imagination further, paper clues and props were laid out in baskets along the way to help.

Rather than returning to the usual learning studios to do a creative activity, the whole of the Gallery's top floor temporary exhibition space had literally been transformed into a land 'far, far away'. Children followed a trail of leaves to begin their journey through the story world.

In the main gallery, three large tents were suspended from the ceiling - each stretching across at a diameter of 5 metres. Families visited each tent to put together the elements of their own story:

Katie created and co-ordinated the 'Who' tent, where children could create a costume to turn themselves into a character from the paintings.

I created and co-ordinated the 'Where' tent, a shadowy, multi-sensory paper forest, where children could be inspired to think of the setting for their story.

Sarah developed and co-ordinated the 'What' tent - the final part to the story - what happens to your character along their journey. Here children could make speech bubbles and put together their plot to act out in front of the camera. Their films were then cast as huge projections onto the gallery wall!

0-2 years - activities for parents with younger children

As a way of providing activities for parents with very young children, I was responsible for providing a multi-sensory, exploratory experience in the paper forest! Birds recorded during a recent trip to Poland could be heard hiding in the trees, among a growing army of paper leaves. Natural forest materials (e.g. leaves, flowers, apples, pine cones, etc.), fluffy birds and torches were hidden in 'treasure tubs' filled with ripped paper that children could search through. Older children began to make stories up about the objects they found, whilst younger children enjoyed tipping the paper out, shining torches or sitting in the tub itself to have a paper bath!

The tent also housed a light box to investigate the details of natural materials using magnifying glasses (as inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites' attention to details in nature). Older children could also make paper cuttings to make the forest 'grow' and some began to make hidden box gardens which they shone their torches into.

As an extension of this fascination with nature, I also worked with a team of volunteers to develop a landscape outside the tent:

  • a nature trail - a winding path around the tent which revealed hidden messages, leaves, scented flowers and herbs, etc.
  • a paper corn field, which families could create out of tubes of yellow card
  • a clay area for capturing natural prints and constructing
  • a mark-making/printing area to capture the details of leaves and flowers with ink (these changed with the 'seasons' over the 4 weeks)
  • a river of pebbles that young children loved to position and build with around the outside of the tent

Please see above for images taken over the course of the project!