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A giant music box will surprise visitors to a Sheffield museum – and the message behind it is crucial

A ‘sculptural sound system’ taking the form of a vast music box is to go on show at Sheffield’s Kelham Island Museum – putting the spotlight on organisations that work to boost people’s mental health.

By Richard Blackledge

The new piece, called Stand, has been created by artist Mel Brimfield and composer Gwyneth Herbert in collaboration with more than 100 mental health service users, singers, museum volunteers and members of the Men’s Sheds project in England and Wales.

A choral composition sits at the centre of the installation. This began with a recording of a long-term inpatient, Patrick, reciting poetry at the Bethlam psychiatric hospital in London, which was captured by Brimfield as part of a year of research.A writing process then followed, guided by a series of workshops led by the artists with groups such as inmates at HMP Parc Prison, academics at Kings College and the choir at Maudsley Hospital.

The installation comprises an elaborately hand-painted, 15-sided platform, in the middle of which Patrick’s recitation plays from a speaker embedded in a gold-leafed tree hung with hundred of polished semi-precious stones.

A circle of 15 chairs is gathered around the sculpture, each one designed and built by different chapters of Men’s Sheds, as well as Kelham Island Museum volunteers and technicians, using crafts ranging from whittling, marquetry and wood turning to stained glass.

A speaker is built into each chair relaying parts of the composition, performed by members of Harrow-based ensemble More Than Just a Choir.

Gwyneth said: “In our songwriting workshops, we explored emotions and subjects around mental illness such as isolation and connection; loneliness and community; anxiety and healing; the loss, finding and sharing of voice.

 Gwyneth Herbert and Mel Brimfield at Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Jonathan Turner

“Common to many shared stories was an exhausting experience of collapse, slow recovery and relapse without appropriate community support.

“As a central principle, we’ve structured the harmonic sequences and melodies to assume a looping, cyclical form in response, uniting initially tentative individual voices in the circle to slowly build to a euphoric choral swell before repeatedly fragmenting to dissonance.”

Mel added: “The accessibility and value of creativity to the isolated is both the subject and method of ‘Stand’.

“At a time of disastrous austerity cuts to mental health services, we’re uniting and foregrounding the organisations who provide crucial opportunities for socialising through communal activity.

Kelham Island Museum. Picture: Andrew Roe

“It’s an artwork that’s been made with and for the community, and is hopefully a celebratory testament to the potential of collective action.”

Men’s Sheds are places where older men can go to practice skills such as making and mending, tackling the problem of loneliness. The movement began in Australia and has since spread across the world.

Chris Keady, museum manager at Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust, said Kelham Island aimed to ‘tell the stories of the people and communities behind Sheffield’s industrial past – the makers and the craftspeople’.

“This newly-commissioned artwork gives a new perspective on the process of making, collaborating and wellbeing, and is very different from anything our visitors will have experienced at Kelham Island Museum before,” he said.

The artists worked with members of the Men's Sheds project - a Men's Shed in Hartlepool is pictured. Picture: Frank Reid

Stand is on show at Kelham Island from January 26 to March 8. It then tours to Cardiff, Leeds and Leicester.

The project is part of the Meeting Point scheme, run by the Arts&Heritage agency.

Visit www.simt.co.uk/kelham-island-museum for details


Two Sheds had a brew up on Brew Monday

Two sheds met today 20 January, "Maesteg Shedquarters" and Parc Prisons', "Head in the Shed". The occasion was what the Samaritans’ called Brew Monday. Everybody else calls it Blue Monday, as it is the time the Christmas bills come in but it is not yet payday. The third Monday in January is the time when people feel low and depressed. It is the time of year when people are more likely to self harm or even commit suicide.

The Samaritans’ who are in the front line of help if anyone has these dark though came up with the idea of getting together to have a “Brew Up”. Everyone feels better after a good cup of tea or coffee. But more important than that is the getting together, the companionship that goes with the cup of cheer.

We met and introduced ourselves and said what we were either good at or what liked. After a cup of tea or coffee we soon broke up into small groups to talk to others in the group that had similar interests to ourselves. The prison kitchens had provided some very nice cakes and for one of the group whose birthday it was there was even a box of chocolates.

Besides the talking that was going on one of the Head in the Shed members entertained us to an impromptu puppet show that had us in stitches. The next project for the prison Shed is to put on a full puppet show for the children visitors. 

When someone said it was time to go we did not believe that the time had passed so quickly. Everybody had enjoyed themselves so much that they said that it should become a monthly meeting      

The tree that we entered into the Maesteg Christmas Tree Festival organised by Llangynwyd Chursh but held in St Michaels Church has attracted a great deal of comments. Most of the trees in the festival were shop bought and decorated with shop bought decorations. They looked beautiful, but because ours was a made tree and decorated with hand- made decorations we had many compliments    

As you know I took the chairs to the prison on Thursday to be picked up to be delivered to Mel the Artist.

I received an e mail from her on Friday to say” they are so beautiful ---- they are just absolutely what I hoped the project would produce.” Congratulations on doing a great job.

As a child, I was unable to take part in active sports, and tiddlywinks got incredibly boring.  Along came my Gran and patiently taught me the basics of knitting, crochet and cross-stitch. I took to cross-stitch most of all, and did quite a bit in my early years.

Then came studies, work and family, so time became limited (and it just wasn’t the thing to do).

Now, having retired, and not being particularly proficient with a hammer, I have joined the growing squad of Fabric Engineers to renew my acquaintance with a needle and thread.I have finished a number of small kits, which I will be making up into cards intended as birthday or other occasion cards, each with a “masculine” theme, such as trains tractors, cars, etc., and these should be ready for sale quite soon.

My next projects are, a 1956 BSA Gold Star motorbike, which should be about 9 x 6 inches when completed, and an ambitious project to reproduce a 1960s etching by George Chapman called ‘Going Home’, depicting the end of a shift at a Colliery. I hope Mr Chapman won’t mind the liberty - it will be in aid of Maesteg Shedquarters! No promises on the latter, though, as it is likely to be even bigger than the bike.  The work is going to be interpreted from a computer download of the etching, quite an undertaking.

I have found stitching therapeutic, tough enough to keep an active mind interested and something of a talking point with my fellow Shedders. If anyone out there is interested in this activity - don’t be shy............

Check out Maesteg Shedquarters.........

For several years the Shed has had a close relationship with the village of Llangynwyd and its church, St cynwyds. We have repaired and restored a communal bench in the village and made book rests for their record books when they hold open days. We have also contributed to their Quilt and Craft Festivals by showing some of our members’ crafts.

This year we were asked if we would like to have a table to display and sell what we make in the Shed, we said yes. This year was different as the festival would have to be held in St Michael’s church, Maesteg. St Cynwyd’s Church dates back to before the time of Elizabeth I and the church hall was one of the first schools in the valley and are in need of renovation. Because of that, the three day festival needed to be moved for this year.

 Shed members spent weeks making wooded planters, bird tables and turned items, tatted jewellery and since it was a craft festival tatted scissors keeps. Friends of the Shed also made needle cases and pin cushions.

The work on show was amazing as you walked in the door you were met with waves of colour. I mean that as the quilts were draped over the pews and they look like wave all the way from the back of the church to the front. As St Michaels is a much larger church than St. Cynwyds the organisers were afraid they would not be able to fill it, but they did. The organisers made over £1000 for St Cynwyds.

Anyone who has done any handycraft work would appreciate the thousands of hours of work that had gone into producing enough quilts to fill such a huge space. There was only one quilt for sale it was for £110 and it went very quickly. For those who were interested in quilting there were dozens and dozens of different patterns as no two quilts were

The Shed table was manned for the three days. The turned items went on the first day. All the planters went and we had to take orders. Altogether we made £76. Selling the goods, was only part of why we took the table it was also to use the opportunity to sell idea of a Men’s Shed. We were able to talk to men and women from a wide area of S Wales. We find that women are our best recruiters. One woman begged me to get her husband out of the house, not for her benefit but for his.

ShedQuarters Commissioned to Build New Art Project

The woodworking group and the craft group are working on an exciting project. The Shed has been approached by an eminent artist Mel Brimfiel who as asked us to be involved in an art project that she has been commissioned to produce. Of course we said yes.

Mel has been asked by the National Psychosis Unit, at Bethlem Royal Hospital to produce an art work around the theme of mental health, loneliness and isolation. She has asked Sheds from around England and Wales to produce chairs. They will be normal size chairs with a hole for a speaker in the middle of the seat (with the tendency of the Welsh to give everything a nickname, they are known as “commodes”). We have been asked to produce two chairs, one will be plain the other will be upholstered with a made up patchwork cloth. Shed members will be recorded and their voices and stories will come from their chairs.

The design of the patchwork is called the “Courthouse Steps” since we meet at the Court house. It will also be embroidered with our name “Shedquarters” and the symbol of “7777” Between the design the “Courthouse Steps” and the 7777 which signifies “The old parish” the nickname for Measteg. Those in the know will know where the chair came from.

The art work will go on display in the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield, the Chapter Arts Center, Cardiff and The Tetley in Leeds during 2020.