I was going to start this post with an apology. After all, what is the point of reviewing an exhibition which opened in early February but which closes on Friday? However, I have just discovered that there will be another chance to see this delightful show.
Yesterday we managed to get to see The Lightfoot Letters at the Visual Arts Cheshire Gallery in Northwich, and as I said above it was delightful. Sometime ago, Maria Walker, a textile artist, bought a bundle of old letters from an antique shop with the intention of cutting them up and using them in her art work. She had them with her at a workshop when she met poet Angela Topping. The name on the letters, Lightfoot, happened to be Angela’s maiden name but the address was in Manchester which had no connection for her.
The two exchanged business cards and soon began collaborating. Shortly afterwards, Angela discovered that the letters were sent from Widnes where her family came from. Indeed, she found that they were indeed from her family, sent to and kept by her aunt Frances, including ones from her father when he was twelve. An amazing coincidence! This link is the first of a series of posts on Angela’s blog about the letters
The exhibition was of Maria and Angela’s work based on the letter. For example, the above letter mentions Peter ice skating. Here is Angela’s poem (I’ve changed the layout, as I couldn’t work how to reproduce the original layout).
Lean into the wind, father, let skates speed you across frozen pond
in this harsh winter of 1923 when pits are thick with ice and all you care about
is learning to go on two skates, those home-made blades carrying you in a hard-won glide
into a back spin as you show off your new found skills. No one taught you or held your hand
hauled you up when you fell time after time, except yourself. Enjoy your triumph, Dad,
for all too soon your childhood will crash to its ending. For now you’re just a boy
buying a clockwork engine with carefully totted up tips from your after-school job.*
All too soon you’ll be a man at twelve years old, handing pay over to keep family fed:
your mother ill in bed*, your father given up to drink, the young ones arguing.
Skate on, enjoy the free flow as your blades whistle on ice. It’s not yet time to go home.
(* Referred to in other letters.)
Meanwhile Maria produced a textile of ice skates:
The exhibition closes on Friday in Northwich but will be on show again from May 18th to 28th September at the Sale Waterside Art Centre, in Sale, Manchester. (I saw John Otway there last year, and they have an excellent display area.) Meanwhile, here are some more of Maria’s work: