My role in the History Makers project has been to create a short animation honouring the lives of the relatives of local people who experienced the First World War first-hand through objects they left behind from that era. I have worked with the current owners of the artefacts and the pupils at Mary Webb School who have taken part in the project.
While working on the animation, I visited many of the local people who took part in the project to photograph their objects and to discuss them. I also attended the ‘Antiques Roadshow’ event in July. Some of my photographs from those visits and that event are included in the website. In response to the visits and my conversations with the local people about their artefacts, I created a series of paintings and clay sculptures based on some of the objects. I was moved to paint by the stories I heard and the opportunities I had to touch and relate to these objects.
My involvement with this project, including making visits to local people, has helped me to focus my art on examining the extraordinary lives of ‘things’. We cannot live without things; they provide a comfort and a familiar presence. Objects are integral to our domestic lives and they make us feel something of Sigmund Freud’s ‘uncanny’. They can incite a Proustian memory effect, as they are custodians of past events. In the case of the First World War, these will not be the actual events of the war itself, but of the stories told by family or owners of the objects. My aim is to highlight how current generations relate to and perceive objects from the First World War and their history and to question whether these objects can provoke thought about the lives of people who lived a century ago.
Shropshire Regimental Museum
In addition to my work with the participants of the History Makers project, I worked with volunteers at the Shropshire Regimental Museum. The video piece is based on five interviews carried out with staff and wardens there. I asked each of them to pick a First World War object from the museum’s collection to talk about. I responded to these interviews through painting and clay. The video, as well as telling the stories of the objects and bringing them to life with reference to contemporary objects, reflects my need to respond to history through art.
The clay objects, some of which are the objects chosen by the staff at the museum and others of which are from the History Makers project, are for people to touch. They aren’t works of beauty. I hope that this ‘trace’ held within objects can be picked up by people through the sense of touch as well as sight.
All of the paintings and photographs of the clay objects can be found on my website [http://beckybendylegs.com/my-pictures/world-war-i/].
There is also a website about the development and subsequent exhibition of First World War art [http://www.wwithings.com/].
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