Collaging Book Memories

Collins Guide to roses book coverMaterial Memories Session 7 @ The Islington Museum

This week we took books as the inspiration for our quilt panels. The group thought on books which had been influential in their lives. The scope was intentionally wide from childhood fairytales to recent literature, anything which brought back papery memories.We kick started with a short talk about the museums Orton & Halliwell book cover collection, one of their most precious and prized collections.

Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell rose to notoriety in Islington when they took books from the local public libraries and returned them with altered dust covers, often with subversive and humorous meaning. After being caught they were, rather harshly, sent to prison for their misdemeanour against public property.

Whilst in prison, Orton found inspiration writing, now well known, plays whilst Halliwell sank into a depression. On release Orton found critical acclaim and fame as an up and coming playwright, but his life was cut short by his depressed and jealous partner Halliwell, who murdered him before taking his own life on August 9th 1967.

The Islington Museum holds the majority of the pairs collaged book covers and some are on display for public viewing. The museum recently hosted a mock trial, entertained by a local legal firm,  of the library offences commitment by Orton and Halliwell based on current law practice. The verdict was, that by todays standards, the pair would have gotten way with a mere ASBO, (you have been warned!), rather than a the 6 month prison sentence they received. Orton and Halliwell always felt that that sentence was unduly harsh “because we were queers”. With our new appreciation for Islington’s collaging past we shared our own literary favourites.

Some examples of books which the group offered up as paper memory inspiration:

We had a new addition to our group and some very welcome help from two students doing work experience at the  museum and it was all hands on deck for the gluiest session yet!

We wasted no time in trying to get to grips with the notion of collaging book covers. It is actually harder than you would think to deface a book, it goes against all your better judgement and schooling.

But in the end we, just couldn’t bring ourselves to deface the purpose bought dust covers and books so we collaged magazine cuttings into fabric and designed our own book covers instead.

Two hours later we had some pretty stunning results… not all were finished but here are the few that were.

Once we had tidied up, and washed our hands, we were treated to some real life material memories. One of our group, who brought in three Saris each depicting a special event in her life and shared the story behind each one.

The group rise to the challenge once again and create yet more panels to be added to the quilt. Next week a discussion on assembling the quilt as we prepare to join all our panels together over the final weeks and create new panels inspired by local landmarks, both public and personal.

Thank you to you all for your continued commitment to the group and to the student volunteers and museum staff for your support.

Alex McEwan

Author: Alex McEwan

Alex is an artist who specialises in inclusive and accessible community arts projects, such as Sense's TEXTtile and Quilt Tales.

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