Community Art Day – National Paralympic Heritage Trust

end of day one

I wanted to put together a blog post all about the experience of running a community art workshop with the National Paralympic Heritage Trust. I was contacted several months ago by Fiona Darling-Galinski about the possibility of hosting an art project to celebrate the Paralympic heritage and in particularly the celebration of ceremonies and the costume design. She explained that there was a Paralympian who was also a textile artist who would be involved in the project and would I be willing to host and coordinate and I said, ‘Yes’.

kristina on screen

As part of the project we’ve been lucky to host an evening with Fiona explaining more about the work of the National Paralympic Heritage Trust you can see their website for more information and also the online tour of the museum. Fiona and her team have been working on a project around stories and memories it’s fascinating to see how the local community relates to the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, the home of the Paralympics.

The fascinating history focuses on Dr Guttmann a forward thinking spinal specialist in the 1940s who saw that the outcomes for spinal injuries were terrible and that actually moving people, rather than laying them flat on their backs was going to improve outcomes. Part of the recovery and rehabilitation involved sports and games and the Paralympic movement has born out of that activity at Stoke Mandeville. Anyway, that’s an aside, back to the project.

Fiona, Kristina Veasey, the artist, and I had few meetings to plan the art piece. We fed in the ideas from the initial information evening and Kristina created a plan for a banner which would celebrate the games, and some of the images and ideas from the Paralympic Games ceremonies. Kristina unfortunately couldn’t make it to the studio on the day but was able to join us remotely via video call several times through the day. The design incorporates the current logo for the Paralympics and one of the early ones which depicts three linking wheelchair wheels. When we were discussing wheels, I grabbed one of the Dorset buttons in the studio. Kristina had never seen one of these before and was so inspired they became a key point of the design. The making day started with us playing around with Dorset buttons after briefing from Kristina and explanation of her life as a Paralympian and art practice. I taught everybody how to make the traditional cartwheel Dorset button and everybody was allowed to express themselves and put into their Dorset button either something personal to them or something related to the Paralympics. Mine are one of my was quite patriotic; red, white and blue. My second is grey and sparkly. We managed to make 20 Dorset buttons – 16 for the design and four extra which will form part of the border.

The Dorset buttons are incorporated into the the design which includes petals that radiate from the centre, which look very similar to the petals that were part of the Olympic cauldron at the Paralympic ceremony back in 2012. The other thing that was key in that ceremony was the coat that Ian MacLellan wore as Prosperos coat, it’s covered in buttons.

prosperros coat

If you want to see the original, it’s actually at the Stoke Mandeville stadium in the Paralympic Heritage Centre. The design has a central area with concentric circles 16 Dorset buttons 16 of these petals that radiate in the centre is the current Agitos Paralympic logo. Agitos is a Latin word it means move to move, which is very relevant.

And as we discussed different things during the day, we discovered that there are 16 Petals in the design and there were also 16 competitors at the very first Paralympic Games. The piece is very symbolic of Paralympic heritage, but it’s also contains some personal stories. One of the participants has a condition which affects her body and causes chronic fatigue Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), coincidently the same condition which Kristina Veasey has. She used the EDS emblem a zebra as her inspiration, her button is black and white reminiscent of zebra.

11 of us came together on Saturday, 3rd June and spent the day, making, choosing colours and textures, cutting out, creating a crochet border and embroidering the Agitos. And there was some photos here of everybody involved and the piece of work which still needs a little bit of finishing off but is looking mighty fine and you can see the final design.

Over the next few weeks the studio is open for Bucks Art Weeks and the the half finished piece will be in the studio. If you’d like to come and sew on a button to the project you’d be very welcome. The deadline for completing the banner will for 3rd July when we host a talk from a Paralympian Helene Raynsford visit – do come along to see the banner and hear Helene talk that evening, book your place via this link. We will be having a group visit to the Heritage Centre at Stoke Mandeville too. So if you are interested in any of these events please register.

Thank you so much to Fiona at the Paralympic Heritage Trust and to Kristina Veasey and to everybody involved it was an awesome day.