Burning Bright: Part 2, Burning Gold – Naomi Billingsley

read my first post about my project here.

My first activity, back in May, was a workshop for school groups which explored different ways of interpreting the Bible, taking Blake’s Illustrations to the Book of Job as inspiration. The timing of the exhibition and space in the education programme meant that it would be difficult to work with year groups who would be taking exams, so I decided to target Key Stage 3 (ages 11-15). I focussed the workshop on the story of the Good Samaritan which appears on the Religious Studies syllabus and is depicted by Blake in his illustrations to Night Thoughts (you can view it via LUNA). In the end I had two groups – one of eight year 10s (so actually early Key Stage 4, aged 15-16), and the other of thirty year 9s. Needless to say the dynamics were very different with the two groups. The larger group were more challenging in many respects (for instance, I was surprised how short their attention span was when I gave them time to produce a piece of work), but they were more talkative, so we ended up having a lengthy discussion in the exhibition about one of the books and the issues around displaying works in an exhibition. Conversely, the smaller group were a bit shy at first but became more talkative as the workshop went on and they produced some really nice work.


My second activity, at the end of June, was a tour of the exhibition and collection encounter focussing on Blake’s fascination with the Gothic, inspired by the John Rylands Library itself which is a magnificent neo-Gothic edifice. The photograph above is from one of two tours I did – the lady on the left was the only taker on this tour (I suspect because the advertising was not released very far in advance because it came right at the start of the library’s summer programme). I think she was a little overwhelmed at first to have a personal tour, plus photographer (Jamie Robinson of the Centre for Heritage Imaging and Collection Care), plus another member of staff (Stella Halkyard, my main contact at the Library, who curated the exhibition and organised the items for the collection encounters), but it meant that it became more of a conversation than with a larger group and she seemed very happy at the end. In the photograph we are looking at an engraving of Henry Fuseli’s spooky painting of the witches and Macbeth from Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery.


Tips for working with schools and public audiences


–         Be prepared to be flexible: you never know what to expect in terms of numbers, personality and knowledge base of your groups.

–         If your advertising is to be done through your partner, talk to them about their lead-in times to make sure there is sufficient time for take-up

–         If you are taking bookings for your event, especially if it is free, anticipate people dropping out without telling you

–         Always have something extra up your sleeve in case things go faster than you expected.


The third part of my project is an online version of the exhibition, which will be a virtual incarnation of the physical exhibition, as well as incorporating the fruits of various activities run alongside (including my own workshops and tours). It’s now in the final technical stages and will be launching soon. I’ll say more about the process of working on it in my final post for this project.

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