Art and Soul – Arthur + Martha

Written by Active Minds on Monday the 29th of July 2013.


Poet Philip Davenport and Artist Lois Blackburn (Arthur and Martha), co-directors of a CIC known as Arthur + Martha do some exceptional work developing and running collaborative art projects with older people in the UK.

‘Spaghetti Maze’ and their latest project ‘Making Memories’ (working with Gallery Oldham) are both collaborative art projects for older people with dementia.

Both projects’ outputs  provide some valuable assets if you care for someone with dementia, and Lois and Philip write beautifully honest accounts of their experiences with those that do.

The art and poetry that is made, and the write-ups and learnings from their work are covered on their website, their blogs, a Flickr photo gallery and their YouTube channel.

Spaghetti Maze

Arthur + Martha’s Spaghetti Maze Project helped individuals with dementia make their life stories.

The idea was that Spaghetti Maze’s output would be a number of ‘memory props’ that could help the individuals with dementia involved in the project recall their lives whilst adding some novel and personalised Arthur + Martha elements to life story work*.

It started in August 2012 at the Pinfold Centre in Whitefield and ran until the beginning of this year.

*Life Story Work is an activity which involves reviewing and evaluating an individual’s past life events, in developing an individual biography of that person (definition by Dementia UK)

An extract from the Arthur + Martha blog

Today, Lois brought two drawing exercises; a particular success was the suggestion that people draw the home of their childhood. Often people are reluctant to pick up a pen and draw. It’s a big leap of faith to trust that they won’t be mocked, by us, their peers, or (most devastatingly themselves, seeing oneself produce drawings that appear child-like can lead to a sense of being diminished). Actually, today there were no complaints. Drawing a house is one of the very first things we learn to do at school; it is iconic and because of that people didn’t seem to mind having a go. Perhaps because the point of a drawing like this is that it’s not technically perfect. Like a picture of a smiley face, it’s the spirit of the thing that counts.

Making Memories Project

Arthur + Martha’s most recent project has been funded by the Barings Foundation and is a partnership with Gallery Oldham. The aim of the project is to find a new way to approach the development of reminiscence boxes which will then help them to develop boxes for the gallery itself. Again, Arthur + Martha have been looking at new ways to approach the subject to “stretch the boundaries of this kind of artefact, taking in broad notions of what stimulates memories and how we understand our collective past.”

An extract from the Arthur + Martha blog

Today’s morning session in Oldham was a case in point. I brought with me a packet of mints and we discussed sweet jars in the sweet shops of memory, while crunching peppermint. Out of this flowed a conversation that roamed from mint humbugs to a police raid on a brothel to stealing lead off a roof. It’s a pocket history of childhood in a tough northern town. It’s my job to have a pen in my hand and jot down these moments, using people’s exact words and listening out for the most ear-catching phrases. They’re often rambly and rough-hewn, but to my ears these pieces are poetry. They will be revisited and participants will often strip out individual phrases or sections, but the heart of what we do beats here – if you choose to hear it.

Some of the fantastic assets from the projects above:

Arthur + Martha’s Flickr account is full of interesting photographs from their projects including some great still lives of museum reminiscence objects and the charming poems and artworks that form just part of their projects’ outputs.

Arthur + Martha YouTube channel – view a few lovely short reminiscence videos using sound-bites and illustrations from their projects including ‘Domestic Work’ and ‘Entertainment’.

Arthur + Martha’s Spaghetti Maze Project on their Blog – some great blog pieces including writings on the success of participants being asked to draw their family home, and Lois’ very honest words on how  ‘life story work is not for everyone’.

Arthur + Martha’s Making Memories Project on their Blog – some great blog pieces including writings on other reminiscence box/ memory box projects, and how scent can play a part in triggering memories… and not always the memories you’d expect it to!

…Incredible people, incredible projects.