Monday 25 September 2023

hope, paul and penny - care collaboration commission

I'm making gentle progress with the Care Collaboration commission, a project within Ruth Singer's Cultures of Care ACE funded project. 

I've visited the Hope Robinson Letters Collection at the Erewash Museum a number of times now. The first visit was to see what resonated within the whole museum, and I was drawn to the room telling the story of Hope Robinson, her husband Paul and their daughter Penny. Paul was a POW in Thailand during WW2 (forced to build the Burma-Thailand Railway) and Hope wrote and published a pamphlet after interviewing two escaped soldiers - this pamphlet led to 5,000 letters arriving at Hope's home in Ilkeston. The letters were from desperate families living in painful limbo, having received only snippets of information and infrequent censored postcards from their loved ones.

What a story!

Within the exhibition are a couple of items that linger in my thoughts, a bamboo covered book: a 1923 edition of the Highways and Byways in Derbyshire that Paul memorised during his captivity, and a dancing skirt, made for Penny by Hope from blackout material decorated with rick-rack. These objects represent how Paul, Hope and Penny endured a horrendous time. How Paul stayed connected to Derbyshire, how Hope sat at her sewing machine transforming blackout fabric and Penny danced with abandon shaking a ribboned tambourine. 

The book/the skirt inspired an interest in stories of endurance, how people endure times of uncertainty and limbo. What strategies, rituals, routines do people practice to survive, possibly thrive during these times?

With this in mind I am making myself a walking skirt based on Penny's dancing skirt. I will read the Highways and Byways of Derbyshire and walk routes around Ilkeston in my ribbon and rick-rack skirt. I'm interested in what may emerge as I make and walk, what conversations and thoughts are sparked. I'll be reaching out for walking companions and stories of endurance too, but all in good time.  

The 1923 edition of Highways and byways in Derbyshire by John Benjamin Firth that Paul kept and memorised while a POW

Penny in her dancing skirt

Text from display in the Letters of Hope exhibition at the Erewash Museum: This skirt was made for Penny by Hope to play dress-up. It is sewn from blackout material.

Blackout material, rick-rack and machine stitch