Imagine Islington

Curating Imagine Islington

Roz Currie, Curator


During 2015 and 2016 Islington Museum worked on an Arts Council England project, ‘Imagine Islington‘, exploring objects from the museum collection. Three different artists and six primary school classes were inspired by six objects from our collection. The exhibition brings together the six objects and the artworks they inspired, created by the class and artist.

The whole project was experimental and playful -exploring the objects in different ways. We wanted the exhibition to reflect this and included the cast of a pregnant tummy to stroke, body noises to listen to, acetates to look through and rain sticks to play.

The objects chosen by the artists are below, click on the links to see the artworks:

  • A Wooden Water Pipe -This 17th-century water pipe was made from the trunk of an elm tree. It was used to carry water, provided by the New River Company, bringing water initially to houses and businesses in the City of London, and later to Islington.


  • Joe Orton Book Covers -Writer Joe Orton and his partner and mentor Kenneth Halliwell created ‘guerilla artwork’ using books from Islington Public Library Service. In 1962 they were each sentenced to six months in prison for causing ‘malicious damage’ to seventy two library books.
  • Objects found at 53 Cross Street -53 Cross Street, off Upper Street, was built in 1785.  The first owner was Thomas Vernon and many different people have since lived there. During the 1990s, Martin King moved in and started to explore the house, he collected the traces of those who had lived in the house before him and donated them to the museum.
  • WWI Embroidered Postcards -Leonard Mansfield sent silk embroidered postcards to his girlfriend, Margaret, from the trenches during the First World War. Silk cards were manufactured in France from 1900 onwards but became popular throughout the conflict as souvenirs for troops to send to family and friends.


  • Gas-Air Machine -Dr Robert Minnitt developed his first Gas-Air apparatus in 1933 and this refined version in the 1940s which was used until the 1970s. He was known as ‘the man who killed the agony of child birth’, providing pain relief for mothers during labour.
  • UV Light-Therapy Goggles -In the early-20th Century rickets was a very common disorder among children. It was caused by a lack of vitamin D from food and sunlight. UV light therapy was used to treat children in the Finsbury Health Centre. Children would wear these goggles to protect their eyes.


Blog Post Education Imagine Islington

Inspired by WWII embroidered postcards: Sarah Pimenta and Morelands Primary School

In 2016 artist Sarah Pimenta worked with teacher Louise Murtagh and Year 1 at Morelands Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Sarah supported Louise to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by the collection of embroidered postcards from the Second World War.

Sarah also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by the postcards and the pupils.


Why we chose the embroidered postcards:

‘We chose the postcards to fit into a topic the class were already covering and also because of the story of Leonard & Margaret. We thought the idea that Margaret had kept the postcards from Leonard so safe for so many years was a lovely message about treasuring and valuing things given to us by people we love.

 The simple designs of the postcards depicting images from France and England was also an interesting point to start thinking about heritage and identity visually.

 We also thought the postcards would tie in with an upcoming topic our class would will be doing called ‘Hurrah for the holiday’s. We thought it would be interesting for the children to explore the idea of why people send postcards and who people choose to send those postcards to.’


 Our artwork:

Year 1 created an installation piece inspired by Leonard’s postcards. The installation combine screen prints and a sculptural mobile.

Hung on the wooden frame were wooden postcards printed with the pupils’ designs exploring their cultural identity. The images referenced those on the postcards sent by Leonard.

final work 10.jpg


Alongside the mobile were three screen printed artworks. Sarah worked with the pupils to create these screen prints from their drawings. Sarah cut out the pupils’ drawings to create stencils, which she then composed on the screen. The pupils screen printed these stencils onto a fabric background. Once dry, Sarah added a different colour wash, chosen by the pupils, to the three works. The final collaborative artwork expresses the vibrant cultural backgrounds of the class.

final work 4final work 3final work 2

Sarah worked alongside the pupils to create her own artwork inspired by the embroidered postcards. She explored her own cultural links to Goa and Kenya. She collected objects from both countries, including images, postcards, stamps, adverts and even shopping bags.

‘I decided to focus on print methods that I don’t normally use in my practise, I chose to do lino cutting as I thought it was a technique which was better suited to working within a classroom setting. It awakened a love for lino printing that I hadn’t felt for a long time ( I first did it over 20 years before as an art student). As part of my own work, I printed my blocks in a Print studio on a professional press & had the chance to experiment a bit and learn some new processes including chine-collee which inspired me in my classroom delivery .  I learnt that despite being a printer there is always something new to learn & the importance of experimenting.  I am definitely going to continue to learn more and develop even more techniques! I’ve a feeling that it’s the beginning of a new creative journey, I definitely intend to continue with my experiments.’



Dad’s Flamingo

Sarah’s dad when living in Nairobi, was given a flamengo as a pet by one of his students. Sarah referenced this unusual pet in a lino and chine-collee print inspired by her cultural heritage. The pose of the flamengo is taken from her father’s photograph, while the background text is from a piece of newsprint collected from Kenya.

‘I loved the idea of exploring the concept of cherishing something that had been sent by a loved one far away.  The story of postcards being sent between countries by loved ones is a theme from my own migrant history, messages flying across the worlds from Kenya in Africa & Goa in India to England –  some probably during the same time frame as when Leonard was sending cards to Margaret. I’m  pleased to have finally made some work which explores my heritage.

By some serendipity at the beginning of this project two people dear to me travelled to Kenya & Goa.  I explained the project to them & they both agreed to send me stuff from their travels; postcards, bits of fabric, scraps of paper, money etc which I could use a impetus for my artwork.   I decided to make some simple lino prints using imagery and ideas from this collection of well travelled inspiration with a view to gifting a print back to Lucy & Ruth to complete the cycle of giving & receiving.’




Kenya Ruth uses chine-collee to incorporate the ephemeral brought back by Ruth from Kenya.

final work 6

Dahlia string

Dahlia string, feathers and coins from Kenya are relief printed on to fabric, the dye from the string merging with the ink.

final work 7

GOA Lucy

Mirroring the techniques used by the pupils and referencing the visual language of the WWI postcards, Sarah combine layers of lino prints and chine-collee.

final work 5


What we thought about the project:

‘It was a pleasure to see the pupils responses to the artwork they had created themselves and see their enjoyment in the printmaking process which was their first attempt at this type of arts activity.  They were also very receptive to my work & were full of questions!’


‘I learned that it is possible to use a historical object and turn it into a really interesting art project. I liked the idea of making it personal for the children so they felt connected to their work and could see the importance of why Margaret kept the postcards safe. The children enjoyed talking about their family and what they know of the countries in which their family live.

It was important not to limit the children’s interpretation of what our idea was important too. The outcome was not what I had imagined but the results were personal and have a story to them and so I think they are real works of art as they have so much thought in them.

Through observing Sarah, the children were able to see a range of ways to design and print work and also to see how a professional artist works and the amount of time and skill that is required. They could see the importance of thinking and improving your work.’


Blog Post Education Imagine Islington

Inspired by 53 Cross Street: Ella Medley-Whitfield and Montem Primary School

In 2016 artist Ella Medley-Whitfield worked with teacher Ed and Year 1 at Montem School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Ella supported Ed Musgrave to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by the collection from 53 Cross Street.

Ella also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by 53 Cross Street and the class.

Why we chose 53 Cross Street:

‘I am drawn to objects or remnants left behind that can tell a story or have a narrative. I realised that these objects would be food for children’s imagination, they understood the historical aspects and were able to think imaginatively about how the objects had arrived at the house and the museum and who they had once belonged to. All three objects were things that had once been worn by a person and the fact that the shoes had come from the Victorian times gave the children a real historical idea about how long ago this was. This aspect fitted into the curriculum as the group had previously done some work on Victorian times and had some background knowledge for us to develop.

 The objects inspired many art ideas for me and the group as it was easily transferable to look at lost objects in the children’s school situation, it is a Victorian school so lent itself well to thinking about the schools history and things at school we could preserve. We particularly looked at the school’s lost property, which I think was a very successful approach as it made the children think about things they overlook everyday.’


Our artwork:

Ella collaborated with the pupils to create the Museum of Lost Objects, an installation piece.

The installation contained sculptures of lost objects created by the pupils, and installed on an old school display board. These were presented alongside a framed installation of object labels, that identified the sculptures. Referencing the unique history of the Cross Street artefacts, pupils’ lost objects are similarly elevated to museum pieces.

‘I view my practice as relational and socially engaged, I work with people to collect stories and accounts. I believe it is my responsibility as an artist to retell these stories or accounts creatively for an audience. For this project I was concerned with collecting stories and information from the children. I devised a museum of lost objects, the students recreated in clay objects that they had either lost or misplaced that they really miss. By remaking these objects, they were preserving the memory, so it almost became an object graveyard. I used these clay pieces to incorporate old lost objects taken from the school, taking ownership over the way they were presented and narrated for an audience.’


Alongside the Museum of Lost Objects  is a sculptural installation. Pupils created plaster of paris bricks. Peaking out from inside the bricks are found objects, which pupils salvaged from their playground. Lost property has been cast in to the fabric of the bricks, hidden from view but preserved for prosperity, again referencing the history of the Cross Street collection. The bricks are presented within a perspex box.


What we thought about the project:

‘Each week, Ella used different artistic media for the children to use and respond to the artefacts, they created some fantastic artwork which encompassed skills of sculpture, drawing and painting. Resources including plaster, sculpting wire and photography were used effectively and were well above the calibre of normal art materials the children use at school.

Having a full-time artist in class exposed children to the idea of pursuing a career in Art in the future.


‘I have worked with objects for many years and really enjoyed this experience to develop my practice with objects. I had never worked with objects taken from a museums collection. It made me think about the historical context of the object more and made me feel more responsible to responding to this object correctly as I didn’t want to get my facts wrong. I also really enjoyed the process of devising creative interactive and educational activities around a single object, this was a challenge but a very positive challenge with many avenues to explore.’




Blog Post Collections Education Imagine Islington

Installations inspired by Joe Orton’s Book Covers: Ella Phillips and Vittoria Primary School


In 2016 artist Ella Phillips worked with teacher Helen Roberts and Year 4 at Vittoria Primary School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Ella supported Helen to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by the Joe Orton book covers held by Islington Museum.

Ella also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by the book covers and the pupils.

Why we chose the book covers:

‘As an artist, I often work digitally and found the materiality of the objects appealing.

I was interested in how different places invoke certain behaviours and how Orton & Halliwell chose to subvert this within the library space. I wanted to create a connection between their history and contemporary culture, through playing with the idea of ‘hacking as a method of cutting and technological subversion. What does changing an image or text with your own ideas, say about ownership and personal agency? Collage offered an effective way to explore this, with children of all abilities able to make impacting images quickly.


 Our artwork:

Pupils created an installation, Library: Hacked:

Each student created ‘hacked’ text, book jacket covers and concertina books. These were put together alongside their ‘spliced portraits’ to create a topsy-turvy library.

Bringing together all of these elements, the class created a library installation with our own ridiculous rules to help you understand how to behave! Look around and you might see our spliced portraits, but nothing is as it seems in the ‘Library: Hacked’.


final work 1

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Ella created While Reading 

This installation was composed of a hand carved book, created from a hacked library text with a video nestled inside. From the book was a pair of headphones playing a video. Sense and nonsense, everybody is welcome!

Ella Phillips_While Reading, video installation, 2016



Blog Post Education Imagine Islington

Art inspired by nature: Sarah Pimenta and Blessed Sacrament RC Primary School


In 2016 artist Sarah Pimenta  worked with teacher Denise Quinn and Year 2 at Blessed Sacrament School on the exhibition Imagine Islington. Sarah supported Denise to design and deliver a 5 workshop programme for the classroom, inspired by Islington Museum’s historic wooden water pipe.

Sarah also worked alongside the pupils in their classroom to create her own new artwork inspired by the water pipe and the pupils.

Why we chose the wooden water pipe:

‘We choose this object to tie in with the artist Andy Goldsworth and use his inspiration from natural forms. Trees are a large part of the natural environment in Islington and it was a good way to encourage appreciation of nature in the local area. I wanted to get the children outside the classroom despite curriculum restraints and SAT’S looming. It encouraged them to make interdisciplinary links and enabled the children to produce inspirational and creative artwork alongside developing their vocabulary. The children have applied their terminology in their writing.’ 


Our artwork:

Blessed Sacrament’s artworks

The pupils created an installation art piece combined a collaborative mixed media leaf collage, individual rainmakers and a collaborative screen printed hanging.

The collage was created from mono printed leaves, rubbings and poly tile blocks, the different colours and textures combining to create a natural canopy. Moving from this visual display the rain makers referenced the sound of water travelling through the historic water log. The rainmakers were decorated in marks created by the pupils in response to sounds of water.

final artworks 2.JPG

Sarah worked alongside the class to collaborate on a printed banner, working with small groups each workshop to experiment with different printing techniques.

Analogue mark-making

Pupils listened to  audio clips of rain, flowing water, rivers, storms and the sea. They worked on sheets of acetate covered with ink, using their fingers and other mark making tools to draw what they heard and imagined. Sarah then immediately printed the acetate onto cloth to create mono prints.


Screen printing

Sarah drew alongside the pupils in the observational drawing activity outdoors. She took both the pupils drawings and her own, cutting them out using a craft knife to create stencils. Sarah and a group of pupils then screen printed the stencils.

Pupils also created interesting natural prints by laying natural objects on to the fabric and screen printing them.

iphone upload May 2016 1471

Relief printing

While the class made simple rubbings with natural forms onto paper using wax crayons Sarah made rubbings with natural forms through her silk screen using a water soluble pastel. She then printed them on to fabric.

Sarah then sewed all these individual pieces of fabric into one tactile banner, an artwork exploring both the imagined sound and texture of the historic log, as well as its materiality.

final artworks 1

Sarah’s artworks

For her own artwork, Sarah selected areas of the printed banner. Using photoshop she edited these designs to incorporate them within the geometric symbol for the tree of life. In this she referenced both the elm tree the log would have been cut from and its new function as a water pipe to bring fresh water to London. The design was digitally printed on to cotton rag paper.

 final artwork 3.jpg

What we thought about the project:

‘As a school we loved the project as the children would be able to celebrate their work in a museum that they knew and loved. It was a fantastic opportunity for the children to work with an artist in the comfort of their own surroundings. It gave the class the option to work with different mediums and see how an experienced artist used her skills.’

‘As a reluctant teacher of any creative art activity, due to management and lack of experience of different art forms, I was nervous. The object you choose is irrelevant as long as you keep an open mind and are willing to give everything a try. The result will be not only a lovely piece of art but a more confident and creative teacher. It’s a great project. Give it a go!’


‘As an artist, I was able to explore the object fully in a way that was relevant and meaningful to the group I was working with, which was inspiring. It was amazing to see how much potential learning /creative approaches/ tangents/ inspirations can arise from a simple object across the curriculum.  Art provides the key to open lessons into literacy, geography, history and even maths.’