“A Northumberland Menagerie” by visual artist Bethan Maddocks uses intricate paper-cut installations to tell unique and untold stories about animals, people and places across the county.
Traveling across Museums Northumberland’s four sites, exhibits draw inspiration from nature to tell compelling stories about community, climate change, migration and identity.
To Woodhorn Museumthe colliery’s historic cage store has been transformed into a giant beehive where the public can take part in the ‘telling the bees’ tradition of sharing important news with the hive.
It was thought that telling bees about important life events, such as births, deaths, and marriages, would help ward off bad luck.
“Bees, bees, listen to your bees! features a giant hive book where visitors can write their important news, while beautiful beeswax sculptures line the windows and a soundscape by musician Bridie Jackson fills the room with folk songs and beekeeper tales local.
A second installation, “Work, Rest and Play,” commemorates the pit ponies of the mine with stories from the lives of pit ponies and pony headgear surrounded by intricate paper-cut art.
Visual artist, Bethan Maddocks, said: “Many of the characteristics and traits that we associate with coal communities, such as working together, togetherness and camaraderie, can be seen in the animal kingdom.
“I used different animals found across the county to help tell the story of each exhibit. They symbolize broader themes including migration, environment, gender and class, all of which are important issues today and an important part of Northumberland’s history.
‘Of the Sea and Of the Sky’ at the Berwick Museum and Art Gallery explores themes of trade and export, and how greed has led to the loss of species.
A giant paper-cut Twelfth Night Pie symbolizes the original 12-stone pie baked by the governess of Howick Castle in 1770, filled with “four geese, four turkeys, two rabbits, four wild ducks, two woodcocks, six snipes, four partridges , two mashed tongues, two curlews, seven blackbirds and six pigeons.
A flock of paper-cut birds escape from the pie to seek their freedom, while a chandelier of spinning paper birds and sea creatures cast shadows against the walls, representing the many lighthouses of Northumberland, its biodiversity and the impact of mass consumption.
In Hexham Old Gaol, ‘Over Familiars’ – a reference to the entities, usually animals, that accompanied witches – delves into stories of witchcraft, trial and incarceration, and the animals connected to them.
Wood carvings of animals in the dungeon cast ominous shadows on the walls, and a collection of elevated rotating wooden plates – inspired by Seaton Sluice’s story of the witch – explore gender inequality and gender inequality. classes within prison walls, where being wealthy could transform your experience of incarceration.
Meanwhile, at the Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, the building’s riverside location and former use as a school inspired a giant shoal of paper-cut fish swimming across the building’s beams.
‘You’ll Have a Fish, When the Boat Comes In’ explores fishing and folk traditions through songs and lyrics held in the Northumbrian Minstrelsy.
A Northumberland Menagerie was made possible by public funding from Arts Council England and Northumberland County Council.
Rowan Brown, Managing Director of Museums Northumberland, said: “A Menagerie of Northumberland is a beautiful exhibition that uses animals and natural labor to tackle important issues in our society and share stories from Northumberland’s past.
A Northumberland Menagerie runs until Sunday 30 October.