To mark the reopening of its four venues, Museums Northumberland presents a new countywide exhibition by illustrator and printmaker, Jonny Hannah, celebrating some of Northumberland’s strangest stories and most curious characters.
Northumberland Folk, which takes place across Museums Northumberland’s four sites – Woodhorn Museum, Hexham Old Gaol, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum – draws inspiration from the Museum Northumberland collections, the heritage buildings themselves, and hundreds of tales and contributions from the local community.
Each exhibition shines a light on some of the untold stories and intriguing characters that make up Northumberland’s past and modern history; all told through Jonny Hannah’s paintings, prints, publications and cut-outs, alongside objects and artefacts from the museum collections.
Rowan Brown, Chief Executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “Jonny’s novel approach of busking, pub-quizzing and light-heartedly interrogating the people of our county has resulted in a rich and wonderfully eclectic take on Northumberland’s stories.
“Each exhibition is unique and brings to life different tales and traditions, from all corners of the county. Jonny’s vibrant style is not for the faint-hearted, and the explosion of fun and colour across our sites is the perfect antidote to the Covid-blues.”
The series of four connected exhibitions have been created in collaboration with local communities who have shared stories, artefacts and ephemera commemorating their local history.
The Northumberland Folk exhibition at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery is inspired by a real shop that once stood on Berwick High Street. Visitors are invited to enter ‘R. Good Emporium’ to discover some of Northumberland’s northernmost folk and folklore. Jonny’s tribute to the strong, brave and creative women from the county includes artwork celebrating Bamburgh’s Grace Darling and Morpeth suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison. Jonny has also recreated the Emporium’s original oil pantry with each jar label telling a different Northumbrian tale.
At Hexham Old Gaol, ‘A Hexham Miscellany’ is a visual treasure trove of tales from Northumberland’s rural south and west. Rediscover some of the area’s forgotten stories from past editions of the Hexham Courant, which have been embellished onto paper Hexham Tans. Meet the former resident of Hexham’s House of Correction, Jonathan Martin, who attempted to set fire to York Minster in the nineteenth century.
‘Cocks’ Morpeth Medley and Rant’ at Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum is inspired by William Alfred Cocks (1892-1971) whose collection of bagpipes, music and connected material forms the basis of this museum’s collection. Delve into Northumbrian piping lore and discover some of Morpeth’s local legends including artist Joseph Crawhall, and the Duke of Northumberland’s Piper, Jack Armstrong, whose talents took him all the way to Hollywood.
Visitors to Woodhorn Museum will be able to relax at the ‘Darktown Miners’ Social Club’ and pay a visit to Geordie Broon’s bar; raising a glass to the people and places of Northumberland’s industrial south east corner. They include Jonny’s reimagining of the Coal Queen, who was crowned as part of the community beauty pageant at the annual Northumberland Miners’ Picnic. Visitors will also be able to see a proggy mat handcrafted by Museum Northumberland volunteer, Gladys. Proggy matmaking is a traditional craft that was often practised by women in mining communities.
Illustrator, Jonny Hannah, said: “Folk and folklore are often seen as voices from the distant past; cautionary tales from the deep, dark forests of beasts and bogeymen.
“And there is some of that in my project, but I was keen to compliment what was expected with a huge helping of what I call ‘urban folk’. Folk tales, songs, heroes and devils are very much alive and kicking and are just as at home on the concrete streets of Northumberland, (and anywhere else for that matter).
“So the stories I gathered from the folks on the streets included a romantic phone box, a train carriage murder just outside Morpeth, and a cocktail recipe as a homage to Paul Gascoigne. And as for heroes, we saw the passing of Ashington legend Jack Charlton, and we all fought the biggest beast of all, COVID-19.
“So my prints, paintings and drawings are my visual tribute to almost every part of what I call ‘folk’, with a sizeable chunk of it being inspired by the folk song, from The High Level Rangers, to Alex Glasgow, and bringing it all up to date, the extraordinarily everyday stories by Richard Dawson.”
Jonny has also created a Northumberland Folk newspaper – The Northumberland Folk Messenger – which captures all the tales and stories gathered during his research for the exhibition. My Northumberland Story can be purchased at each museum’s shop and online at www.museumsnorthumberland.org.uk, alongside other items including screen prints, badges, tote bags and some of the Northumberland Folk artwork itself.
Northumberland Folk is now open at Woodhorn Museum, Hexham Old Gaol, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum and runs until 31 October 2021.
For more information about Northumberland Folk, visit www.museumsnorthumberland.org.uk.