20th July – 22nd September 2019
‘Soundmirror’ is an exhibition of audio, sculpture, paintings and curated objects assembled by artist Matt Stokes and commissioned by Museums Northumberland for Woodhorn Museum.
The show draws from a newly acquired collection of artefacts that belonged to Ashington born miner and footballer Jackie Milburn, ‘Wor Jackie’, which was recently gifted to Woodhorn Museum by Jackie Milburn’s son. It includes photographs and press materials, along with a reel-to-reel tape recorder (brand named ‘The Soundmirror’) with spools of home recordings made by the Milburn family.
Within the collection were newspaper cuttings about a Northumbrian orchid grower, W J Stables, who in 1953, named a hybrid orchid after Jackie Milburn. The plant was gifted to Jackie and Laura Milburn following the plant’s inclusion in the Newcastle and District Late Chrysanthemum Show. The office of the Mayor of Newcastle even suggested that the Latin name of this orchid, x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, should become a new football terrace chant at St James’ Park. Unsurprisingly, this ambition was never realised and the story of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid disappeared into obscurity, until now.
Occasionally the swell of the imagined football chant fills the gallery. There are paintings loaned from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that illustrate the results of earlier crosses of the parent orchids Brassavola digbyana and Cattleya Hardyana to produce x Brassocattleya Heatonensis. Accompanying these is a commissioned watercolour of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid, painted by current RHS botanical artist, Deborah Lambkin. This was constructed using written descriptions about the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid, black and white photographs and historical illustrations from the RHS to visualise how the flower might have looked.
Stokes also embarked on a quest to discover whether it would be possible to recreate the ‘Milburn’ orchid, and sought the help of the RHS Orchid Committee, private collectors and botanical gardens across the UK and beyond. This led to a generous donation from a German collector, of a x Brassocattleya Heatonensis which is presented within a specially built ‘orchidarium’. This recently divided plant is being gently coaxed to grow and flower by the home recordings of Jackie and Laura Milburn singing, captured using ‘The Soundmirror’ tape machine.
The exhibition shifts focus from the accepted narrative of Jackie Milburn the footballer, by creating an intimate tale that uses the orchid – an adaptive plant admired for its beauty – as a symbol of both individual and community resilience, persistence and value.
Matt Stokes would particularly like to thank the following people in realising the exhibition: Jack Milburn for his support and time, Julian Shaw at the RHS Orchid Committee for his advice, Sabine Furtwängler for her generous gift of a x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, Deborah Lambkin for tackling the painting of the ‘Milburn Orchid’, Ian Watson at Open Format for fabricating the orchidarium, and Charlotte Brooks at RHS Lindley Library. Also for assistance from Chris Barker at the British Orchid Council, North East of England Orchid Society, John Allan, Sarah Burham, Jan Hrolv Larsen at the Danish Orchid Society, André Schuiteman at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Christine Nicholson at Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Philip Esseen at Chester Zoo, John Gay, Mike Armstrong, Philip Seaton, Gunnar Ovstebo at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Stefan Reisch at Mainau Park Garden & Forest in Germany, Eric Young Orchid Foundation in Jersey, Iain Wheeldon, Jordan Miller, GNUK Ltd, Arthur Chadwick at Chadwick Orchids, USA and all those who participated in recording the ‘Milburn Orchid’ chant.
Explore our other Northumberland museums this summer to experience more work by Matt Stokes:
Beyond the Field: Encounter a lost rural soundscape inspired by the 18th century borderland at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery.
Felons: Explore contemporary prisoner experiences through the connected symbolism of raptors at Hexham Old Gaol.
A Traveller And A Shepherd: Explore the lighter side of Northumberland’s unique musical instruments, the Northumberland Pipes, at Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum.