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I came back from New York at the end of September with a crash into playing catch up with my ordinary working life. October was upon me and I was facilitating a week of professional development alongside my longterm colleague Alan May.

Thanks to Bedminster Winter Lanterns achieving a successful Grants For The Arts bid from Arts Council England, I was delighted to co-lead a professional development in lantern making with Alan May last October. Blessed with a fabulous team of artists from those at the beginning of their professional practice to those with many years experience we set to work designing an experience in animated lanterns.

As a team of lantern makers it was an opportunity to explore light diffusion and puppetry within lantern making and develop new ways of working with colleagues in the region.

Hard on the heels of my return fron New York City it was a fabulous chance to Experiment with some new technical skills inspired by working alongside Processional Arts Workshop last September.

Alan May and I trained fresh artists from DNA arts and Boom Satsuma in the art of delivering a fast and furious community workshop. We collaborated with Richard Headen from The Desperate Men to develop a narrative for our large structures and built 3 new animated lantern structures.

FLO the giant girl, her jar of wonders and the moth were drawn to five different lantern events between October and January. Radstock Light The Night and Bath City Farm Bonfire Produced by DNArts and The Natural Theatre Company, Devizes Lantern Parade produced by DOCA. Church Road Lantern Parade produced by The Lamplighters and of course Bedminster Winter Lanterns.

Many thanks and credit to all the creatives involved Alan May, Steph Reeves, Megan Bentall Clarke, Ali Brown, Amy Peck, Ruth Ramsay, Becky Prior, Ruth Patchett, Niamh Peace, Dik Downey, Richard Headen, Phillips Haynes and Amber and Kathleen fromBoom Satsuma.ArtsCouncil_BritishCouncil_Lockup_Black

It has been a week since this event and I am back in the uk, apologies for not posting photos earlier. All works produced with Processional Arts Workshop.


As I write this I am flying back to the UK after 16 days of volunteering with Processional Arts Workshop (PAW) in New York City. I worked alongside them as they created a daytime and a nighttime  procession, one in downtown and one in uptown Manhattan. I was Funded by The Artists international Development Fund from Arts Council England and The British Council to  participate  in both Astor Alive and Morningside Lights . It was a luxury to be a participant rather than the lead artist, workshop facilitator. Rather than hold a vision I had the opportunity to watch as others held a vision for a processional arts event, it allowed huge reflection on my own practice.

One of the great joys for me was the luxury of really focusing on why individuals got involved in the project. Attendees were valued and named ‘volunteers’ and ‘artists’ which as makers of the work, they are. Workshops were very well preparared and planned with start times rigourously stepped to avoid the lead artists sending themselves mad through explaining the project on a constant loop. I found New York full of talkers, very friendly talkers both on the projects I was working on and away from them. Whilst I do meet and chat to participants through my work in the UK it is mainly centred (by necessity) on the workshop in hand. As a volunteer myself, I relaxed into chatting at length with other volunteers while we worked and I had the time to discover what led people to get involved in the events. Answers ranged from;

  • Taking the opportunity to be creative.
  • Therapeutic reasons.
  • The sense of belonging to a community.
  • One participant had dropped their catholic faith and the only thing they missed was the act of procession.
  • Some were students at the university (not just in the arts) wanting to get involved.
  • Some had a tradition of lanterns in other countries they had resided in.
  • Learning the craft of puppet and prop building
  • Some enjoyed both the make and the performance and had followed PAWs work for years,
  • others had just discovered it and got addicted and excited.

The majority of participants were adults, I got the sense nearly ALL of whom would be back. If not at PAWs workshops at another community arts event. Some, like me had travelled a great distance from the uk also or (just!) San Francisco to be part of PAW’s work. Some as I was leaving had arrived to become involved in the annual ritual which is the build for PAW’s most celebrated work the Halloween Parade though NYCs East village (I hope that to be me too one day)

And how did the participants tell the stories of the processional performances? 

In different ways for each event.

For Astor Alive it was very much about the individual participants experience of NYC’s east village. Whilst the artists had a clear idea of the uniformity of aesthetic they wanted to achieve and visions for themes for the starting points of about 5 or so of the puppets, much of the imagery used was crowd sourced.
The narrative at Morningside Lights which was celebrating 100 years of Pulitzer Prizes was created very differently. Centring on the Pulitzer Prize for poetry Alex Khan and Sophia Michaelles had immersed themselves in award winning poetry new and old and collected many lines of about 100 characters or so. These were pasted on the workshop walls as starting points and participants were invited to bring in their own favoured lines or dip into books provided. The visions then created were totally up to the participators in the creative experience. Images were united by the poetry and the illuminated ribbons of verse attached to each lantern of which there were about 40. The process was described as the making of cooperative creative collaborations . One participant may have started the work at the beginning of the week and others took on that vision later in the week. Over 300 separate pairs of hands made 40 medium scale lanterns in one week.

Processional Narritives, participation and the making of the work are designed and delivered and most importantly held closely by one dynamic and very organised team. Storytelling is the thread which pulls everything together within which individual creativity is allowed to flourish in a guided way. Planning time and preparation is everything.
The majority of participants were adults, ALL of whom would certainly be back if not at PAWs workshops at another community arts event. Some, like me had travelled a great distance from the uk also or just San Francisco just to be part of PAW’s work. Some as I was leaving had arrived to become involved in the annual ritual which is the build for PAW’s most celebrated work the Halloween Parade though NYCs East village (I hope that to be me too one day)

I have much more reflection to do on this amazing opportunity and I will continue to blog about it as it reaches my life and work as an artist here in Bristol, UK.

For the past two days I have been participating on Morningside Lights along with Processional Arts Workshops (please follow the link for more information) which began five years ago as a way of encouraging students at Columbia University and the residents of Morningside and Harlem to integrate.

 Once again whilst technical creative techniques interest me, I am researching the quality of the narrative held through the parade. The theme is “Traverse” and the procession is celebrating 100 years of Pulitzer Prize poetry which is presented by Columbia University. 

Actually my first thoughts on this theme were ” how are they going to do that”however the artists have broken it down beautifully. Passages connected to the theme “traverse” have been selected and stuck on the theatre walls & members of the public were invited to bring their own passages. Participants choose a verse and interpret it in their own imagination active way.

Participants were either very clear about what they want to achieve  or spend a lot of time looking for inspiration in the passages. Each passage will be annotated on a corex banner or ribbon – all of which are pre made and identical and will hold the visual theme together. 

The procession will create a giant walking verse. Below are examples of starting point verses.

Building in theory was similar to methods I have previously used in the UK of building a frame but materials used differed slightly.

The last verse was one used to build a boat frame with 2 other participants.

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