'Welcome to the Brown Moth Cafe' is the result of a series of workshops that I led, alongside Sally Dempsey, at Heads Up in South Horrington this summer. It was a really enjoyable project, in collaboration with Wells Museum, co-ordinated by Somerset Art Works.
The Search and Learn project at Wells Museum aims to rejuvenate the galleries at the museum, restore the study of the museum’s founder Herbert Balch, and create new interactive displays. We were lucky enough to be able to curate some handling boxes at Wells Museum to take to Heads Up and help inspire our project. Sally and I were both drawn to the intricate 18th Century samplers in the museum and to the story of the great ceramics haul that was excavated from the museum’s garden in the 1990’s. The cracked Chinese tea-sets provided further inspiration as well as tales of some of the local cafes in Wells, including of course, the Brown Moth Café. The handling boxes sparked conversations about our own connections to tea-drinking today. Tea is a very present and consistent part of most of our daily lives, it can anchor us, enhance social connections, awaken our senses and bring us joy.
Our collaborative piece features the work of three groups at Heads Up, including people with mental health needs, dementia and learning disabilities. Throughout the series of workshops I invited participants to take part in weekly tea ceremonies - with full crockery sets - and try different types of tea, including a variety of black teas, herbal teas and seasonal herbs growing around us, like nettle and lemon balm. All of these teas were then used as stains and dyes on the organic calico and wool threads within the piece, mirroring the natural dyeing that would have been used for the 18thC samplers. No teabag or infusion went unused – we elicited dark browns from the Assam, deep pinks from hibiscus and green-lilacs from the nettle.
I supported the groups to explore their creativity through block-printing, mono-printing, stitching, dyeing and Sally facilitated the clay work - textured using calico, tea leaves and other mark-makers - to create a sense of Wells’ old Brown Moth Café.
Our piece shows many moths, vessels, cups, saucers, memories, patterns and thoughts woven into our piece, and we hope it transports you and gives you the feeling of being welcomed into a friendly tea-gathering.
You can see it for yourself at Wells Cathedral, as part of the Wells Art Contemporary exhibition. It is situated in the south west corner of the cloisters and will be there until Saturday 2nd September 2023.
After that, it will be moving into Wells Museum for Somerset Art Weeks and will be there from Saturday 9th - 28th September 2023.
I hope you enjoy - it's a fantastic exhibition as well!