Play Well

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Stockport, 1966 – Shirley Baker

Extended by popular demand until 13th April 2020, the Wellcome Collection’s exhibition Play Well explores the lives of children, societies, historic toys, games and contemporary designs to try to work out why humans, both young and old, play. More broadly, the exhibition asks what does “play” mean and why is it important? With the help of a group of 5 – 11-year-olds from Argyle Primary School in Camden, Play Well examines the significance of play in childhood and its importance in education, social development, emotional resilience and physical wellbeing.

Research over the years has revealed that play is essential for learning about the world as well as having fun. There is also evidence the urge to play is not exclusive to humans. Animals, both domesticated and in the wild, have been observed playing. Polar bears have been caught on camera sliding down snowy hills on their stomachs and a monkey was filmed looking after a rock as though it was a baby or a doll. The concept of play is not something that is learnt, it is an instinct, however, it does require the right environment to be beneficial.

Philosophers, psychologists and educators have researched the value of play in education and, although there are many differing opinions, many think encouraging children to explore the world through their actions can be as good as or even better than formal teaching methods. One man who believed this was the German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel (1782-1852). He described play as the “highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul”.

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Friedrich Fröbel

Fröbel began his career in education in 1805 at a secondary school in Frankfurt where he learnt about the radical ideas of the educational reformer Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827). Pestalozzi’s motto was “Learning by head, hand and heart” and he believed that every aspect of a child’s life, including play, contributed to their education. Inspired by these ideas, Fröbel went on to found a Play and Activity Institute in 1837, for which he later coined the word kindergarten.

Kindergarten, a German phrase meaning “garden of children”, reflected Fröbel’s belief that children should be nurtured and nourished “like plants in a garden”. Women, who were trained by Fröbel, opened kindergartens across Europe and the concept eventually reached the USA in 1856, although was conducted in German until 1870.

“The active and creative, living and life producing being of each person, reveals itself in the creative instinct of the child. All human education is bound up in the quiet and conscientious nurture of this instinct of activity; and in the ability of the child, true to this instinct, to be active.”
Fröbel, Sonntagsblatt (c.1840)

For use in his kindergarten, Fröbel developed educational play materials, known as Fröbel Gifts (Fröbelgaben). These were used alongside other aspects of his child-centred approach to education, including singing, dancing and gardening. The Gifts were physical items children could play with that had educational benefits. Fröbel initially developed six gifts but they were eventually extended to twenty. Each focused on a different age group.

Gift one, intended for babies, involved soft balls of yarn in red, yellow, blue, purple, green and yellow. By holding, dropping, squeezing, rolling and hiding the balls, children developed an awareness of spatial relationships, movement and colour. Gift two, for one to two-year-olds, consisted of a wooden cube and sphere. Fröbel recorded children’s delight in discovering the sphere could roll but the cube would remain where it was placed. Gift three (2-3 years) also involved wooden cubes. This time, children could use eight small cubes to piece together a large cube or create another shape. Gift four (2-3 years) involved rectangular shapes that could also create a cube when placed together. Gift five (3-4 years) included a mix of cubes and rectangles and Gift six (4-5 years) introduced triangular prisms.

Further Gifts included tiles (Gift 7), rings (Gift 9), drawing slates (Gift 10), paper cutting (Gift 13), paper weaving (Gift 14) and paper folding (Gift 18). These gifts have influenced the many educational techniques that are still in use today, for instance, building blocks and alphabet blocks. Yet, it is not only education that these Gifts affected; they have been a source of inspiration to architects and artists.

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Seaside Resort in the South of France – Paul Klee, 1927

Architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) were exposed to Fröbel Gifts as children and the geometry of the building blocks stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Wright was given a set of Fröbel blocks when he was about nine years old. “For several years I sat at the little kindergarten table-top ruled by lines about four inches apart each way making four-inch squares; and, among other things, played upon these ‘unit-lines’ with the square (cube), the circle (sphere) and the triangle (tetrahedron or tripod)—these were smooth maple-wood blocks. All are in my fingers to this day.”

Fuller recalled that it was Gift 19 that had the greatest effect on him. “The teacher brought us some toothpicks and semi-dried peas, and told us to make structures… I tried to make something that would work… I found the triangle held its shape when nothing else did.” Fuller went on to popularise the geodesic dome, a structure made up of triangular shapes.

The Swiss-born artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) also grew up with Fröbel’s philosophy. He adopted geometric shapes and patterns into his work and went on to work at the Bauhaus, a revolutionary school of art, architecture and design. Many teachers at the school were familiar with Fröbel and used his ideas in their teaching.

Although Fröbel’s kindergarten still exists today, other methods of teaching have been developed. The 20th century has been named “the century of the child” due to the amount of research and focus on childhood, education and play. In 1914, sisters Rachel (1859-1917) and Margaret McMillan (1860-1931) set up a nursery school for children of poorer families, which focused on both education, play and health. Children from impoverished families who were too young to go to school, often spent the day playing in dirty gutters, picking up all sorts of illnesses. Not only did the McMillan’s nursery provide a safe place for the children to play, but it provided a healthy environment too. “Once inside the child comes under the influence of the great healers, earth, sun, air, sleep and joy… the buildings should face south or south east, and in order to have this, the line of the rooms or shelters must be straight, the walls at either end shaped in butterfly form to catch all the sunshine possible.” (Margaret McMillan, 1919) Unfortunately, Rachel died three years after the opening of the nursery, so Margaret renamed it the Rachel McMillan Nursery School in her sister’s memory.

A similar type of establishment was set up in northern Italy during the aftermath of the Second World War. Named after the village in which it was founded, the Reggio Emilia Approach allowed pre-school children to learn through play, which in turn helped them come to terms with the war they were born into. The Reggio Emilia Approach has since spread to other countries, however, their principles remain the same:

  • Children must have some say over what they learn; additionally, the senses play a big role in the learning process.
  • Children must be able to touch, move, listen, see and hear in order to fully process something.
  • Children are encouraged to interact with other children and explore the world through material items and relationships.
  • Children should be encouraged to always express themselves and be given infinite means and opportunities to do so.

By the early 20th century, a connection had been drawn between children’s emotional health and play. Children had been left orphaned or traumatised by the First World War and had no way of processing their feelings. British pioneer of child psychology, Margaret Lowenfeld (1890-1973), began to study child behaviour, eventually setting up the Children’s Clinic for the Treatment and Study of Nervous and Difficult Children in Notting Hill, London in 1928, later the Institute for Child Psychology (ICP). By studying how children play, Lowenfeld developed the Lowenfeld World Technique, a type of therapy that allowed children to express themselves through play rather than words.

For her research, Lowenfeld conducted individual sessions with children during which she would record how they played. An example displayed in the Play Well exhibition was a world a troubled child created with farmyard figurines. The child was prone to outbursts and violence when he first met Lowenfeld, however, processing his thoughts by creating imaginary scenes helped him work through his feelings and gradually become more sociable.

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Squiggle drawings

Lowenfeld was not the only psychiatrist to notice the connection between play and emotional wellbeing. Donald Woods Winnicott (1896-1971) trained as a child psychoanalyst during the 1920s and served as consultant paediatrician to the children’s evacuation programme during the Second World War. During this time he observed that mothers had the greatest impact on their child’s development. Anti-social behaviour developed when a child had not experienced the “mother’s technique of holding, of bathing, of feeding…”

Winnicott also observed that play was the key to emotional and psychological well-being. He noted that play did not necessarily need to involve the use of toys or objects but could be similar to the ways adults “play” by making art, participating in sports, telling jokes, having hobbies and so forth. From this observation, Winnicott developed the “squiggle game”.

The squiggle game was a “game with no rules” which involved both Winnicott and the child’s participation. First, Winnicott drew a shape on a piece of paper, then the child would add to the “squiggle” to turn it into a drawing. Winnicott would also allow the child to make the first squiggle, which he would then finish off. After this, doctor and patient would talk about the drawings, creating stories that would often reveal insights into the child’s life.

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Play Lab

Due to the research by Winnicott, Lowenfeld, Fröbel and other psychoanalysts, play was declared a basic human need in 1989 by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nations have since been obliged to provide spaces for children to play and many schools, nurseries and kindergartens use play-based learning. To make sure children of low-income countries, often those affected by war, could access safe areas to play, the Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) committee established Play Labs, designed to ensure that vulnerable children aged 2–6 years were provided with a safe place for healing through play.

Now partnered with Lego, BRAC Play Labs have been established in Bangladesh, Tanzania and Uganda. Over 7000 children have been given the opportunity to play and to learn, including those in refugee camps. Whilst these labs are only for younger children, research suggests the experience they have will impact on their whole development.

After looking at the psychology of play, the Wellcome Collection went on to explore what play looked like in wider society. The simplest form of play is imaginative role-play, which allows children to assume different identities. This can be acted out by a child on his or her own, or within a group, often in the school playground. Other playground games involve chanting or singing, using lyrics that date back several decades. Familiar songs include Oranges and Lemons and A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea.

Throughout time, children have played with inanimate objects, for instance, sticks. As shown in the picture book Not A Stick by Antoinette Portis, a stick can easily become a horse, a sword or a dragon when given a little imagination.

Of course, for the past few centuries, companies have been producing items specifically for play, such as teddy bears, dolls and toy cars. Over time, however, these have become associated with particular brands and stereotypes. Lego, for instance, which probably stems from Fröbel’s gifts, was initially suitable for both boys and girls. In more recent years, however, Lego attempted to make sets specifically for boys or specifically for girls.

Lego is not the only franchise that is guilty of this. Toys like Barbie and Action Men are targetted at specific genders. In 1993, activist Igor Vamos tried to emphasise how ridiculous or even dangerous teaching children to believe these stereotypes could be by founding the Barbie Liberation Organization (BLO). Allegedly BLO infiltrated Toys R Us and switched the voice boxes of 300 Barbies and GI Joe dolls, making GI Joe say things like “My desk is a mess,” and Barbie, “Vengeance is mine.”

Specific franchises have even taken away the need to be imaginative. Toys based on films, for example, encourage children to act out scenes they have seen on the screen rather than create their own. With companies competing with each other for sales, these types of toys are eradicating the more traditional dolls and toys of by-gone years.

Researchers have begun to suggest toys, such as Barbie dolls, can lower a child’s self-esteem. A Barbie doll is not a realistic representation of a human, nor is a heavily muscled Action Man. Since these dolls have become iconic, it is not easy to change their appearance. Instead, campaigners are now focusing on the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the toy market.

In 2015, journalist Rebecca Atkinson founded #ToyLikeMe, a creative collective that called on global toy industries to start positively representing disabilities. Since then, franchises have begun producing toys that would resonate with over 150 million disabled children. Barbie and Playmobil are just two of the companies involved. Today, children can play with Barbies with prosthetic limbs, figures in wheelchairs, a diabetic Incredible Hulk toy, a monkey with hearing aids and dolls that are blind, bald or suffering from conditions such as vitiligo.

Children’s behaviour and ways in which they play remains a topic amongst researchers today. Despite the increase in gender-specific and franchise-specific toys, psychoanalysts still believe children need the opportunity to challenge themselves physically, emotionally and mentally through play. London based artist Eva Rothschild (b.1971) set up an experiment that allowed eleven boys between the ages of 6 and 11 to explore an art exhibition in which normal gallery rules were forgotten.

Rothschild installed replicas of her contemporary sculptures at Chisenhale Gallery, East London and instructed the boys to enter the room and look with their eyes for a long as possible, after which they could touch the exhibits. A video of the experiment is shown as part of the Play Well exhibition. Initially, the boys were cautious, refraining from touching anything for many minutes. After some time had passed, some of the boys got restless and began egging each other on to be the first person to touch something; as soon as one person had, they all began to touch. Once again, they were fairly gentle but as soon as one sculpture collapsed, the boys became more violent and, soon, nothing was left standing.

Unfortunately, there are a limited amount of opportunities for children to act as freely as the boys in Rothschild’s video. Societal rules, health and safety concerns and fears have hindered children’s freedom to play.

“Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.”
– Marjory Allen

In postwar Britain, it was not uncommon to find children playing on the streets. Many children, left unsupervised by busy parents, found themselves exploring bombsites, turning them into unconventional playgrounds. Photographer Shirley Baker (1932-2014) documented the street culture in working-class areas of Greater Manchester between the 1960s and 80s, revealing that children were still playing outside on the pavements, unconcerned about the dangers of strangers or vehicles.

Adults, however, were becoming increasingly aware of the risks children faced on the street but did not want to prohibit the freedom to play. As the cities and towns became more urbanised, children were limited as to where they could play, so a playground movement was organised to create specific areas for children. This mission is still important today and is the reason the majority of public parks have an adventure playground containing swings, slides and climbing frames.

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The Frog Pond at Toffee Park Adventure Playground, Mark Neville, 2016

Unfortunately, today’s playgrounds are under threat due to limited funding. There is very little money for maintenance and repairs, and many parks are being sold off to building contractors. Contemporary photographer and activist Mark Neville travelled around London parks, taking photos for his book Child’s Play. Although the book was published in conjunction with an exhibition at the Foundling Museum, it is entirely relevant to the Play Well exhibition. The book and photographs focus attention on how conditions for children can be improved and the real and imagined barriers to play in cities.

Neville’s book warns of a “shrinking childhood” and its connection to the rise of mental health problems in younger generations. Not many children are given the freedom to go outside alone, unlike their parents who may have grown up playing on the streets. Grandparents may have been walking over a mile to school without a parent from a very young age and great-grandparents were allowed to wander even further.

Do the risks of playing outside outweigh the risks of a child’s mental health? Children who have not had the freedom to explore are more likely to fear the outside world and become anxious when leaving the safety of their home and parents. Whilst it is not safe to play on pavements due to the increase in road traffic, Neville and other activists are advocating for a national strategy for play and an increase in funding for adventure playgrounds.

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In the 21st century, physical play is rapidly being replaced by digital play. Unable to play outside when they desire, children are finding ways to have fun and socialise online or through video games. Ironically, the people who restricted children’s freedom of physical play are concerned about the effects of digital play. In 2018, gaming addiction was listed as a disease by the World Health Organisation, however, this has not stopped families, schools and children from adopting digital technology.

To end the exhibition, a set of digital screens allow visitors to play games designed by 14-19-year-olds. RawMinds, a project that takes place twice a year at the Wellcome Collection, invited a group of teenagers – “digital natives” – to create games based on their experiences. They were encouraged to consider both the positive and negative aspects of gaming, resulting in games that help to forge friendships, tackle anxieties about the world and limit addiction. One game required two players to work together rather than against each other; neither player could complete the game without the assistance of the other. Another game explored the concept of visiting a shopping centre as a socially anxious child. Children suffering from anxiety would recognise themselves in the game’s characters and other children would learn to understand the minds of their peers.

Open to all ages, Play Well is an eye-opening exhibition that draws attention to the importance of play. The psychology of play is something that is not often addressed or even thought about and it is interesting to discover the theories about childhood development. Having learnt about Fröbel, the McMillan sisters, Lowenfeld and Winnicott’s theories, it is worrying how little opportunity children have to learn through play today. Yet, it is reassuring to discover the effectiveness of a few wooden blocks and the opportunity to express emotion.

Play Well is a free exhibition at the Wellcome Collection and will remain open until 13th April 2020. The galleries are open every day except Mondays.

GOSH: The Children First and Always

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GOSH or, more formally, Great Ormond Street Hospital is a children’s hospital in the Bloomsbury area of London that has been in practice for over one and a half centuries. Every day, over 600 children or young people arrive at the hospital for life-changing treatment. Thanks to extraordinary charitable support, doctors have been able to achieve pioneering medical breakthroughs and thousands of children have been given a new lease of life. Now the most famous hospital in the country, GOSH has an interesting history that is worth investigating.

Opened as the Hospital for Sick Children on 14th February 1852, the first UK hospital dedicated to inpatient care for children only contained ten beds. Despite this, the hospital grew with the help of royal interest and the insistent campaigning of its founder, Doctor Charles West. Born in 1816 to a Baptist preacher and schoolmaster, West received his first education in his father’s school until he was apprenticed at the age of 15 to a general practitioner in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. Little did he know he would grow up to become what the British Medical Journal of 1898 deemed, “One of the men who have helped to make the reign of Queen Victoria a memorable period in the history of medical progress.”

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Charles West photographed by G. Jerrard.

From 1833, West spent two years as a medical student at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts) in London. After his father’s theological opinions prevented him from attending Oxford University, West decided to complete his education on the continent. He first attended a university in Bonn, followed by Paris, and finally Berlin where he completed his medical degree in 1837. His first positions as a professional took place at the Rotunda Hospital and Meath Hospital in Dublin, however, by the 1840s, he had returned to Barts in London.

West was appointed as a physician to the Universal Dispensary for Children in Waterloo Road, then a lecturer in midwifery at the Middlesex Hospital in 1845 and later again at St Bartholomew’s. During this time, he became more and more involved in the treatment of children and earned fame for his book Lectures on the diseases of infancy and childhood (Longman 1848).

Despite several attempts, West failed to transform the Waterloo Dispensary for Children into a hospital, therefore, he changed tact and began a fundraising campaign to establish a London children’s hospital. Due to his medical acclaim and way with words, West successfully raised enough money to establish a tiny hospital at 49 Great Ormond Street in a house once belonging to the physician Richard Mead (1673-1754). From the very first day, the hospital began to grow and now has almost 40 times the amount of beds.

“The Hospital for Sick Children (…) was the first hospital for children ever established in this country. The poor now flock to it, sick children from all parts of London are brought to it.”
– Charles West (1854)

Doctor Charles West’s new hospital would not have become the successful establishment today without the help of dozens of notable people and medical achievements. Many of the doctors that worked at the Hospital for Sick Children, later Great Ormond Street, were at the forefront of medical science, participating in new trials and developing techniques and inventions. Sir Thomas Smith (1833-1909), for example, who was House Surgeon at the hospital in 1854, was the first surgeon to try antiseptic surgery in 1875. He also specialised in cleft palate surgery.

The Historic Hospital Admission Records Project lists Lady Superintendent Catherine Jane Wood (1841-1930) as “an unsung hero in the history of nursing at Great Ormond Street and in the field of paediatric nursing as a whole.” She began volunteering at the hospital as a teenager, reading to the patients and doing a few menial tasks that the nurses were too busy to do. Later, Wood was appointed Ward Superintendent and received tutelage from Doctor West. In 1868, she left Great Ormond Street to establish the Hospital for Hip Joint Disease (later to become the Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Disease), however, was coaxed back to GOSH to take up the position of Superintendent of Wards at the hospital’s convalescent home Cromwell House in Highgate.

Whilst many children benefitted from Wood’s care, she was most concerned about the wellbeing of other nurses. Many had not received proper training and were treated more as housekeepers than medical personnel. At a time when women had very little rights, nurses had little importance and many of them worked voluntarily. Determined to change things, Wood introduced a training scheme for children’s nurses that provided specialised and appropriate training. She became a founder member of the British Nurses’ Association and campaigned for the registration of nurses and improved education.

Even after resigning from Great Ormond Street, Wood continued to help improve the wellbeing of nurses. She published many works, her most famous being two handbooks, The Handbook on Nursing (1878) and The Handbook for Nursing of Sick Children (1889). She also instituted a pension and savings scheme for nurses and maintained a close connection with the development of nurses’ welfare for the remainder of her life.

Over time, Great Ormond Street has had some unconventional doctors, including Doctor Roger Bridges (1844-1930), who is the only physician to have become Poet Laureate. He was initially educated at Eton College and Oxford University before going on to study medicine at St Bartholomew’s. Whilst he may not have been involved with any scientific breakthroughs or great changes at the hospital, Bridges was a conscientious physician and was sensitive to the suffering of the children. Rather than distance himself as some doctors are prone to do, Bridges made his patients’ wellbeing a priority.

Roger Bridges left medical practice behind at the age of 40 to concentrate on his poetry. His decision eventually paid off when he was appointed Poet Laureate from 1913 until his death in 1930. His poems typically focus on his deep Christian faith and, although his fame came late in life, some of his works have been put to music by Hubert Parry (1848-1918) and Gustav Holst (1874-1934). Bridges is also remembered for writing and translating hymns, some of which are still sung today, such as Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, When morning gilds the skies and All my hope on God is founded.

A doctor of medicine who did play a part in medical developments was Sir Thomas Barlow (1845-1945). Barlow had grown up in a philanthropic family who helped to fund charities connected with the Methodist church, including Action for Children. Barlow, therefore, was no stranger to disadvantaged children when he began working at Great Ormond Street Hospital in the 1870s. By 1899, Barlow had been promoted to a consultant, however, he made his claim to fame much earlier. In 1883, Barlow proved that infantile scurvy was identical to adult scurvy and that rickets was not always a symptom of the disease. As a result, Barlow’s Disease (infantile scurvy) was named after him.

Barlow’s second claim to fame came after his time at Great Ormond Street. Appointed to Royal Physician Extraordinary and knighted as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, Barlow was at Queen Victoria’s bedside when she passed away in 1901. He was also the physician of Edward VII and George V.

Without a doubt, the person with the biggest association with Great Ormond Street Hospital is James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937) – or, one could say, Peter Pan. In 1929, Barrie generously gifted his copyright of Peter Pan to GOSH. The hospital continues to benefit from Peter Pan’s popularity.

Born the ninth of ten children in Kirriemuir, Scotland, to a conservative Calvinist family, Barrie was schooled in the “three Rs”: reading, writing and arithmetic. When he was eight, Barrie attended Glasgow Academy where his eldest siblings, Alexander and Mary Ann, were teachers. Two years later, he switched to Forfar Academy and then, at 14, enrolled at Dumfries Academy. He loved to read and, being small (he only grew to 5 ft 3), Barrie fought for attention by storytelling and acting.

After obtaining an MA from Edinburgh University, Barrie moved to London to start his career in literature and theatre. His first accommodation was in Grenville Street, which lies behind Great Ormond Street Hospital. It is said he based the Darlings’ family home in the story of Peter Pan on this house.

Peter Pan was inspired by the Llewelyn Davies family who Barrie met and befriended in Kensington Gardens. Arthur (1863–1907) and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (1866–1910) -daughter of the cartoonist George du Maurier – had five sons: George (1893–1915), John (Jack) (1894–1959), Peter (1897–1960), Michael (1900–1921) and Nicholas (Nico) (1903–1980). The character of Peter Pan is said to be based upon the characteristics of these five boys. Barrie also used their names in the story: Peter Pan, the children John and Michael Darling, and the father George Darling. Nico, who was only a baby at the time, was not included.

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Statue of Peter Pan outside the hospital

The much-loved Peter first appeared in 1902 in a chapter of The Little White Bird titled Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. From here, Barrie continued the story in the stage play of Peter Pan, which opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London in 1904. Due to its phenomenal success, Barrie novelised the story and published it as Peter and Wendy in 1911.

Throughout his time in London, Barrie regularly supported GOSH and in 1929 he was asked to sit on a committee to help buy land in order to build a new wing for the hospital. Whilst he declined, he generously donated all his rights for Peter Pan, which meant the hospital received and continues to receive all the profits. The hospital has benefitted greatly from this gift, particularly after Peter Pan was made into a silent film in 1924 and a Disney animated film in 1953.

J.M. Barrie is not the only well-known children’s author connected with GOSH. British author Roald Dahl (1916-90), who is famous for stories including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach, assisted with ground-breaking work at the hospital.

Dahl and his wife Patricia (1926-2010) had five children: Olivia, Chantal, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy, whom they loved very much. So, when Theo was severely injured after his baby carriage was struck by a taxi, Dahl was determined to do everything he could to help his son. As a result of the accident, Theo suffered from hydrocephalus, which causes pressure inside the skull. Dahl, along with hydraulic engineer Stanley Wade and paediatric neurosurgeon Kenneth Till, worked diligently to develop a cerebral shunt to alleviate the condition. The valve, “Wade-Dahl-Till” (or WDT), successfully drained excess fluid from Theo’s skull and has since been used to treat almost 3,000 children around the world.

Australian surgeon Sir Denis Browne (1892–1967) is another notable name in GOSH’s history. Considered to be the forefather of modern paediatric surgery in England, Browne was the first full-time children’s surgeon and president of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons. Throughout his time at the hospital, Browne invented several surgical instruments, including a method of administrating anaesthesia to children.

For over 160 years, Great Ormond Street has seen the results of hundreds of experiments, inventions and medical developments that have helped to save the lives of thousands of children. In 1962, GOSH pioneered the first heart and lung bypass machine for children. Since then, over 500 heart and/or lung transplants have been conducted at the hospital. Today, GOSH is one of the largest centres for heart transplantation in the world.

In 1967, GOSH held the first clinical trials in the UK for the rubella vaccine. Within one year, 110 children had been vaccinated against the contagious viral infection. GOSH was also the first place to conduct a bone marrow transplant. In 1979, Professor Roland Levinsky (1943-2007) successfully cured several children with severe combined immunodeficiency by transplanting cells from a healthy donor into the bone marrow.

Continuing to research into immunodeficiencies, in 2000 the hospital launched the world’s first gene therapy trials for children born without functioning immune systems. Within a year, 14 children whose conditions had been diagnosed as fatal, had been cured.

The latest breakthrough at GOSH took place in 2001 with the introduction of heart valve replacements. Rather than subject young children to open-heart surgery, the valve can be inserted via a blood vessel.

As well as medical inventions, workers at GOSH are constantly researching to improve treatments, find cures, and ultimately achieve a greater understanding of the illnesses their patients present. Professor Roger Hardisty (1922–1997) was the first professor of paediatric haematology in Britain. He also opened the country’s first leukaemia research unit at the hospital in 1961, which made remarkable steps, changing a 100% death rate into a 70% survival rate.

GOSH do not only concentrate on physical illnesses but tackle mental disorders too. Mildred Creak (1898–1993) was both the first female consultant at the hospital and the founder of child psychiatry in Britain. Best known for her work on autism and organic mental disorders, Creak opened the first department for psychological medicine in the hospital. During the 1960s, autism was generally considered to be a result of inadequate parenting, however, Creak proposed that autism, or “schizophrenic syndrome of childhood” as it was then known, was primarily caused by genetic factors.

Creak was also responsible for increasing visiting hours at the hospital because she believed children would benefit mentally from seeing their parents. She had a better appreciation of a child’s emotional needs than previous consultants and also endeavoured to assist parents with their distress.

All of these people mentioned and more have helped to create the best hospital in the world for children. GOSH prioritises providing the safest, most effective and efficient care and promises to improve children’s lives through research and innovation.

The hospital has relied on charitable support since it first opened and receives the majority of its money through the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. The NHS helps with the day-to-day running of the hospital but the fundraising income allows Great Ormond Street Hospital to remain at the forefront of child healthcare. The charity aims to raise over £50 million every year for research, rebuilding, life-saving equipment, and support for families. More information can be found on their website.

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (charity number 1160024)

Victorian Giants

The Birth of Art Photography

The National Portrait Gallery’s latest major exhibition offers something different to the usual portraits visitors expect to see. The concept of “art” is difficult to define and everyone has their own opinion as to what falls into that category. Victorian Giants introduces the idea of art photography by looking back at the four most celebrated figures who changed attitudes and artistic approaches in relation to photography, art and portraiture, which has influenced artists ever since.

Endorsed by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, a patron of the gallery and an aspiring amateur photographer, this exhibition contains a hundred or so images taken during the latter half of the 19th century when a new developing technique was underway. Gone were the days of unwieldy Daguerreotype processes, replaced by wet-plate collodion, allowing photographers to take faster, sharper and more versatile shots.

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Moutain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (Mrs Keene) by Cameron (1866)

A single photograph stands alone at the entrance to the exhibition, enticing visitors in with a suggestion of the portraits to come. Although not much is known about the sitter, Mountain Nymph, Sweet Liberty (1866) reveals the emotional and powerful charge of Julia Margaret Cameron’s (one of the four photographers) style of portraiture.

As the exhibition reveals, the four photographers were often inspired by various literature and attempted to capture fictional scenes or characters in their work. In this instance, the title of the photograph was taken directly from a John Milton poem, L’Allegro (1645). “Come, and trip it as ye go / On the light fantastick toe, / And in thy right hand lead with thee, / The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty.”

 

Of the four photographers, only one was a professional. Oscar Gustaf Rejlander (1813-75) was a Swedish émigré who came to England and set up a photographic studio in Wolverhampton in 1856. He later moved to London in 1863 where he learnt the new process of developing photographs, wet-plate collodion. This involved pouring collodion onto a glass plate and exposing it to light, via a camera, to capture the desired image.

Rejlander was known for his expressive portraits, often experimenting in order to perfect his photographs. He became an expert at photomontage in which two or more negatives were combined together to create a completely new image. By this method, people could be added into or removed from photographs as necessary or two very different scenes merged to form an impossible landscape.

The National Portrait Gallery has recently acquired a photo-album of previously unseen portraits, many of which are included in this exhibition. The head of photographs, Dr Phillip Prodger told Art Fund, “The Rejlander album becomes one of the jewels in the crown of our already impressive collection of 19th-century photographs.” It changed the way Victorian photography was perceived, particularly in relation to the extent of experimentation with a comparatively new medium.

Unlike the stiff, wooden portraits associated with the Victorian era, Rejlander’s photographs were life-like and natural. He captured sitters in natural, sensitive poses, such as staring into space deep in thought – a fleeting, almost private moment. It was this evanescent style that inspired the remaining three photographers that make up the Victorian Giants: Julia Margaret Cameron, Clementina Hawarden, and Lewis Carroll.

 

Lewis Carroll is by far the most famous of the group due to his popular children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Although often working under his pseudonym, the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-98) was a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford University and picked up photography as a hobby in approximately 1856. Preferring to work outdoors, many of his portraits are situated in gardens where natural elements frame the model or sitters.

Carroll specialised in pictures of children, which make up half of all his known photographs. Understanding the complexities of working with youngsters, Carroll ensured a parent or governess was always present at the photoshoot. To entertain the children, he often initiated a game of dress up in which they would pretend to be heroes from works of fiction. An example is Captive Princess where one of his favourite models Alexandra “Xie” Kitchin (1864-1925), a daughter of a work colleague, poses as the princess, complete with crown, from the Golden Legend, awaiting rescue from the heroic St George.

Being a mathematician, Carroll was interested in the preciseness of angles and lighting, lining up additional light sources to achieve a particular size and direction of the shadow. It is clear from the photographs in this exhibition that Carroll put a lot of thought into his portraits in order to produce the best possible outcome.

 

Refreshingly, particularly for the era, the other two photographers are female. Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79), originally from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) took up photography during her 40s on the Isle of Wight after receiving a camera from her daughter in 1863. As seen in the first photograph of the exhibition, Cameron was particularly interested in Arthurian, legendary or heroic themes and other allegorical subjects.

Cameron usually used family members, friends and the local villagers as her models, however, she also took photographs of well-known people. Her portraits have been described as Rembrandt-like due to the dark, natural backgrounds and the depthless focus on the sitter’s face. Examples of this technique are the portraits of Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), a distinguished historian, and the astronomer J.F.W. Herschel (1792-1871). Both men have an ethereal appearance, their hair and facial features emerging from the darkness.

 

Last but not least, the fourth photographer is Clementina Maude, Viscountess Hawarden (1822-65) who had a short but prolific stint as a photographer. Picking up the camera just under a decade before she died at 42 from pneumonia, Hawarden produced around 800 photographs, the majority involving her eight children.

Unlike the others, Hawarden photographed full-length figures more often than head and shoulder portraits, creating emotional scenes. Rather than focusing on the faces of her models, Hawarden thought carefully about the overall composition, draping fabrics to create a background, or employing props such as furniture.

A theme that initially tied the photographers together is childhood innocence. Victorians viewed children as pure souls who had not yet been affected by the corrupt realities of life. Their presence in artworks portrays the raw, unsullied youth that eventually gets lost as they approach adulthood, which makes the viewer want to care for and protect them from the rest of the world.

Photographing children was not an easy feat, therefore, these images display the skill and patience each of the four photographers possessed. Although children are still not easy models to work with today due to their inclination to fidget, capturing a child’s portrait in the late 1800s was much more difficult. Early cameras had long exposure times, requiring the sitter to remain completely still for at least 30 seconds. The slightest movement could ruin the picture.

Lewis Carroll had plenty of opportunities to photograph children due to his close friendship with the Liddell family. Henry Liddell (1811-98) was the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where Carroll was employed and was a great supporter of his photographic experimentation. The Liddell family consisted of four children, the fourth being Alice (1852-1934) who inspired Carroll to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass (1871).

Although Alice Liddell was a favourite of Carroll, only twelve solo photographs exist, which is a mere handful compared with Xie Kitchin of whom he produced 45 portraits. Carroll also produced several photographs of Alice’s sister Ina and several with more than one Liddell child present. It is unknown why Carroll eventually stopped spending time with the family and only one photograph of Alice is thought to exist from the period after the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Carroll was not the only photographer to use Alice as a model, Julia Margaret Cameron made several portraits a few years later. The example displayed at the National Portrait Gallery is a profile shot of the 21-year-old Alice, which shows the physical changes from a cropped-haired little girl to a young adult with long, flowing locks. This photograph was titled Aletheia (1872), which is Greek for true or faithful.

Although the four photographers never collaborated as a group, they often photographed the same sitters, including a few famous faces. Rejlander, Cameron and Carroll produced photographs of the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) and his sons Hallam and Lionel. The Tennyson family lived near Cameron on the Isle of Wight allowing for plenty of photographic opportunities. Rejlander, when tutoring Cameron, took the opportunity to visit the family, and Carroll came across them whilst on holiday in the Lake District.

Cameron produced the greater amount of photographs of Tennyson and experimented with style, pose and light. The poet was impressed with her skills and used one profile shot, titled The Dirty Monk (1865) as the frontispiece for a publication of his poems, Idylls of the King (1885).

Rejlander and Cameron were also responsible for taking photographs of Charles Darwin. Once again, the connection between Cameron and Darwin was made whilst on the Isle of Wight, however, Darwin preferred the style of Rejlander. Darwin often used photographs for research purposes when writing his books, particularly after discovering the way the camera could capture emotions and expressions. These were a great visual aid for his writing, and Darwin also hired Rejlander to contribute images to illustrate The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872).

“I am now rich in photographs, for I have found in London Rejlander, who for years has had a passion for photographing all sorts of chance expressions, exhibited on various occassions … instantaneously.” – Darwin, 1871

Portraits of family, friends and famous people allowed the photographers to experiment with the camera, location, light and so forth, however, they took things a step further by controlling the scene they were photographing. It is at this moment the argument that photography is art becomes strongest. In a similar way to painters, photographers have to think about composition, tones and shades and the message behind the overall image.

Occasionally, the four artists dressed their sitters as characters from literature or mythology, for example, Xie Kitchin as the Captive Princess and Tennyson as The Dirty Monk. In other photographs, models were positioned carefully to depict a particular scene, often replicating a well-known painting. A small number of the images displayed as part of Victorian Giants have been based on existing artworks. Some are loosely inspired by them, whereas, others closely resemble the exact portrait.

An example of a photograph based on a painting is Non Angeli sed Angli (1857) taken by Rejlander. It is a pastiche of Raphael’s cherubs in the Sistine Madonna. The two children pose in the exact same position, head on their hands, looking both innocent and mischievous at the same time.

The reason for making pastiches or reinterpretations of historic paintings was to prove to those who considered photography a tool rather than a visual art that photographs could do anything painting could do. Although they could not recreate brushstrokes, the composition, emotion and tone of the image could be produced equally as well with a camera as with a paint brush.

Carroll’s pastiche of Rembrandt’s Andromeda (1630) shows the actress Elizabeth “Kate” Terry chained to the rocks awaiting rescue from the sea monster by her future husband and hero Perseus. In this instance, the photograph is only loosely based on the painting, the position of the model, clothing and backdrop being completely different. Rejlander’s The Virgin in Prayer (1857), however, is a much closer representation of Sassoferrato’s painting of the same name. Rejlander has restaged the painting as closely as possible and, although the camera could not yet capture colour, the photograph is a very close approximation.

Rejlander’s most impressive reinterpretation of an artwork is his partial pastiche of  Guido Reni’s Salome with the Head of St John the Baptist (1638-9). Focusing only on the head on a charger, Rejlander produced a powerful likeness of the Baroque painting. As recorded in the new testament, Salome requested and received the head of St John on a platter. Missing from the photograph is Salome holding her prize, however, Rejlander’s biographer believed he intended to use this image as the centrepiece of a larger picture made up of a variety of photographic elements. Unfortunately, Rejlander never got the opportunity to complete this but there are a couple of examples at the National Portrait Gallery of Rejlander’s combination photographs, including one made up of at least 32 separate negatives.

Victorian Giants is both a demonstration of photography as a visual art and a celebration of the development of the camera. Included in the exhibition is a four-minute film demonstrating the nineteenth-century technique of printing photographs using wet-collodion glass-plate negatives and albumen paper.

Although it is still a matter of opinion, the National Portrait Gallery strongly expresses the view that photography belongs under the category of visual art. None of the photographs exhibited is simply a resource for other outcomes and can exist and be displayed in their own right. Some, particularly the innocent photographs of children, are extremely beautiful and full of emotion. They look equally as good framed on a wall as a hand-painted version would.

Some pictures visitors may not care for as much, but it is interesting to see the innovative methods these four photographers experimented with during a time when new technology was only just developing. Compared with what the camera can do today, these photographs feel much more precious than any modern photographer’s work.

Closing on 20th May 2018, Victorian Giants is open daily from 10 am until 6 pm. Tickets cost £10 or £8.50 for visitors over the age of 60. Members and patrons may visit the exhibition for free and National Art Pass Holders receive a 50% discount.

Fairy-Truths

A recent exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood displayed a range of photographs recreating some of the world’s most famous fairytales. Sonya Hurtado, a Spanish freelance photographer, uses child models as the focal points of her surreal art work, thus her simply-titled series of work, Tales, is rather in-keeping with the rest of the museum’s collection.

Tales is made up of twelve images in which Hurtado explores the imaginary world of childhood. Despite the happy, carefree demeanour society likes to believe children have, they are often victims of isolation, fear and despair. This display is not for children, but about children. It tries to reveal to the average adult the complexity of a child’s mind and their confusing emotions.

Using fairytales as the subject matter conveys a sense of innocence with an underlying darkness. These tales were not always the “happily-ever-after” stories children are told today; many originate from disturbing, violent backgrounds that would never get approval from publishers of juvenile fiction today.

However, it is not these ancient versions that Hurtado is depicting in her photographic compositions. Instead, she argues that the contemporary narratives are just as disconcerting. From the outside, they may appear fun, happy and enjoyable, but after deeper thought and consideration, worrying issues come to light.

Take, for example, Rapunzel: locking a girl in a tower is not something society would find acceptable. It would be labelled child abuse, and the villain arrested. No doubt a man using said child’s hair to climb up the wall would also be frowned upon. Similar concerns crop up in most fairytales. Hansel and Gretel: abandoning children in a forrest. Cinderella: child/slave labour. Little Red Riding Hood: is it acceptable to send a child out on a journey alone through the woods? Snow White: the queen tries to kill her, for goodness sake!

By manipulating and contrasting shadow and colour, Hurtado lets the atmosphere speak for itself, and reveal the more sinister side to fairy-tales. Her photographic works almost look like paintings due to the many components and vibrant tones. Many of the outcomes are inspired by imaginary stories as well as real life scenarios, thus making the viewer more conscious of the darker interpretations.

Tales is not an exhibition curated solely for aesthetic purposes, it creates awareness of the vulnerability of children of the present day, as well as educating its audience on the origin of fairytales. As a result, the Museum of Childhood was the perfect location for such a display. In a place where visitors are already geared to learn and discover, I expect the artwork was greatly admired and studied, and perhaps left a lasting impression on newly opened minds.

Ardizzone: A Retrospective

‘The supreme contemporary example of the genuine illustrator’
Maurice Sendak on Edward Ardizzone, 1967

At present, the House of Illustration, in London, is holding the first major exhibition in decades of the 20th century illustrator Edward Ardizzone (1900-79). From my own research, conducted when writing my dissertation in 2012, I was already aware of Ardizzone’s influence within children’s literature, however from attending the gallery, I soon learnt this was not his only area of authority.

Edward Ardizzone is known amongst children’s book illustrators as the creator of the Little Tim stories. These first appeared at the very end of the 1930s, however Ardizzone had already found success as an illustrator. Before turning to literature, Ardizzone’s art work featured in magazines such as Radio Times as well as a number of other publishers. Later in his career, Ardizzone was commissioned to produce cover art for a number of books published by Puffin. Books in this series included Stig of the Dump (1963) and The Otterbury Incident (1961).

Between 1940 and 1945, Ardizzone used the Second World War as a means of creating art. Using the same method as his book illustrations – pen and wash – Ardizzone continued to produce atmospheric illustrations, however with a more adult nature. Despite the subject matter, Ardizzone’s drawings look similar regardless of target audience. He got his inspiration from observing the world around him, closely looking at individuals and taking into account the changes current events inflicted on scenery (e.g. war).

What is perhaps most interesting about the exhibition, Ardizzone: A Retrospective, is perceiving the development of Ardizzone’s artistic skill and career path throughout his lifetime. The House of Illustration displays previously unseen original illustrations that Ardizzone composed toward the beginning of his art journey, as well as hundreds of other examples that reflect the diversity of his work. Amongst copies of well known posters and book covers, arranged around the gallery are initial sketches, caricatures and, rather surprisingly, the odd ceramic.

Edward Ardizzone appealed to me as an artist due to my love of 20th century picture books. After viewing the exhibition, I am even more impressed with his artwork as he proves that illustrations are not only for children. A clever drawing evokes more emotion than any photograph could.

Ardizzone: A Retrospective will be held at the House of Illustration until 22nd January 2017.

Children’s Picture Books: an evolution of British culture or childish commodities?

That was the title of my thesis I wrote in 2012. I wanted to write about something that interested me, something I would enjoy researching. At this point in my Graphic Design studies I was strongly interested in illustration, but I was aware that there was not enough theory surrounding the topic to use as a foundation of an essay, particularly one that needed to be based around an argument. So, I turned to picture books.

Reading has been a great joy for me – I usually get through over 100 books a year. Like most children I began learning through picture books, where the story was told through images rather than words. It felt natural to combine my love of reading and illustration together to result in the topic of children’s picture books.

However, I could not only write about books; I needed an argument. So, insert another of my passions: history, in particular British history. I decided to look at the evolution of the picture book in regards to the changes in British culture. Were children’s books moving in sync with the changing times, or were they purely a commodity, a way of making money?

Now that I had these elements in place it was easy to find relevant research and build up my argument. I was commended on my choice of question; I was told it was unique and very interesting. I enjoyed writing it – something other students found hard to believe.

For obvious reasons I cannot post my dissertation online, but I would like to share with you, three of the books I gathered for my research that I found extremely interesting and informative. If you are interested in this subject matter I highly recommend you seek these out.

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Puffin By Design: 70 Years of Imagination 1940-2000 
by Phil Baines

I admit that this book was not about picture books, but about children’s books in general. Therefore it was the least informative for my essay. Nonetheless, I would have bought this book regardless as book design is another area that I am greatly interested in.

Puffin By Design is essentially a visual timeline of book covers produced for Puffin (an imprint of Penguin Books) from the date of its formation until the publication of this book in 2010. Although mostly full of imagery, Phil Baines provides an insight into the development of Puffin and the changes in illustration and typography over the seven decades. Readers are shown the changing appearance of the books in order to appeal to youngsters of the era, to encourage them to read (or arguably buy).

Due to the lack of written word, and the fact that Puffin By Design mostly focuses on reading books rather than picture books, this book was the least cited in my thesis. However I could spend hours flicking through this book. It shows what has been successful in the past and thus is full of inspiration for upcoming designers wanting to work in the world of book publishing.

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Children Reading Pictures: Interpreting Visual Texts
by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles

Children Reading Pictures is the result of a two year study, in which the authors interviewed a selection of primary school aged children to discover their understanding and interpretation of the illustrations within picture books.

Whilst not necessarily the most stimulating book to read, it is actually full of really interesting findings. Children are a lot more insightful than the average adult gives them credit for. Some of the interviewees were from migrant families, who had not yet got a grasp on the English language. These children were able to understand the stories to a certain extent purely by analysing the illustrations. When questioned, many were able to relate the images to events in their own lives. What some people may disregard as childish nonsense is actually extremely educational – children can learn as much from pictures as they can from words (and thus, as I argued, are easy targets for consumerism).

One of the more helpful chapters in Children Reading Pictures, in regards to my essay, was the interview and analysis of books by Anthony Browne, who, alongside Lauren Child, was one of the authors I heavily focused on in my writing. As students of English Literature will know, author’s works get ripped apart by teachers and lecturers in order to find meaning that was possibly not intended in the first place. In this case that was not a problem. Browne was able to provide an insight to his intentions when writing and drawing his books, and thus this can be viewed as a reliable source.

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Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling
by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles

This was my favourite book that I bought for my thesis research. I could sit and read this for hours and hours. It was perfect for what I needed. Like with Puffin by DesignChildren’s Picturebooks is a visual timeline from the very first recorded book for children up until the present day (2012). However, this was a book about the INSIDE of the books, the actually stories, rather than the front covers.

Yet Children’s Picturebooks was so much more than a mere timeline. Salisbury looked into the key stages that make a picture book successful: the illustration, the typography, the story lines etc. With examples of famous illustrators, Salisbury demonstrates how artists and authors have kept children interested and managed to keep this dynamic sector of the publishing industry going.

This was perhaps the most cited book in my thesis (I admit I was warned about using it too much). There were chapters about controversial topics and the arguments as to whether children should be subjected to these or not. Could pictures influence the way children think or behave? – a perfect opinion to challenge in my essay!

 

If you are interested in book design, children’s books or illustration, I urge you to take a look at these books. You will not be disappointed.

For those looking for ideas for their own dissertation, I advise you to pick something you are interested in. This will make research less of a chore and much more enjoyable. You may be thinking that there is not enough content to write an essay on your passion, however combined with other elements you are bound to develop a question with a great amount of theory to back you up. Good luck and happy writing!