The Story of Reuben The Butterfly

This is The Story of Reuben The Butterfly…

When Reuben was a mature caterpillar, he crawled to the ceiling of the jar and suspended himself, like the others, as the letter J. Another, bigger, caterpillar came and knocked him to the floor. Reuben remained there – inert amongst the dirty, sticky caterpillar fras – and his skin hardened; he became a chrysalis.

When we transferred the chrysalides to the butterfly enclosure, the others wiggled frantically to scare us away. Reuben feebly waggled one tip, then lay still.

A few days later, the caterpillars emerged, transformed, from their chrysalides as vivacious butterflies, but Reuben stayed dormant. “Looks dead”, we said.

But, just as we were taking the butterfly enclosure out into the garden to release the others, he emerged!

The other butterflies had initially crawled to the mesh at the edge of their habitat – to recover, dry out and gently pump blood into their new, delicate, crumpled wings. Not Reuben.

Reuben tried to fly.

He landed on the feeding tray and got himself stuck to a banana. He flailed about on his back, but his wing was trapped. After a horrifying 3 minutes, he managed to free himself. Sadly, his wing was limp and bent.

The other butterflies all eventually flew away together, one sunny day, straight up into the blue – alighting on violet, nectar-laden hydrangeas for their first proper feed – then disappearing over a fence into the neighbour’s garden.

We let Reuben recover from his injury for 2 days then tried, for the next 3 days, to release him.

But Reuben couldn’t fly.

His unfortunate start in life had left him unable to do more than flutter in spirals then land, inevitably upside down, before struggling back to his tiny feet. Exhausting!

Tonight I tried again. I took him outside and this time I tipped the enclosure towards some flowers. He steadily crept out and onto a petal before probing a stamen with his proboscis. He eagerly crawled all over the plant then his wings vibrated frantically as he attempted again to launch himself into the air.

And, do you know what? He flew!

For about a meter, he flew…and landed upside down in some mud.

Apparently undeterred, he flipped himself over and clambered onto my proffered finger. I put him back on a different flower.

This is when my son discovered me – utterly absorbed in helicopter-parenting the little lepidoptera with additional needs – hovering anxiously by a plant in case the insect should lose its balance and fall to the floor or get eaten by the cat.

“Leave Reuben alone!” Snapped my small boy sternly, “He needs to explore on his own now.”

“But he can’t fly!” I replied, still on edge; biting my knuckle. “He can only flutter!”

“Well, if he CAN flutter, let him. He has to be by himself to learn about flowers.”

That told me!

We left Reuben to fend for himself and went inside to have dinner…

Now, you might be thinking, “What kind of bloody lunatic cares so much about one insect?!”

My friends, this is bigger than the butterfly!

I think one of the hardest skills to master in parenting and teaching is knowing when, and how, to withdraw support to foster independence. It’s the kind of thing that I wake up thinking about in the middle of the night…It’s especially tricky when the creature that you want to thrive and succeed has additional needs.

Remove the scaffolding too soon and they’re liable to fail – or much worse; neglect to remove it in the right way at the right time and you end up rendering them not only entirely reliant on external support – but often angry, frustrated, disengaged, depressed etc etc – largely because you have eroded their self-confidence.

I doubt anyone could get this right all the time, but I know I do too much – for my son; for my students. I do it, not because I’m a control-freak (at least not the malevolent megalomaniac dominatrix variety), but because I am really, really worried about bad things happening.

My thinking and behaviour have been shaped by the series of unfortunate events that comprised my childhood and teenage years. I know from experience that bad things do happen, but I’d very much like to avoid suffocating my young people in their cottonwool wrappings. I realise that I need to change my habits to help them develop independence and confidence.

The first time I was observed by an Ofsted inspector – back in 2007 – he summoned me to the back of my classroom and whispered, “Stop it! Stop running about. Stop clarifying. Stop helping them. Just stand here and let THEM struggle”.

Tonight, my 7-year-old son echoed that inspector. He was right…I couldn’t have kept Reuben caged forever, feeding him sugar water from a pipette. Nor could I have spent the rest of his short life following him around the garden nervously anticipating his next bumbling mishap.

I still feel like a terrible butterfly Mummy though because, just as we sat down to eat, the heavens opened…Anyone know what happens to butterflies in the rain?

Please tell me that they’re waterproof.

Following in Barbara’s Footsteps

The Visitor Services Team at The Hepworth Wakefield decided to go on an excursion to the seaside town of Robin Hood’s Bay, near Whitby in North Yorkshire, where Barbara Hepworth spent her summer holidays between 1909 and 1920.

We knew that Hepworth was heavily influenced by the Yorkshire landscape and that, even though she eventually settled in St. Ives in Cornwall, her early experiences of the rugged West Yorkshire countryside as well as the coastal scenery of North East England continued to inspire her throughout her career.

Was it pure coincidence that Hepworth made her home in the quaint, seaside resort of St. Ives – from 1950 until her death in 1975 – a town with many similarities to Robin Hood’s Bay?

We wanted to follow in her footsteps and see firsthand the place where she spent so much time as a young girl. Could we find a direct correlation between the land/seascapes of Robin Hood’s Bay and Hepworth’s work?

Best Shop Ever





Drift Wood

Dead Crab




















Cows at a jaunty angle





















Fish and Chips



Window Display

Rock Pool2

Rock Pool

Robin Hood

Polished Pebble

Louise, Kirstin and Hayley

Some Richard Long at THW

See this post for further information.

The view from the window of Gallery 10:

Walking, Water and Walls as Art

Thanks to Richard Long, I am now seeing everything as potential art – including my walk from work to the train station.

Here you can see Long’s grass sculpture, which can be found outside THW next to Heather and Ivan Morison’s Black Cloud:

Long sees this work as an inversion of his 1967 piece, A Line Made By Walking.

So now details start jumping out at me on my own walk – some natural, others not.

My Last Heather and Ivan Morison Puppet Show

As part of their exhibition, Anna, at The Hepworth Wakefield, Heather and Ivan Morison asked a number of Visitor Services Assistants to enact their (the artists’) interpretation of the novel Ice by Anna Kavan (following strict instructions) using specially created puppets. The show was 22 minutes long and took place every Saturday and Wednesday at 3.00. An audio track of narration by three characters from the story – The Girl, The Warden and The Child – played throughout the show, so that the puppets’ “voices” reverberated around the gallery providing the audience with the characters’ perspectives and conversations with each other. You can hear some of the audio track here.

The puppets were difficult to manipulate at first, even after we had had training from master puppeteer Owen Glynne Davies and Ivan Morison. Gradually, however, as we became more and more familiar with The Girl (Anna) and The Warden and their idiosyncrasies, it became a little easier to control their movements.

I felt an attachment to them – despite my initial reservations. Both puppets are pretty creepy-looking and I think some of the younger visitors may be having puppet-themed nightmares for a few years to come. Nevertheless, as we (the VSAs) developed our own daft stories about their lives (The Warden likes to moonwalk and eat Cadbury’s chocolate fingers; Anna’s looking for a good deal on a spray tan in time for summer), they seemed to take on new personae; to become less intimidating. I projected aspects from my world – the mundane, everyday world of eating chocolate biscuits in the staff room and reading Heat magazine when no one’s looking – onto the puppets, which created humour (well I laughed anyway) through bathos: the sublime to the ridiculous.

I suppose this is appropriate in a way as the Morison’s state that ‘Anna considers our understanding of the world through myth, and how meaning comes to us through storytelling’. These objects – these articulated, carved, wooden puppets with their wiry horsehair and unnervingly realistic glass eyes – became elements in our stories as well as featuring in that iterative performance of the “official” narrative created by the Morison’s, which was itself adapted from Anna Kavan.

As I controlled the puppet (we took it in turns to play Anna and The Warden), I sometimes wondered if Heather and Ivan were having a bit of a laugh at our expense – they controlled our movements from afar: even in their absence, every Wednesday and Saturday at 3.00, we would take to the stage (Gallery 10) and act out the same story. We became their puppets.

Anyone seen Being John Malkovich?!

Here are some photographs of my last ever performance with The Girl and The Warden. I will be sad to see them go.

There is another performance of the puppet show, the final one, this Saturday at 3.00 in Gallery 10. The temporary exhibitions (Galleries 7-10) will close on Sunday so that we can install the next exhibition, which features Richard Long and Luke Fowler.

Goodbye you little wooden buggers. You will be sorely missed.

You can see some more of my photographs of the puppets here.

That’s Me!

Look what I found on the web!:

That’s me! I do hope that the photographer had a photography pass, otherwise I was doing a pretty shoddy job of invigilating on that day. I’m sure they did as I’m super hot at spotting sneaky snappers – especially those who are taking pictures of me!

Of course, it’s not just me – I’m only a background blur – the Henry Moore Reclining Figure steals the show.

P.s. I’ve just discovered that this was taken during a photography workshop, so the happy snapper definitely had a photo pass. *breathes a sigh of relief*

Post-War British Sculpture and Painting at THW

Yesterday was really bloody exciting! Gallery 3 of The Hepworth Wakefield opened to the public showcasing the new exhibition of post-war British sculpture and painting.

I crept upstairs to have a sneaky peek at 9.45 a.m. and was stunned by how different this room looks now. Until last week, the exhibition in Gallery 3 was entitled ‘Hepworth in Context’ and explored Barbara Hepworth’s work in relation to that of some of her European contemporaries (idols, friends, lovers…), such as Constantin Brancusi and Ben Nicholson. I’d grown very fond of Brancusi’s Danaide and John Skeaping’s Woman and Bird, so I’d been feeling a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to admire them again for a while. However, my blues were instantly dispelled upon seeing the current offering.

The brand new exhibition, which will be installed until November, features work by Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Graham Sutherland, Anthony Caro, Eduardo Paolozzi and Robert Adams (amongst others). It explores art from the 1950s, the decade succeeding the end of World War II, and really shows how artists at that time were struggling to come to terms with the atrocities of war and the return to everyday routines. It deals with such themes as alienation, shame and the frailty of the human body. I get a real sense that these artists were trying to represent a complete breakdown of individuals’ confidence in the strength of their bodies and their minds. During the world wars, strong, young men had been killed and mutilated; brave, efficient soldiers had been reduced to stammering, nervous wrecks. In World War II, yes the Allies defeated the Axis, but at what cost? Britain was plunged into a state of economic ruin, some 450,900 Britons had died and thousands more had been injured – scarred psychologically as well as physically. The nation had been destabilised; reality had been destabilised.

In Gallery 3, Skeaping’s smooth, curvaceous alabaster beauty has been replaced with a grotesque, pock-marked hag rising up cumbersomely from slumber: Anthony Caro’s fabulously revolting Woman Waking Up.

The awkward angle of this figure, sprawling on her back, is echoed by Henry Moore’s Fallen Warrior and also Michael Andrew’s A Man who Suddenly Fell Over.

The latter shows the complete upsetting of someone’s apparently secure equilibrium – it’s a snapshot of that moment, just after you’ve fallen over (come on, we’ve all done it at some time or other), when you attempt to make out as though nothing at all has happened, when your face does that funny, contorted smile thing as you try to express absolute nonchalance: ‘What? Oh, that?… I meant to do that’. Your eyes betray you; your eyes say, ‘WTF just happened?!’

Perhaps these three clumsy figures could be seen to symbolise 1950s Britain: shocked, unbalanced and squirming on its back. The artists reject the ideal for the real, seeking to portray the human condition honestly in all its horrible, nauseating, tedious, embarrassing grittiness. This is Art, bloated and bleary-eyed at 6 a.m. with a hangover and no makeup on.

Some of the pieces here are from the Wakefield Art Collection, but many are on loan from the Tate, the Arts Council and private lenders. Having, not one but, TWO Francis Bacons in one room is mega for THW – and alongside Lucian Freud no less!

The two pieces that really grabbed my attention upon entering this space for the first time were Eduardo Paolozzi’s The Cage and Robert Adams’ Apocalyptic Figure (no image available sadly).

To get a real sense of the physicality of the sculptures and paintings discussed here, you really need to visit Gallery 3 and see it for yourself. Frank Auerbach had a very distinctive manner of painting which involved super thick layers of paint being smeared and daubed onto a canvas. You can’t really see the very 3D nature of this painting from a 2D reproduction. Seeing his E.O.W. Nude yesterday for the first time brought back memories of when I saw my first Van Gogh; it truly is painting as sculpture.

The same can be said of David Bomberg’s Double Self Portrait – his style of painting was so audacious at the time that he actually got kicked out of the Slade in 1913 for being too unconventional! Now there’s an accolade.

There’s definitely a dark, shadowy presence looming over Gallery 3, perhaps its that ominous pairing of Francis Bacon’s Untitled (Crouching Nude) and Graham Sutherland’s alien-crustacean-insectoid Head III – a double whammy of nightmarish spectral form that dominates a whole wall.

It’s a refreshing change from the previous exhibition of pretty, abstract, minimalist modernism. Personally, I feel that there’s far more to get one’s cerebral teeth into. I also think it fits in well with some of the temporary exhibitions: Ben Rivers’ post-apocalyptic, science-fiction film Slow Action, showing in Gallery 9, and Heather and Ivan Morrison’s splendidly creepy interpretation of Anna Kavan’s novel Ice, Anna, in Gallery 10.

Looking forward to spending some more time invigilating this one… although also slightly nervous after hearing that the contents of this room are insured for more than it cost to build the gallery. Eeek.