New countywide exhibition uncovers curious characters of Northumberland

Image: Colin Davidson

To mark the reopening of its four venues, Museums Northumberland presents a new countywide exhibition by illustrator and printmaker, Jonny Hannah, celebrating some of Northumberland’s strangest stories and most curious characters.

Northumberland Folk, which takes place across Museums Northumberland’s four sites – Woodhorn Museum, Hexham Old Gaol, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum – draws inspiration from the Museum Northumberland collections, the heritage buildings themselves, and hundreds of tales and contributions from the local community.

Each exhibition holds its own story and it all told through Jonny Hannah’s paintings, prints, publications and cut-outs, alongside objects and artefacts from the museum collections.

Illustrator, Jonny Hannah, said: “And there is some of that in my project, but I was keen to compliment what was expected with a huge helping of what I call ‘urban folk’. Folk tales, songs, heroes and devils are very much alive and kicking and are just as at home on the concrete streets of Northumberland, (and anywhere else for that matter).

The Northumberland Folk exhibition at Berwick Museum and Art Gallery is inspired by a real shop that once stood on Berwick High Street. Visitors are invited to enter ‘R. Good Emporium’ to discover some of Northumberland’s northernmost folk and folklore. Jonny’s tribute to the strong, brave and creative women from the county includes artwork celebrating Bamburgh’s Grace Darling and Morpeth suffragette, Emily Wilding Davison. Jonny has also recreated the Emporium’s original oil pantry with each jar label telling a different Northumbrian tale.

Visitors to Woodhorn Museum will be able to relax at the ‘Darktown Miners’ Social Club’ and pay a visit to Geordie Broon’s bar; raising a glass to the people and places of Northumberland’s industrial south east corner. They include Jonny’s reimagining of the Coal Queen, who was crowned as part of the community beauty pageant at the annual Northumberland Miners’ Picnic. Visitors will also be able to see a proggy mat handcrafted by Museum Northumberland volunteer, Gladys. Proggy matmaking is a traditional craft that was often practised by women in mining communities.

Rowan Brown, Chief Executive of Museums Northumberland, said: “Jonny’s novel approach of busking, pub-quizzing and light-heartedly interrogating the people of our county has resulted in a rich and wonderfully eclectic take on Northumberland’s stories. 

Jonny has also created a Northumberland Folk newspaper – The Northumberland Folk Messenger – which captures all the tales and stories gathered during his research for the exhibition. My Northumberland Story can be purchased at each museum’s shop and online at www.museumsnorthumberland.org.uk, alongside other items including screen prints, badges, tote bags and some of the Northumberland Folk artwork itself.

Northumberland Folk is now open at Woodhorn Museum, Hexham Old Gaol, Berwick Museum and Art Gallery, and Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum and runs until 31 October 2021. 

For more information about Northumberland Folk, visit www.museumsnorthumberland.org.uk.

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