Matt Stokes: Soundmirror Exhibition
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Sat 20th July – Sun 22nd September, Woodhorn Museum
In Summer 2019, Museums Northumberland is thrilled to be sharing some of Northumberland’s most extraordinary and little-known stories with you.
‘Soundmirror’ is an exhibition of audio, sculpture, paintings and curated objects assembled by artist Matt Stokes and commissioned by Museums Northumberland for Woodhorn Museum.
The show draws from a newly acquired collection of artefacts that belonged to Ashington born miner and footballer Jackie Milburn, ‘Wor Jackie’, which was recently gifted to Woodhorn Museum by Jackie Milburn’s son. It includes photographs and press materials, along with a reel-to-reel tape recorder (brand named ‘The Soundmirror’) with spools of home recordings made by the Milburn family.
Within the collection were newspaper cuttings about a Northumbrian orchid grower, W J Stables, who in 1953, named a hybrid orchid after Jackie Milburn. The plant was gifted to Jackie and Laura Milburn following the plant’s inclusion in the Newcastle and District Late Chrysanthemum Show. The office of the Mayor of Newcastle even suggested that the Latin name of this orchid, x Brassocattleya Heatonensis, should become a new football terrace chant at St James’ Park. Unsurprisingly, this ambition was never realised, and the story of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid disappeared into obscurity, until now.
Occasionally the swell of the imagined football chant fills the gallery. There are paintings loaned from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that illustrate the results of earlier crosses of the parent orchids Brassavola digbyana and Cattleya Hardyana to produce x Brassocattleya Heatonensis.
Accompanying these is a commissioned watercolour of the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid, painted by current RHS botanical artist, Deborah Lambkin. This was constructed using written descriptions about the ‘Jackie Milburn’ orchid, black and white photographs and historical illustrations from the RHS to visualise how the flower might have looked.
Stokes also embarked on a quest to discover whether it would be possible to recreate the ‘Milburn’ orchid, and sought the help of the RHS Orchid Committee, private collectors and botanical gardens across the UK and beyond. This led to a generous donation from a German collector, of a x Brassocattleya Heatonensis which is presented within a specially built ‘orchidarium’. This recently divided plant is being gently coaxed to grow and flower by the home recordings of Jackie and Laura Milburn singing, captured using ‘The Soundmirror’ tape machine.
The exhibition shifts focus from the accepted narrative of Jackie Milburn the footballer, by creating an intimate tale that uses the orchid – an adaptive plant admired for its beauty – as a symbol of both individual and community resilience, persistence and value.
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