Building an exhibition with stories

Castle Park Stories at the Storey

The visually striking Castle Park Stories exhibition was designed by Hayley Alter and Sarah Pickard. We asked them a few questions about their experience of working on the project:

What were your first thoughts when you were asked to design an exhibition for a project centred on stories?

S: My first reaction was that the project sounded fascinating. The next thought was, how are we going to display the stories an engaging and accessible way? We were keen to make sure that the stories were the main feature of the exhibition and that the design enhanced them, and didn’t distract visitors from reading the stories.

H: I felt much the same as Sarah. I was very excited and delighted to be part of a Litfest project. I knew it would be a fun challenge to take on and, it struck me as important to use an approach which was highly engaging and impactful as well as simple, cohesive and unifying to underpin the audience experience.

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What inspired you to use pallets to build the castle and priory?

H: Pallets carry a lot of strong associations including transit, industry, impermanence, strength, no frills. They are an everyday object frequently used to create all manner of objects outside of their primary purpose. Sarah and I saw a natural alignment between these associations and some of the ideas underpinning Castle Park Stories: an ever changing and growing people’s history, created through finding new links across time, places and people. With so many different stories and themes, it seemed poetic and appropriate to use a material that looked like it was pretending to be something else.

S: We knew that we needed to create structure and movement within the exhibition space, which was a very tall room in the Storey Institute. And when we read through the stories we realised that natural groupings had emerged, with stories based on either a common theme (Crime and Punishment for example) or a particular location, like the castle or quayside. So we designed the layout of the exhibition to loosely echo the geography of the Castle Park Stories focus area. Pallets were an ideal choice as a medium to convey the stories and we used them as modular building blocks to create a representation of the Castle, Priory and Roman baths.

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How did you find the process of building the exhibition?

S: Building the exhibition was a massive challenge and so much fun! We designers can all too often get stuck behind our computers and it’s easy to forget that there’s a real-life process of producing and making that happens after our plans are finalised in CAD. There was a major time constraint on the build element of the project and we had to work quickly to get the structures built. Safety was a key concern too, and we were careful to make absolutely sure that all the structures were stable and secure. A couple of long days later, and with the help of many amazing volunteers, it was great to see the exhibition ready and open to the public!

H: Again, I completely agree with Sarah. It was fantastic to have such a hands on experience with the exhibition. We couldn’t have completed it without all the volunteers who were skillful, willing and all-out fantastic. I think they enjoyed working on this phase of the project and seeing their work go up in situ and how it was realised.

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Do you have any favourite exhibits?

S: My favourite was the Mary Holden story by Irene Wise. I loved the way the story, about a suspected murder by arsenic drunk from a coffee pot, was exhibited on a table cloth complete with a coffee pot kindly lent by Atkinson’s. I think the way this piece helped to evoke a sense of history and brought the story to life.

H: I loved that one too. It’s also a great example of how involved some of the participants got in the design process. The idea for visualising it came from Irene and sparked off other ideas around the exhibit, including printing the Wennington on the sail.

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Did working with the participants and their stories reveal any snippets of Lancaster history that were surprising or particularly interesting to you?

H: Being a Lancaster resident since 2007, it was all fascinating for me. I felt like I was receiving a proper Lancaster education! I particularly loved how a number of the castle stories touched on what it would have been like for people coming in to Lancaster for assizes and imprisonment and imagining how it might have felt seeing the castle on the hill in the distance as you travel in. My other favourite was the story about Atkinson’s coffee. I have already put the advice about using the right tea leaves for the type
of water you have to good effect!

S: I thought it was very interesting how some of the participants had focused on one specific historical artefact and created a whole piece of writing around it, like Ruth Jenkins’ poem Castle Hill Cross. The other stand-out story for me was ‘Fanny’s Hand’, a story about the Lancaster slave trade, families and
memories.

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Hayley and Sarah are available for commissions and can be contacted on the details below.

Hayley Alter

Hayley Alter h.altergraphics@gmail.com / 07891 125134

Sarah Pickard

Sarah Pickard www.sarah-pickard.co.uk / sarahjpickard@gmail.com / 07793 716356

Photographs of the exhibition by Graham Dean.