Giles Family at 75: The Characters

GA5720: Front cover artwork for the 42nd Giles annual, 1988.

This is the second in our series of blog posts celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Giles Family, drawing on the riches of the Carl Giles Archive, which has been part of the British Cartoon Archive since 2005. This series is in lieu of a physical exhibition in our Gallery space, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this post we’re going to tell you “Who’s Who” in the Giles Family! We’ve included lots of images here to give you a real taste of the characters. If it leaves you wanting more, just take a look through our archive online!!

GAP2013: The Giles Family Tree, Daily Express, 23 Nov 1951.

Grandma

Probably the most famous and prolific character, Grandma Giles is the hard-drinking, bet-placing, grumpy-looking star of the family.

GA3715: Published caption: “Know why I think this betting slip is a forgery? Because I can’t
remember giving anyone 500-1 against Manchester United and I don’t spell Cup Final with a K”, published by Sunday Express, 22 May 1977.

Grandma can usually be found wearing her trademark black coat up to the neck, fox stole, with her hat pulled down over her head and her trusty umbrella and handbag in hand. She was rarely given a voice in cartoons, but appeared in over 1400 of them over the years.

Left – GA5567: “Watch it! I can get you 2 1/2 years inside if you hit me just because I nicked your pension book”, published Sunday Express, 15 Nov 1987.
Right – GA5721: Back cover artwork for the 44th Giles annual, 1990.

Imagined to have been born as early as 1886, Grandma was a strict disciplinarian with extreme opinions; from being a royalist, to supporting hanging, to having a portrait of Lenin on her bedroom wall! Despite these… interesting… quirks of character, she is well-loved by fans of Giles’ work, and Giles was also incredibly fond of her. In fact, you could say there is some resemblance of Giles himself in Grandma…

Left – GAPH00136: Black and white photo of Giles in the snow at Hillbrow Farm holding packaged artwork being collected by helicopter, 1987.
Right – GAPA0004: Front cover of ‘Sunday Express Magazine’ advertising article ‘Giles: The man who gave birth to Grandma’, published by Sunday Express, 16 Feb 1986.

Giles did admit that he occasionally considered killing off Grandma over the years, but found that if he left her out of the cartoons for a few days he would receive complaints from Daily Express readers asking when she was going to reappear!

The last cartoon featuring Grandma that we have in the archive was published in the Sunday Express, on 2nd June, 1991. In this cartoon she is uncharacteristically dressed in a winter fur coat, scarf and woolly hat, a comment on the cold June of 1991.

GA5382: “Do you think his Lordship would mind if we put a match to it?”, published by Sunday Express, 02 Jun 1991.

Father

Considering himself the Head of the family (when we all know it’s actually Grandma!), Father was a mild and philosophical character.

GA3862: “St. George to Dragon – I give you ten seconds to get off my new
flower bed – over and out”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Apr 1978.

A firm favourite, appearing in over 1100 cartoons, Father had served in both World Wars and just wanted a quiet life where he could enjoy sports and relax. He was a working Dad, although we were never given an explanation of what exactly he did for a living!  His given name was also George Giles, but being that there are two other George’s in the family, he was always referred to as Father. He was imagined to be 60 years old, and was also, of course, a Grandfather.

Left – GA5389: “1914-18 found him winning his first war”, published by Daily Express, 05 Jan 1950.
Right – GAN1798: “And this comment from your music teacher – ‘I hope your boy enjoys his holiday as much as I’m going to enjoy mine’…”, published by Sunday Express, 21 Jul 1968.

In the early days of the Family cartoons Father was depicted wearing the typically working class garb of belt and braces. In later years though this changed with the times to a jumper and slacks.

Left – GA0420: “This really is a remarkable sight – the world’s most famous speed men racing neck and neck ……”, published by Daily Express, 20 Aug 1949.
Right – GA0282: [No caption], published by Daily Express, 31 May 1948.

The final cartoon featuring Father in the archive shows him in bed, barely visible, being woken up by Ernie. Ernie is breaking it to him that “Some people are here who say Grandma has rented the house to them for Wimbledon fortnight”. Alas, a quiet life was not to be had!

GA5383: “Some people are here who say Grandma has rented the house to them for Wimbledon fortnight”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Jun 1991.

Mother

Mother is the organised, cheerful, authoritative member of the family who appeared in over 950 of the Family cartoons.

GA5395: “and Mum -“, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.

We don’t know much about her, except that she should be considered as head of the family. She is matronly, but with a kind face, and can often be found doing the housework, herding the children or serving the tea.

Left – GAA253058: “In view of his team being knocked out of the Cup yesterday, for goodness sake let him win”, published by Sunday Express, 03 Jan 1971.
Right – GAA415132: “Grandma – explain to man’s best friend that Man has taken the day off to go to Wimbledon”, published by Daily Express, 23 Jun 1987.

 

Vera & George

George, the eldest son of Mother and Father, was married to Vera, and together they had a son, George Jr. In the early Family cartoons there was elder son, illustrated with an Eton collar and bowtie (seen behind Vera in the image below), but he had disappeared by the time the Family canon was established.

GA0226: “Ho! Mother was going to have a new hat, everybody was going to have new boots – if father’s cert had won the Cambridgeshire”, published by Daily Express, 26 Oct 1947.

George could usually be found smoking a pipe and reading a book. He rarely spoke, and was quite absent in the later Family cartoons, only featuring in around 400 in total. He could often be spotted in the background hunched over in a chair, dawdling behind the rest of the family, or with his back to the viewer not noticing the chaos around him.

Left – GA5398: “and our eldest son George and his baby”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Middle – GA5118: [no caption], published by Sunday Express, 01 Nov 1987.
Right – GA5388: ” Before long a beautiful thing came into his life – his first son, George”, published by Daily Express, 05 Jan 1950.

Vera on the other hand, appearing in over 750 cartoons, was often found at Grandma’s side, looking rather ill and put upon. She was originally depicted as a bit of an intellectual, reading poetry alongside George, but as time wore on she became more meek and frail, frequently ill with a cold, constantly worrying, or clutching a bottle of aspirin!

Left – GA5778: “Now the war is over I assume you have decided to risk the perils of travel and give us a look”, published by Sunday Express, 03 Mar 1991.
Middle – GA5399: ” and his intellectual wife”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Right – GA2070: “I’ve told you before not to give your tray to anyone in a uniform. They’re not all stewards”, published by Daily Express, 15 Jan 1964.

The kids: George Jr, the Twins and Ernie (and Stinker!)

It’s not tricky to spot the kids in the cartoons of the Giles Family; after all they appeared in over 900 of them! Miniscule in stature, the kids were the often chaotic, and always cheeky, element of the Family.

GA1378: “Fire Brigade? We wish to report we’ve just launched Sputnik 3”, published by Sunday Express, 10 Nov 1957.

The youngest child of Mother and Father, Ernie, was referred to by Giles as “the most dangerous element of the family”! He was often the centre of the chaos, with a weapon of some sort in his hand, and followed by his gang of tiny troublemakers. He was a reincarnation of an earlier Giles character of the same name, who appeared in a comic strip in the early 1940s. In looks, he is a miniature version of Father and he became less anarchic over time, with the chaotic torch being handed to his friend, Stinker, in later years.

GAA192287: “Mum, remember Grandma said if her pension went up she was going
to treat herself to something she always wanted?”, published by Daily Express, 12 Nov 1964.

Talking of Stinker…

With his trademark black hair, Stinker was not a relative of the family but was a strong presence, appearing in over 800 cartoons, even going on holiday with the family. Stinker was of course a nickname, his actual name being Larry Wilmott. He never spoke but was well loved by many fans, with even Giles speaking of him as “a favourite in a way”.

Left – GAPC0355: Giles cartoon on the cover of the Ipswich Sixth Form rag magazine (Volume 1, 1980), with caption: “We care – do you?”, published by Ipswich Sixth Form, 1980.
Right – GAPC0244: Part of cover cartoon in booklet ‘Safe hands on the Land’, published by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, published by Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, 1956.

The smallest of the grandchildren is George Jnr. Baby George often looks bewildered, is usually wearing a bib around his neck, and is seemingly without legs, having only little feet. In a number of images he appears to be staring out at the viewer, breaking “the 4th wall” of the cartoons. Perhaps he is pleading for aid, or maybe it’s his way of saying “Really?!?!”

GA1147: “This delegation wishes to register a strong protest about Father Christmases who come home late and forget to fill our socks”, published by Sunday Express, 25 Dec 1955.

The twins, Laurence and Ralph (arguably the cutest of the group), are always found together in their matching outfits, and were named after their mother Ann’s favourite actors, Sir Laurence Olivier and Sir Ralph Richardson.

GAN1411: “Grandma – dad says we can’t wait any longer while you sit in there reading about Rhodesia. One plane ticket coming under the door”, published by Daily Express, 26 Oct 1965.

Other characters

The sisters

Ann (occasionally spelled ‘Anne’) is the eldest daughter of Mother and Father. Appearing in over 450 cartoons, she is mother to the twins, Laurence and Ralph. Being the eldest, Ann is the tallest of the daughters and can usually be spotted by her distinctive quaffed fringe.

Top – GA1668: “Flaming June”, published by Daily Express, 21 Jun 1960.
Bottom – GA0718: “And only last night Dad was saying whatever the Budget result things couldn’t get much worse”, published by Daily Express, 11 Mar 1952.

The father of Ann’s twins is absent, and also could be considered in dispute! A number of the Family cartoons suggest that he may have been an American G.I., however in the very early cartoons of 1947 we see what we could presume to be him, a tall man covering his eyes on the stairs…

GA0235: “If 4,298,700 tons of coal in one week isn’t a good enough exuse to celebrate and buy myself a new hat, what is?”, published by Daily Express, 11 Dec 1947.

Carol is the well behaved, often relaxed and smiling, middle daughter. She can usually be seen reading a magazine or lounging about the house.

Bridget is the youngest daughter of Mother and Father. Often wearing a gymslip or school uniform with her dark hair in a plait, she appeared in less than 600 cartoons. She is only slightly taller than her young nephews, but in comparison is incredibly gangly, as opposed to their bouncier, rounded stature.

Left – “Get in the queue if you want to take advantage of the new reduced telephone charges to the United States”, published by Daily Express, 02 Feb 1967.
Middle – GA5396: “the girls”, published by Daily Express, 28 Aug 1947.
Right – GA3602: “Thank goodness he didn’t win – we’d never have got him up on the top one”, published by Sunday Express, 25 Jul 1976.

It’s been noted that on at least two occasions Giles switched the names of Carol and Bridget, presumably accidentally, in the cartoons, such as in this example…

GA5777: “You’d better agree to a ‘cooling-off’ period before you meet Bridget’s latest boyfriend”, published by Sunday Express, 23 Apr 1972.

In the early days of the Family cartoons there was an appearance of an American daughter, seen in the cartoon below. It’s been suggested that she married an American GI and moved to America with him after the war.

GA0302: “Well, folks – when we arrived from England, Wally pointed out that there were other things in America besides skyscrapers”, published by Daily Express, 03 Aug 1948.

Chalkie

Chalkie the schoolmaster appeared in c.400 cartoons and was a sarcastic, skeletal looking figure. He was inspired by Giles’ real life school teacher, Mr Chalk, who Giles harassed along with his gang of friends whilst at Barnsbury Park School in London.

Left – GA2046: “Any Prime Minister who looks that much like Chalkie’s had my vote”, published by Daily Express, 24 Oct 1963.
Right – GA1742: “All this fuss about schoolchildren being compelled to wear uniforms would surely be solved if only the head and teachers had to wear the uniform as well.” – Reader’s letter, published by Daily Express, 09 Mar 1961.

The pets

The Giles Family had a number of pets over the years, there was Attila the Hun (the parrot), Butch and Rush (the dogs, an Airedale Terrier and Border Collie respectively), Natalie (the cat), and Randy (the fish).

GAA111405: “I’d show him who’s favourite in this house if they ever let him out for a fly round the room”, published by Daily Express, 15 Sep 1957.

Various crops from images refs GA3134, GA4247, GA5405, GAA091103, GACE00302, published by Express Newspapers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some images in this blog post have been cropped. Please see archive.cartoons.ac.uk and search for the reference number cited for the full image.

Giles Family at 75: The Birth of the Giles Family

On Wednesday 5 August 1945 the Giles Family appeared for the first time in the pages of the Sunday Express. The creation of cartoonist Carl Giles (1916-1995), over the course of the next 45 years they would appear in over two thousand cartoons in the Sunday Express and Daily Express. For many people his cartoons capture British life in microcosm, and the Family became a national institution. Giles became the most famous and well-beloved cartoonist of his generation: in 2000 he was voted Britain’s Favourite Cartoonist of the 20th century.

GA5732: Cover artwork for 13th Giles Annual, 1959

This is the first in a series of blog posts and social media posts celebrating the Giles Family, drawing on the riches of the Carl Giles Archive, which has been part of the British Cartoon Archive since 2005. This series is in lieu of a physical exhibition in our Gallery space, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. This first blog post will explore the origins of Giles the cartoonist and the birth of his Family.

Carl Giles: a brief biography

GAPH00392: Giles at Reynolds News

Ronald ‘Carl’ Giles was born in Islington, London, on 29 September 1916, the youngest son of Albert, a tobacconist, and Edith, a dressmaker. He left school at 13 and spent 5 years as an office boy in the animation studios of a London advertising agency. Giles never had any formal art training, but he began developing his artistic skills as an “in-betweener”, filling in the movement between key drawings. He also gained the lifelong nickname Carl, after the monster played by Boris Karloff in the 1932 release of Frankenstein, because of his short haircut. In 1935, he took a position at film producer Alexander Korda’s London Films, and worked on The Fox Hunt, the first British colour animation with sound. A near-fatal motorbike accident in 1936 left him blind and partially deaf in his right eye and ear, and he went to Suffolk to recuperate. He began submitting cartoons to newspapers and magazines and eventually became a regular with the left-wing London Sunday newspaper Reynolds News, including his first series ‘Young Ernie’.

GAP2029: ‘Young Ernie’ strip, published Reynolds News, 12 November 1939

His work was instantly popular, and by 1942, he began attracting attention from other newspapers, and in 1943 signed up with the Sunday Express, which then had the highest circulation in Britain. The self-described “dirty leftist” was initially “thoroughly miserable” at the right-wing Sunday Express, until the increasingly large postbag of fan letters showed him the attractions of addressing a vast readership. By 1947 he was also working for sister paper the Daily Express, and settled into a routine of three single-panel cartoons a week (two for the daily and one for the Sunday).

Exempt from war service because of his motorbike injuries, in September 1944 he became the official war cartoonist for the Express and travelled to the European war zone several times, being present both at the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the German surrender on Luneberg Heath in May 1945.

GAPC0466: “Hermann – you’ve left that verdammt door open again”, published Sunday Express, 3 October 1943

As the war in Europe ended, Giles realised that his cast of characters was rapidly diminishing. Giles had ridiculed the Axis leaders by presenting them as a dysfunctional family: his first cartoon for the Sunday Express in October 1943 had imagined Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Mussolini as living a peculiar domestic life in Berlin, an idea to which he repeatedly returned. On Mussolini’s execution in April 1945, Giles later remarked, “I sure hated to see old Musso go […] he was half my bloody stock-in-trade”.

The Family arrives

The Giles Family was actively created as something to take the place of the ‘Axis Family’. The nominal focus of this new Family was one of his wartime soldier characters, returned to civilian life, and had its first recognisable appearance in the Sunday Express of 5 August 1945.

GA5447: “It’s quicker by rail”, published Sunday Express, 5 August 1945

A comment on the chaotic and unreliable state of the railway network in the immediate aftermath of the war, the Family is shown walking along a deserted railway line with thermos and bucket and spade above the ironic caption “It’s quicker by rail”. All the elements that made Giles’ work so recognisable and beloved are here: the fine rendering of the English countryside, the accuracy in depicting the signalling equipment, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details like the child tumbling down the embankment, and, at the rear, a small black figure, so cleverly drawn that the eye is drawn towards her: Grandma.

GA0208: “If they give us an 11-hour day and a 4-day week, I suppose that means we’re going to have everybody at home for a 24-hour day 3 days a week.”, published Daily Express, 2 September 1947

In August 1947, the Daily Express ran a series of cartoons introducing the different characters to its readers. After that, as Giles recalled, “the Family took on a life of its own almost immediately”. As a cartoonist, Giles was an amused spectator rather than angry satirist. The Family proved a useful medium for commenting on post-war life, reacting to the confusion of world politics and a rapidly changing society.

The family are archetypally working class characters, a large, multi-generational household that are patriotic yet suspicious of authority. As the series progressed, they took on the attributes of a middle class household, with a car, caravan, yacht and foreign holidays. The family never aged, but their home, their hobbies and their dress reflected the changing British fashions and standard of living. The family’s common humanity had a wide social appeal.

The group of characters had achieved their final form by April 1950, when they were known as “Giles and Family”. By August 1951 this had become “The Giles Family”, and in November 1951, responding to “constant public enquiries”, Giles published “The Giles Family Tree”, explaining who everyone was (more of which in the next post).

GA0683: ‘The Giles Family Tree’, published Daily Express, 23 November 1951

Click here more information on the Giles Collection and the British Cartoon Archive.

Exploring Early Modern Kent in the Archive (Part 1): An Introduction to the Ronald Baldwin Collection

SC&A are delighted to present the first of a series of blog posts by one of our volunteers, Dr. Daniella Gonzalez.

Having finished my doctoral studies and eager to get back into the archives to kick-start my career in the archival sector, I began to volunteer at Special Collections & Archives (hereafter SC&A) at the University of Kent in February 2020. There is nothing I like more than uncovering the mysteries that lie in the records before me. It is these materials that tie us back to the past and to the people who lived it. We get an insight into their experiences, thoughts and those they interacted with, as well as the processes that governed their everyday lives. In this piece I want to tell you a bit about what I’ve been doing and what I’ve learnt.

Ronald Baldwin in 1986

As a volunteer at SC&A, I had the fantastic opportunity to work with the early modern indentures that form part of the Ronald Baldwin collection, a selection of pre-1900 material that focuses on the county of Kent and which was collected by Baldwin, a local historian. The items in this part of the collection span the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, informing us about the lives of those that lived in the county of Kent under the Plantagenet kings of England up to the first Georgian monarch. My task was to sort and list the documents into a spreadsheet so it could be uploaded into the online catalogue; to transcribe and translate the documents; and to repackage them into archival quality enclosures to ensure their long-term preservation.

As soon as I laid eyes on the documents I would be working on I knew that this was the perfect project for me. Opening the box was the familiar sight of vellum, parchment and paper, as well as the script that is typical of early modern legal documents – to my delight there was even a late medieval document dating to 1 July 1425!

Indenture dated 29 May 1609 RB/DOC/IND/9

Those utilising these records will also notice that some are written in Latin and others in English. Some, like in the document below, produced on 10 February 1645, whilst Charles I was still king, are even written in both (as you can see the document is divided into two section, the Latin section, which is a preamble of sorts is at the top, and below the document continues in English), so be ready to put your Latin skills to the test!

Indenture dated 10 February 1645 RB/DOC/IND/15

Several of these items are in relatively good condition seals that have been slightly damaged and some slight staining of particular records.

Indenture dated 14 July 1718 RB/DOC/IND/19

As part of my introduction to the project, the University Archivist explained to me how archive catalogues are structured as a hierarchy, with different levels representing different aspects of the collection. Whilst I’ve had my fair share of visits to archives, I’d never realised that there is a catalogue hierarchy of sorts.

Knowing this was key in order for me to carry out my work on the early modern legal records I had before me. Thanks to the introduction, I knew that when cataloguing material, archivists need to capture several key bits of information, such as the level of these records – in this case ‘item’ – the repository they are held in, the collection they belong to and their reference number, which uniquely identifies these records as particular items. Other essential information to include are the date they were produced, the language they were written in, the condition of the record, what type of record it is and a description of the records that describes its content.

Detail of indenture dated 22 May 1626 RB/DOC/IND/10

Whilst sorting them into chronological order and cataloguing these records has been the central part of this project, I have also been able to put my palaeography skills to the test. Palaeography is the study of old handwriting and, whilst a medievalist by trade and having studied palaeography previously, some of the early modern handwriting was a little tricky at times. Totally worth it though when you encounter such beautiful illustrated initials like that on the right, dating to the reign of Charles I!

I have also been putting my palaeography skills to good use and producing transcriptions for researchers and the general public alike, which will be made available soon!

I’ll be producing some posts about my archive experiences with SC&A, so watch this space for more on early modern indentures and the daily lives of Kent’s early modern communities!

The catalogue entries for this collection are now live and can be viewed here: https://archive.kent.ac.uk/TreeBrowse.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&field=RefNo&key=RB%2fDOC%2fIND

 

Print Works: Part Four – Working in the Print Industry

Special Collections & Archives has been working with Appletye – an artists’-led organisation based in Margate – to support their mission to record the Isle of Thanet’s rich printing heritage. In lieu of a physical display in Spring 2020 these guest blogs by Dan Thompson and Dawn Cole are our virtual equivalent – we hope you enjoy!

There were a variety of jobs in the pre-digital printing industry, meaning works like the Thanet Press employed large numbers, and needed specialist suppliers so supported small printers, bookbinders, and other trades locally. The key jobs, as a compositor laying out type, proof reading pages, or working with the machines, were highly skilled. 

A printer’s apprenticeship lasted seven years, and involved study at an approved college as well as practical work at a print works. Locally, apprentices studied at Thanet School of Arts and Crafts, Canterbury College of Arts, or Maidstone College of Arts where they learned layout and design, typography, and to lay out lead type letter-by-letter.

From the 1950s, the print industry underwent radical changes, from traditional ‘hot metal’ letterpress printing to lithographic, and then computer typesetting and digital printing.

For print workers, that meant constant adaptation and learning new skills.

Things Caxton probably wouldn't understand: the evolution of the printing press

Things Caxton probably wouldn’t understand: the evolution of the printing press

“Printing’s changed more than any other trade. It’s changed from a room full of hot metal to an office job, but you need the same experience and expertise.” Jim Bellamy, Thanet Press

A larger print works like The Thanet Press was inevitably about more than the job: it became a place where couples met and got married.  Workers joined amateur theatrical groups, footballs teams, or showed with the horticultural society. And people created their own welfare state, through strong unions and paying into the ‘sick club’. It was common to find siblings working alongside each other, or generations of the same family working in print together.

We'll claim the record for being the first blog to mention printers and football in the same post

We’ll claim the record for being the first blog to mention printers and football in the same post

However, the print industry was old, established – and very male. The unions wouldn’t allow women to operate the printing presses, and they were kept to jobs in the bindery, finishing and stitching or stapling print jobs. 

“The bindery had about twice as many women as men working in it … It was a very companionable environment.” Pat Davies, Thanet Press

About the Print Works project:

Print Works is a year-long project from Appletye, an arts and heritage organisation. The project explores the history of the print industry on the Isle of Thanet, taking inspiration from two former companies and the heritage of the sites they occupied at Thanet Press, Union Crescent, Margate and Martell Press, Northdown Road, Cliftonville. At the heart of the project are archives from the two Margate firms, recording the stories of the people who worked there and the work they did.

Using the Print Works archive:

The Print Works archives include hundreds of examples of material printed in a pre-digital age, including much related to Margate, Broadstairs, and Ramsgate. It includes print for seaside hotels, entertainment venues, and tourism businesses.

The archive also includes documents relating to working in the print industry in the 20th century, from apprenticeship indentures to certificates from a print factory’s Horticultural Club. There are documents relating to design, typography, and the move from analogue processes like typography to digital design and print.

The archive is new, so includes primary material not used before in academic research. It is held at a studio in Margate. For more information email dawn@appletye.org

Exploring mental health through artists’ books

This week (18 – 24 May) is Mental Health Awareness Week and there are some great conversations being had online. It’s great that talking about mental health is being supported more and more in everyday life too – all of us have mental health, just like we have physical health and the two often go hand in hand.

Archives can be places to explore how health has been described and medicine developed across the years. However they are also places to capture what life is like now and record lived experiences (see our call for donations relating to the current Coronavirus pandemic). This is also the case with our Prescriptions: Artists’ Books collection. We’ve written about these wonderful objects previously (see posts here) but today we want to share some of the books that explicitly relate to mental health.

All the images used in this post are copyright of Egidija Ciricaite.

Inside : An artists’s work: living with depression (Yvonne J. Foster, 2013, PSC34)

Image of pages from 'Inside : An artists's work: living with depression' by Yvonne J. Foster

Image of pages from ‘Inside : An artists’s work: living with depression’ by Yvonne J. Foster

Many of the artists’ books in our collection seek to deepen dialogue between patients and medical staff, and this work is one example. Here, Foster explores how it feels to live through a breakdown using altered photographs and scribbled images. Foster is a Brighton-based artist focusing on miniature works; you can view her website here.

No mind (Gaby Berglund Cárdenas, 2014, PSC28)

Image of 'No mind' by Gaby Berglund Cárdenas

Image of ‘No mind’ by Gaby Berglund Cárdenas

 

Mindfulness and meditation are often discussed in relation to mental health; many have found such techniques help to manage anxiety and depression. Cárdenas lived in South Korea whilst studying for a Masters in Fine Arts; whilst she was there she explored Buddhism and the role meditation has within the religion. For Cárdenas writing the phrase “no mind” became a way to quiet her brain and body. This piece is composed of an antique spool, around which Nepalese paper is wrapped; holding the object also makes you aware of the fragility of the work. Today Cárdenas lives in Sweden; you can find more of her works here.

Protecting my mind (Gunilla Åsberg, 2015, PSC41)

Image of 'Protecting my mind' by Gunilla Åsberg

Image of ‘Protecting my mind’ by Gunilla Åsberg

Asberg worked alongside a psychologist over several months to record the experiences of women dealing with stress-related illnesses, and this book records their stories. On the right-hand side of the book, Åsberg uses text from Swedish health and safety regulations but the fourth category is her own work, written to highlight the lack of mental health protection in employment legislation. You can view more of Åsberg’s art here.

Mind maps: The cumulative (hidden) experiences of the life of Penny Alexander 2016 (Penny Alexander, 2016, PSC36)

Image of 'Mind maps: The cumulative (hidden) experiences of the life of Penny Alexander 2016' by Penny Alexander

Image of ‘Mind maps: The cumulative (hidden) experiences of the life of Penny Alexander 2016’ by Penny Alexander

Alexander began creating artists’ books after her experiences of postnatal depression. This book, filled with pages of typewriter art, draws direct correlation between the experiences of everyday life and our mental wellbeing. Adams explores this correlation further by juxataposing maps of where she’s lived throughout the work – again highlighting the physical importance of place and self to health.

The book of common prayer (Sophie Adams, 2016, PSC6)

Image of 'The book of common prayer' by Sophie Adams

Image of ‘The book of common prayer’ by Sophie Adams

Common prayer books are traditionally found throughout the Anglican Christian world and contain forms of service, daily prayers and Bible readings. Here, Adams has transformed the book – using folding, not cutting – so that when it is spanned open the word ‘prozac’ can be seen. Prozac – or fluoxetine, to use its medical name – is an antidepressant drug used to treat many mental health conditions. Antidepressants frequently rank among the most prescribed medications in both the US and UK; they help many people to recover from illness but can also be indicative of the state of society’s mental health. By using folding patterns to create the word, Adams also explores the repetitive actions that can also be calming in periods of anxiety. You can see other works by Adams here.

Cumulatively these books help to show not only the diversity of mental health but also the strength of responses to it. Recording and making work in response to periods of mental illness can, for some, be an act of healing in itself. The books in Prescriptions also serve to challenge and improve relationships between treatment-giver and treatment-receiver; however they also contribute to opening up dialogue and removing stigma around lived experiences. They can inspire responses and new approaches to mental health – whether with you to create your own art or with generating empathy and understanding on any scale, be it individual or wider.

If you’d like to see images of these books or the rest of the Prescriptions collection these can be viewed through LibrarySearch; you are welcome to view these items in our Reading Room when we open again. For more information about the research being done at Kent relating to artists’ books (including the book which accompanied the 2016 exhibition of these works at the Beaney museum in Canterbury) please click here.

The University of Kent has many resources that can help if you’re concerned about your mental health; see the guide for students and staff wellbeing pages