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At the heart of English folk
Heaving the Lead

#6: At home with Folk – a response to Heaving the Lead

by Faye McNulty, Curator

Since we started working together in January 2014, right up to putting the finished artwork up, Flo’s singular vision for the exhibition was impressive. Over that time his glee at delving into the VWML archives was infectious and also showed great sensitivity – evidently due to his time volunteering on the pilot archive digitisation project Take 6 with then Library Director Malcolm Taylor.

Each artist I have commissioned a new show from has celebrated folk custom, song and dance with a fresh perspective and ability to engage various audiences. Flo approached the library with an interest in people particularly from the 20th Century and how customs sit within their lives. With each of Flo’s new discoveries within the archive, it built a clearer picture of the ‘folk’ behind Folk. The quirks and crafting of everyday tasks which contributed to the richness of our traditions are laid out for us by Flo, like a personal photo album of a familiar stranger’s life. They cleverly capture a fleeting moment, which peaks our curiosity to know more: the who, the why and the where. 

It wasn’t until I stood back after hanging the last of Flo’s paintings that I realised this female presence across all eight of the paintings. The role of women, when set at any time period of the previous two centuries is always going to be fraught with boundaries both literal and metaphysical. This inevitably affected the customs and dances; the role of women often seems to have become marginalised and you can see Flo working this out, finding or creating the roles they might have played from the costume-makers to the rare Pace-Egging women’s troupe. 

The supporting zine with the show (available from Cecil Sharp House reception) is a documentation of Flo’s personal research and responses to further flesh out the featured characters of the paintings. As a curator, I look for the work that is at first visually engaging but also has the power to entice the viewer to know and discover more – and to me, Flo achieved this with Heaving the Lead.


National Youth Folk Ensemble

National Youth Folk Ensemble


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