Courtauld Public Programmes collaborates with First Story

On Wednesday 16 November 2016 we were delighted to collaborate with First Story, a charity who change lives through creative writing by partnering writers with schools. We welcomed two secondary schools to join us on our quest to combine art and writing in imaginative ways: Acland Burghley School and Raine’s Foundation School.

Gathering in the lecture theatre, we heard from Jay, First Story’s Programme Officer, who gave us a run through of what the day was going to involve. The schools were split up into 4 groups, and each one was paired up with a Courtauld Gallery Tutor and a First Story Author. Each group were assigned two works of art from The Courtauld Gallery.


We headed off to the gallery; Group 1 was downstairs in the Medieval and Renaissance room. It was very exciting to hear Tempe Nell’s detailed descriptions of The Seilern Triptch and The Walrus Ivory Box – especially because we were in front of the real things! The students discovered who the characters were in the religious scene; it has plenty of components so each student was able to focus on a different character. It was especially interesting to spot the man who commissioned the painting sitting in the bottom of the painting. Both works are made of materials the group hadn’t seen before: gold leaf, egg tempera and walrus tusk!


Miriam Nash our writer and poet led the interactive activity, we chatted with her about how our character would have felt within the painting. This led onto our writing workshop back in the seminar room where the group developed their ideas. We discussed how creating a piece of writing, and creating an artwork, require similar levels of imagination and attention to detail.



As well as taking inspiration from the works of art, we looked a Lucile Clifton’s persona poem called ‘Easter Sunday.’ Persona poems are poems where the reader takes on the voice of a different person. The students took elements of this type of poetry and used it in their own work. Everyone’s poems or monologues were written from the point of view of a character that features in the painting or on the ivory box.



At the end of the day we went back to the lecture theatre, Group 1 performed their creative writing pieces to the other three groups – everybody enjoyed them thoroughly and gave a mighty round of applause! We then heard from the Groups 2, 3 and 4. They told us which artworks they had focused on and they read aloud their own unique responses to the artworks. Everyone’s writing successfully captured the themes and characters in the works of art found at The Courtauld Gallery, giving their own unique spin on the paintings and objects that have been around for hundreds of years.


Overall, the First Story and Courtauld Insitute of Art collaborative workshop was a wholly enjoyable and thought-provoking day fuelled by the student’s creativity. We look forward to similar sessions in future!

by Hannah Dixon, Student Ambassador