Weird As Folk exhibition at The Portico

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor
Yellow poster with Weird as Folk written on it
Portico Library

Weird as Folk: Tall Tales from the North West at The Portico Library, Chinatown Until 2 November 2024 Entrance is free — Visit now

The Portico Library’s latest exhibition, Weird As Folk, runs through to November and invites you to explore and reimagine folklore via texts selected from the collection, which includes 100 books of English folklore.

Discover the hidden histories held within these volumes, which thread yarns spun into cautionary tales woven across centuries from the 1800s to the present day. These stories deepen our understanding of the people, purpose and places in which we live, we’re told, describing the rituals and traditions practised all across the country and explaining and helping understand the background behind them.

You’ll find out about stories such as Wigan tragedy Mab’s Cross and obscure curiosities such as ‘witch bottles’ and ‘protection objects’, including a pair of centuries-old boots found concealed in a school chimney in 1904, loaned by The Folklore Centre in Todmorden.

Weird As Folk: Tall Tales from the Northwest ventures around the region, delving deep to reveal the concealed and wandering the cloughs and marshlands to unearth myths and legends and meet characters like Will-O-The-Wisp and Wag-at-the-Wa’. Folklore is an oral tradition, with tales and beliefs passed down generations, and the displays dig into the different names given to supernatural beings in different regions: a mischievous Lancashire ‘boggart’ becomes a ‘hob’ in the Midlands and a ‘bogle’ in Scotland, for example.

Exhibition-goers are invited to get involved by contributing stories and sayings in the “ folk-forest” to help the library expand its folklore vocabulary and its list of keywords, making their books more discoverable, and deepening their understanding of how words work.  After all, Peter Mark Roget, best known for his influential thesaurus, was the first Secretary of the Portico Library.

Also sparked by the exhibition are artists Ryan Peter French and Lucy Wright, who have conjured paintings and sculptural creations that peek from above and behind bookcases. French’s epic painting Skies and Flesh, pulls ancient myth into the current day. Wright’s installation bridges the gap in folkloric representation, adding female voices and figures as expressed in her Manifesta, ‘Folk is a Feminist Issue’. Wright summarises the ‘lore of the Folk’ as: “Folk is the stuff we make, do and think for ourselves – and the radical potential of these things.”

Wright will be leading a series of Folk Life Drawing Workshops, inspired by Weird As Folk and curated by HappeningInMCR, and there is a writing workshop with Louis Glazzard on Saturday 6 July. Events for younger audiences include drop-in family folk art sessions (Thursday afternoons throughout August) when kids can create their own boggart and, on Friday 12 July, a reading aimed at nine- to 12-year-olds by storyteller and actor Robert Lloyd Parry.

Weird as Folk: Tall Tales from the North West at The Portico Library, Chinatown Until 2 November 2024 Entrance is free Visit now

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