Navigation History

Article written by Rob Illingworth

As Local Studies Development Librarian for KCC Libraries & Archives I am keen that staff and customers make full and imaginative use of our rich collection resources.

In Folkestone Library I was involved in the Navigating History Project. This was conceived by Proboscis, a creative facilitation organisation, and curator Deborah Smith. The project aimed to find new routes into local history collections through a series of special commissions from practitioners in the fields of art, design, jewellery, film and interactive technology. The Navigating History project also encompassed a series of talks, performances and educational workshops. The three sites for the project were Folkestone Library, Museum and Gallery, East Sussex Record Office in Lewes and the West Sussex Local Studies Collection in Worthing Library.

At Folkestone, three artists were commissioned to produce unique artworks in response to items in the Library & Museum collections.

I led extensive building tours during which the artists had a chance to delve through drawers, press buttons, open cabinets, sift boxes and ask many questions.

In response, I tried to develop their interests with further presentations of material. By the end of their visits, the artists would be sitting at the study tables immersed in files and artefacts, alive to the creative possibilities of local history collections.

The filmmaker Stephen Connolly produced an 18 minute film which juxtaposed the story of Folkestone’s first Camera Obscura with the observations of today’s Folkestonians. The artist Rob Kesseler drew on microscopic images of botanical museum specimens to produce beautiful images for window transfers, monthly bookmarks and the special Botanizing the Library publication. Inspired by satirical Election posters, Bob & Roberta Smith launched a whimsical campaign for more Art in Folkestone.

The campaign culminated in an afternoon of games, experiments and competitions for a packed crowd on Folkestone beach. Collaboration between the artists, library & museum staff, arts officers, CSV Lending Time volunteers, the Folkestone Library User Group and library customers was an essential part of the commissions.

The project took place in October & November 2004, but there has been an impressive level of ensuing and related activities. After viewing the film in Folkestone Museum, Leonard Montgomery, a 3rd year architecture student at the University of Greenwich, has been designing a modern day camera obscura which he hopes to exhibit in Folkestone.

Stephen Connolly has a new commission. Folkestone itself, a place in transition, is the focus of Passage, an exhibition at the Metropole Galleries in June 2005 by Stephen Connolly and Nilu Izadi. Using the most simple of image making devices – pinhole cameras and camera obscura – the artists will address a place on the threshold of change. Stephen will feature a recut version of the Folkestone Obscura film in Gallery 2.

Rob Kesseler is also about to complete a commission that will make a monumental impact in the district. Flora Calcarea is a collection of artworks created for the Chalk & Channel Way cycle route between Dover and Folkestone. The artist presents us with a fossilised book of dried flowers from which the pages have escaped, blown along the path, accompanied by highly magnified pollen specimens collected from local flowers and photographed on a scanning electron microscope at Kew. Rubbings can be taken from the relief bronzes and built up into a personal collection.

Meanwhile, Navigating History has been selected as a case study for a new arts council book on exemplary projects.

For further information & details of project partners see

The Ullyetts – father or son? – As a result of reading the article entitled “Arnold Henry Ullyett Son of Henry Ullyett B Sc” which was published in the Spring Sandgate News Rob Illingworth and Ros McCarthy discussed her findings and Rob promised to place copies of her article in the Folkestone Library files for the Ullyetts and the ‘Navigating History’ project – so that Arnold and Henry do not get confused with each other in future.