Under the Apple Tree

Earlier this year, the Bluecoat hosted a very special event for children and families where we brought the outside in and set the scene for magical encounters with myths and legends. Here we share the unique story behind the day.

Date posted

29 May 2024

The event was part of Under the Apple Tree, a project exploring sculpture and storytelling. It was developed by Blue Room artist Alfred Beesley, featured acclaimed performer Gav Cross and was created in collaboration with fellow artists and facilitators from Blue Room, the Bluecoat’s inclusive arts project with learning disabled and neurodivergent adults.

A veteran of the Bluecoat’s creative community, Beesley has been making creative work at the Bluecoat as part of Blue Room since 2008. Since 2021, he has also been part of the Studio Me artist development project which aims to support learning disabled artists who often face barriers to progression with their creative practice. During the past few years he has explored a wide variety of media including printmaking, animation and sculpture with themes exploring the life cycle of plants. Using papier-mâché, textiles and ceramics, he has created a collection of 3D works including a 2 metre high apple tree, a miniature greenhouse and a variety of fruit and vegetables with a basket for harvesting.

Supported by our team to apply for the opportunity, Beesley was awarded a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation to develop and share his sculptural practice.

‘My ideas come from my brain. I said to myself I’d like to make a nice lovely apple tree.’
Alfred Beesley

In Spring 2023, the artist spent time exploring the historic orchard at Norton Priory Museum & Gardens, where we host our weekly Blue Room Norton Priory group. He met with horticultural expert Paul Quigley, a Ranger who cares for the site and their national collection of quince and apple trees. Alongside Blue Room artists at Norton Priory, Beesley spent time making sketches, taking photographs and capturing the texture of bark.

From his explorations he developed a technique for creating apple sculptures using paper and yarn which was later shared with young participants from Out of the Blue, the Bluecoat’s after school art club. He also developed a video and print resource to share the technique with artists at Barrington Farm, a supported studio based in Norfolk. The resources were shared with hundreds of people from their local community as part of a Harvest Festival event in autumn 2023.

While working in the studio, Beesley would often describe how he would like audiences to interact with his art, sharing magical scenarios that recall fairytales and folklore. The Blue Room team saw a perfect opportunity to share his work as part of the Bluecoat’s popular programme of creative activities for children and families and a date was set for Spring 2024.

In the run up to the Under the Apple Tree event, the artist collaborated with acclaimed storyteller Gav Cross. A long time collaborator with the Bluecoat, Cross is renowned for his ability to connect with audiences of all ages and draws upon his deep knowledge of folktales to spark the imagination of everyone who listens. Exploring how to bring Beesley’s art work to life, Beesley and Cross, talked about the legendary character of the ‘Green Man’ and the importance of apples in folktales, myth and legend.

The project became a collaboration between the whole Blue Room community with Beesley as creative director. Costumes and props were created for the Green Man alongside nature-inspired sculpture, textiles and animation to dress the space. To create an atmospheric soundscape, Blue Room artists at Norton Priory took audio recorders out to the orchard to capture sounds including birdsong, bees and bells. Bringing all these elements together, our Performance Space was transformed into an immersive environment where imagination could run free.

During the event, over one hundred visitors explored the space, heard stories and made their own apple sculptures made of paper and yarn. These sculptures adorned Beesley’s golden apple tree sculpture, which stood proudly in the centre of the room, and acted as ‘offerings’ to a green-bearded Gav Cross, who transformed into the cloaked Green Man.

Families shared their delight at the experience, one parent said ‘...being there really felt like we were part of something special’

To congratulate Beesley on such a successful event, and to recognise all his hard work, friends from the Blue Room community awarded him a handmade sculpture.He said, ‘People liked my artwork, they said ‘’It’s very good.’’ Nice tree and apples’.

Becky Waite, Blue Room Creative Manager said:

‘Alfie’s project was a wonderful opportunity to bring people together to celebrate imagination and creativity. It was a privilege to play a part in helping to bring his vision to life and I feel proud of all of the artists and the staff team who came together to realise such a joyful event.’

The project is a key example of how we work together at the Bluecoat to connect people, and showcase the work of artists who often face barriers in reaching new audiences.

To find out more about Alfred Beesley and Gav Cross visit their artist profiles.

Find out more about Blue Room & Studio Me.

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Under the Apple Tree is made possible with generous support from the Henry Moore Foundation, the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation & David Solomons Charitable Trust