Claire as a child.

Claire as a child.

Shy, reserved, quiet, timid‚Ķ all words that describe my childhood self perfectly. I went to a mixed primary school so I was surrounded by boys and girls, but I was never that much of a socialite. I had my little group of friends, friends I still have to this day, but I lacked confidence and spent a lot of my time at home entertaining myself. At this stage my mum was very involved in adult literacy and ran various courses here and there. She would visit a couple’s house most weekends to do one-on-one classes with the husband James*, who had experienced a stroke and wanted to be taught how to read and write again. His wife Alice* was a lovely lady who ran art classes for children on weekends, so whenever my mum tutored James, I would go to the art class for a couple of hours. I look back on these classes with such a fondness – I feel like they were the happiest times of my childhood.

The class was always so varied, I always came home with such a great sense of accomplishment. In school we didn’t do very much art, but at the class I really felt I could express myself and be creative, so I became a lot more settled there. I was a lot more open and chatty at the art classes than I had ever been at school. That’s the great thing about art: individuality isn’t judged – it’s appreciated. In one particular class we made characters out of plastic bottles. I made what I considered to be a rather fashionable noblewoman wearing a pink fabric dress and a giant floral hat; she was like something straight out of Downton Abbey. I was very proud of this creation and I think it is still buried somewhere in my family home, along with a hoard of my masterpieces (including a picture made from sand and pasta and countless other things). Even when the art class wasn’t running I was invited along to the house with my mum. Alice had a shed at the back of the garden that had a lot of pieces of slate that she used for some of her work. There were loads of different sizes and shapes and she told me I could choose one to paint on. To me, the piece I had chosen looked like a girl facing sideways, so that is exactly what I turned it into. She had blonde hair and wore a purple jumper and I’m almost 100% sure I painted her to look like my mum. My mum still has this piece of slate in her room at home and it remains intact despite the fact it is probably about fifteen years old and could nearly obtain its own driver’s license!

I used to get so much enjoyment out of our visits. The house was on the coast so Alice would bring me and her two energetic dogs down to the beach too – sometimes to collect things to use in art projects (like shells and interesting stones) but also to get the dogs out for some exercise. We would then all have ham sandwiches at the house – I thought they were the best sandwiches I’d ever had! Alice and James were quite simply the loveliest couple I had the pleasure of meeting. James’ reading and writing improved dramatically, so these memories always exude such positive vibes for me despite the tough circumstances behind our meeting: we would not have met had my mum not been helping James after his stroke. I think they are some of the most significant memories of my youth and they really helped mould my personality and my goals. I love the freedom and creativity of childhood, and the sheer level of inspiration I gained from my own mother who helped so many people through her incredible dedication and her passion for education. It is part of who she is, and I am proud to say that because of that it is a huge part of who I am, too.

*Names changed.

-Claire Murray
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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