M.A.S.S.I.V.E. was the brainwave of Anna Watson, one of Funny Wonders’ original team, following a dream involving a huge aluminium rainbow and the Fairfield estate! The dream instilled a hum of excitement and a strong sense of determination to make a child smile and offer an imaginative and colourful space for people to be.
“It was born out of my love of community arts” says Anna, “having been raised by a family of artists, clowns and puppeteers and a desire to bring magic into the lives of others including my then 3 year-old daughter, Maisie. I woke up one morning in the summer of 1999 and envisioned an interactive art installation which would connect people from every corner of the community: young, old, less-able, isolated and the more gregarious.”
Anna teamed up with old school friend Chris Robinson and Funny Wonders and a “big furry elephant with purple tusks and a funky coat of hexagons was conceived”. Bryn Layton came up with the name - Millennium Arts Supporting Society Involving Velvet Elephants (MASSIVE) - and we applied for funding.
The project aimed to make people smile, to brighten up a drab and dull day in Buxton and give our local community the opportunity to create an image of something that made them happy.
Funded by the Millennium Commission through a project called ‘Peak Potential’, we worked with local artists and over a thousand volunteers and children in local schools in the lead up to the Buxton Festival Fringe 2000.
Chris, along with the help and skills of nearly 20 others, built the elephant body out of willow withies, bamboo canes and chicken wire. Chris had just moved back to the area and the project provided him with “a means of finding his place again within a community he used to know well”.
Meanwhile, Anna visited many local services, schools and community organisations and invited people of all ages and backgrounds to create a fabric hexagon containing an image of ‘what makes me happy’. This resulted in a collection of over sixty decorated hexagons which were sewn together to make a blanket to be draped over the elephant.
Anna reflects, “the results were incredible... I witnessed faces lighting up, connections between admiring contributors being forged and a visible sense of achievement on witnessing the huge, elephant-sized patchwork quilt draped over the smartest velvet elephant Buxton had ever been host to.”
Following its creation, our hexagon-covered, velvet elephant was put on display in the Springs Shopping Centre during the first week of the Buxton Festival Fringe 2000. It garnered much attention, and many words of appreciation and admiration were spoken.
Written comments included:
stunning idea – rays of hope!
Absolutely fantastic – what a brilliant idea
the patchworks are brill
original and unique – breath of fresh air
fab designing and an ace idea
inspired and inspiring
a fabulous and creative idea
a beautiful idea - ‘hope’
Buxton needs more projects like this to bring us all together
This elephant is COOL!!!
The hephalump ist zer güt
I think this elephant is the best elephant ever and the softest one
it has really drawn people together
it has changed things for me! I have seen Buxton in a whole new light.
Suggestions for the elephant’s name included: Nirvana, Tauros, Elefish the Jellyphant, Juniper, Pin Cushion, Sid, X-pac, Ray the Gray, Rocky, Hope, Edgar, Elenor, Love and Patch.
“We all loved the elephant”. Nicola
Another community collaboration came during its time in the shopping centre. Members of the public were invited to write down on ribbons a wish for their future. These ‘wish ribbons’ were then attached to the elephant’s technicolour coat. We’ll look back at the wishes in our next post.
The Buxton Festival Fringe panel of judges awarded MASSIVE first prize in the ‘special events’ category and the Buxton Well Dressing Festival committee gave us first prize in the ‘best foot character’ category in the Buxton Carnival.
The award-winning, wish-clad, hexagon-covered, velvet elephant danced along to the Buxton Samba Band in the Buxton Carnival parade.
“Apart from the sheer size of it and it billowing in the wind with the wish-ribbons fluttering, it was nice to have an elephant in the carnival and bring hope for the new millennium.” Sandra
When on display in the Springs Shopping Centre, members of the public were invited to write down on ribbons a wish for their future. Over 500 wishes were written during this week with even more in total.
“We were overwhelmed by some of the things people were willing to share with us through their wishes - their hopes, their dreams, their fears and losses, sources of joy and happiness. People who might never have otherwise joined together were there, in one place enjoyed by all, as one. My MASSIVE mission fulfilled!” says Anna Watson.
The wishes were collated into ‘The Little Book of MASSIVE Wishes’, copies of which are still available! The wishbooks provide an insight into human nature, a cross-section of the community, and preserve a slice of life from the summer of 2000 – there are wishes which are particularly relevant to that moment in time and, of course, some that are completely timeless. As noted in the wishbook foreward, we faithfully reproduced every single wish as it appeared so “sum spellin and gwammer mistakes doo appear!”
Of the £2 raised by the sale of each book, 50% was allocated to Elephants of Africa Rescue Society and 50% to the Funny Wonders voluntary organisation (as we were then), to help fund future puppetry and performance arts events.
“Still have my copy, remember it well” Celia
“Can’t believe it was 20 years! Still have my Massive book of Wishes xxx” Heather
The following thanks were made to: The Bingham Trust, High Peak Borough Council, Rachel Shilling-Payne (Spring Gardens Shopping Centre), Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Robert McGuiness (R.L.M. Associates) on behalf of Warwick Homes Ltd. Developers for the space in which to “construct our behemoth”, Buxton’s Samba Band, Ruth R, Pete and Sarah (Cheshire Cheese ‘cremation service’), Chris and Doug Agnew, Keith Jones Publicity, Michael Clement, Tom Crawshaw & Laurie Agnew (web-site makers).
The elephant makers – Chris, Annie M, Bryn, Heidi, Paula, Andrea, Rachel, Sarah, Jamie, Aaron, Sean, Dan, Janet R who made the headdress and Claire
The hexagon makers at – The Bedford, The Dovedale building at High Peak College, High Peak Pre-School, Grapevine Community Cafe, Cavendish Hospital, Fairfield Infant School, Chapel-en-le-Frith Junior School, Hollinsclough Nursery and Infant school, John Duncans School, the children of Bennett St, Rachel, Andrea and any other highly talented individuals that may have escaped by attention!
The blanket-makers – Annie M, Annie L, Ruby, Rachel, Chris & Doug A, Celia, Fliss, Ali, Heidi and Nicky
And Claire Wilde who designed the posters, leaflets and forms.
High Peak Borough Council and The Springs Shopping Centre for their support and generosity towards the project.
The elephant-sitters/wish collectors – Beth, Rachel, Heidi, Bryn, Maxi, Jamie, Kai, Adam, Joan, Claire and Dan
The dream-sharers –; the wells dressing festival carnival committee; and each and every one of the nine hundred or so wish makers without whom this truly unique log would not have come into being.
The book-makers – Joe, Alex, Keith Jones Publicity; and the stampers who helped to make this book look so beautiful
The book-sellers – Scriveners, Bestsellers Bookshop, Poole’s Cavern & Country Park and Buxton Tourist Information Office.
And to all the book-buyers out there. Were you one of them? Do you still have your copy?