Deirdre Nelson is the artist responsible for the ‘Home’ project created for the new Saffron Gardens care home – out of which The Napkin Project has evolved. On this page she tells us what motivated and inspired her about the project.
What does home mean to you?
“What does ‘home’ mean to you if you are a person living with dementia? Maybe it’s where you were born or grew up – a suburb of Bristol, a village in the Punjab or a small town in Jamaica? Chances are it is where you have been happiest among family and friends. Could it be the residential care home where you now live?
My work for the new Saffron Gardens care home explored these ideas.
I spent a week as artist in residence at the old care home, Saffron House, spending time with residents and involving myself with daily activities and sharing conversations with those working and living there.
Creating a flock of textile birds
One of the things I noticed was how important cloth was in the daily lives of residents, in terms both of clothing and their environment (napkins, tablecloths etc). An article entitled ‘Clothing and Dementia’ by Julia Twigg made me more aware of the significance of cloth and clothing for those who are living with dementia.
‘In the context of dementia they [cloth and clothing] can offer an immediate visual field, a source of tactile pleasure and engagement. They also contain prompts and reminders that endorse certain modes of behaviour, supporting wider social functioning.’
This understanding led me to develop ideas, in discussion with staff, to make work which would be interactive, tactile, useful and tie in with daily life in the new Saffron Gardens care home.
Exploration of visual and tactile stimulus lead to the development of fabric ‘sample’ books and a migratory flock of textile birds. Both of these can travel throughout the space with residents, or be held and touched by those residents who are less mobile. The flock of birds has been created using soft natural yarns (silk, cotton, angora and wool) and embroidered to provide detail and additional tactile surfaces. The birds chosen relate to birds from Jamaica, Punjab, Somalia and many other countries relevant to the residents in the Bristol home.
Throughout my time at Saffron House I observed residents interacting with objects, clothes and hats and a traditional hat stand in a hallway. Each unit within the new Saffron Gardens development was to be named after a tree and so, in collaboration with Helen Kalmijn, I developed ideas for a series of tree hat stands. These act as a prompt from inside to outside and are both a sculptural and a useful addition to the home, allowing residents to hang clothes and objects.”