Thank you to Jenni Dutton for suggesting  a highly relevant article as a source of information for the Museum. In her piece, psychotherapist Philipa Perry talks about ‘transitional objects’ in the context of managing transitions and our ability to navigate between inner and outer worlds. I hope the theme of objects as emotional containers can become one of the Museum’s concerns as it is a mainstay of my own artistic practice. I particularly like the phrase Philipa uses for the transitional object as – “a symbol for the internal life”. Can object artists use this kind of psychotherapeutic framework to better understand their practice? Do we have a strong need to have our inner world seen and also be reflected back to us through the objects we use?

The following are excerpts are taken from Philipa Perry’s original article (Teddy bears for adults: Why a third of students take a teddy bear with them to university)  which was written for the Independent Newspaper and appeared on Tuesday 30th September. The picture which accompanies Philipa’s words has been selected by Sonia Boué.


” At the beginning, a child’s relationship with a teddy may be largely physical – a first step from sucking their own thumb or fist may be to chewing a teddy’s ear – but there is more to it than this. Winnicott states: “It is clear that something is important here other than oral excitement and satisfaction.”

The first “not me” object that a baby encounters is the primary carer with the breast or the bottle, and so the second “not me” object often takes on many of the qualities of the first. For example, the ability to cuddle, care for, nurture, feed and generally soothe, so it is not surprising that a lasting bond with this second object, often the teddy bear, is formed. Patterns set in infancy often continue into childhood and beyond so that the teddy bear is still needed, especially at times of stress or loneliness.

So, apart from being a warm cuddle, what else is a teddy bear good for? Winnicott’s phrase “transitional object” has passed into everyday use when it comes to talking about teddies or soggy bits of highly prized blanket. But a transitional object isn’t merely a replacement for the relationship with a carer when they are not ever-present. There is more to it than that. The transitional object is a symbol for the internal life of its owner.

The transitional object is part of this inner world, and yet it isn’t just a mental concept because it exists in the external world, too. Teddy, if not flesh and blood, is certainly fake-fur and stuffing. One of teddy’s jobs is to give an external reality that matches the child’s inner life and the child’s capacity to create.

An inner life is not easy to articulate with words, and however private we may be, we have a need to have this inner world seen. All of us need human mirrors, people who reflect back to us, in the way they are when they are with us, a picture of ourselves that chimes with our own experience of our identity and essence. We need people who have known us a long time to do this, and when we go to university, there may be no one there who knows us, no one who can mirror back to us the person whom we believe we are. So a teddy, who has been with us from the off, can act as a stand-in for a human mirror for a while.

When we watch a child lost in play, we are seeing the child make sense of the collision between their inner world and the outer reality.

Winnicott states that the task of accepting external reality is never completed and that no human is free from the tension of relating their inner and outer realities. It’s probably unrealistic to assume that we can grow up completely.”




Neil Armstrong’s post combines a beautifully rendered and powerful portrait with a fantastically rich and eloquent analysis of his process and symbolism. As with previous contributors I hope this will be the first of many.

…is the title of a Paul Klee 1938 watercolour (always a man with a good title) and one I have borrowed for the portrait I am contributing here. I cannot submit the actual objects in the picture as they belong to a museum already – the Durham Light Infantry Museum. What I do have possession of however is this picture. When uploading to this or most other websites you are asked to tick a box along the lines of ‘are you the owner of this image?’…well yes I am. This picture is my reconstruction, my reinterpretation, of objects that once had other significance.

Things arrive with their own histories of course and my attitude to using them is that one should take the time to understand their past, and then take on the challenge of adding something to that ongoing dialogue.
I began with the idea of making portraits of teenagers wearing uniforms from the museum collection. I wanted to reference the convention that many soldiers through the ages have followed, of having their portrait made before heading into the awful unknown. The invention of photography made this an ever more democratic proposition for those who weren’t socially blessed to be able to afford a painted portrait so is prevalent particularly during WW1 and onwards. The DLI collection includes uniforms from the 18th – 20th century and what interested me was less to take heed of any particular time period but rather to regard them as a contemporary wardrobe which could be utilised to cloth my youthful contemporary recruits.

There is the beautifully made dragoons tunic, with all its overtones of ‘empire and glory’ which is now more generally recognised as being co-opted into pop culture; think the beatles, Michael Jackson..and in particular in this instance..Cheryl Cole (sorry Cheryl Ann Fernandez-Versini). My sitter stares blankly as if she is somehow beyond historical categorisation. In her hand she holds a grenade circa WW1 but I wanted her to hold it more like it might be a bottle of perfume or a mobile phone or iplayer. It is a quite delicately shaped object, less brutally charged than what was to evolve later. She is still wearing a braid on her wrist from a recent pop festival. For me, the fact that the original intended use of the grenade is so comprehensively subverted is a pleasing acknowledgement of what I imagine the 60s hippies felt when they co-opted all manner of military paraphernalia as fashion statements. That idea has persisted into popular culture today.
When this and other work from my project Gestalt was shown at the DLI gallery I was particularly interested to see how viewers entered into a dialogue with the pictures…soon realising that they were not what they appeared to be, but intrigued none the less.

The background is a photo I took in Schiphol airport. The blossom flower emblem on the plane’s tail represents China Airlines but could easily be a poppy… which of course has a host of other connotations. I wanted to hint at the contemporary fear that now pervades the wider world, and flight seems to encapsulate that. No longer are we fighting wars on defined fronts; no more trench lines of attrition; no more charges of the light brigade, but instead a sort of background dread (particularly since 9/11) that you might be hijacked, disappear mid ocean, or be sitting next to a man with explosives in his shoes.

One of my favourite radio progs of recent times is the radio 4 series ‘A history of the world in 100 objects’ where the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells history through various objects. His delivery, his wonderfully ‘establishment’ voice, is somehow supremely appropriate in this context and reminds me of times spent in museums as a child pondering where all these things came from. There is something very comforting about it. As if THE EMPIRE still existed and we all had a part to play in a world that had no collective guilt. The real touch of inspiration however is in the introductory voice over to each object. It has a touch of the ‘hitchhikers guide to the galaxy’ about it which offsets the overall effect perfectly.

When I look at my portrait again, I am reminded of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ and the idea that perhaps an object can absorb the essence of time and lay waiting to tell its curious, delectable and possibly despicable tale again. In that case perhaps the role of the artist is to examine it.. and then add another thoughtful chapter.

Neil Armstrong


Rarely am I moved to actual tears by a piece of writing but Jenni Dutton’s marvellous Self Portrait with Portals has touched on something deep. How do we connect with memory and what happens to memory over time? What is the role of the object in keeping us together, in keeping us whole. I love how Jenni creates her portals within the portrait – inserting the objects quite literally into her features. An embodiment of the urge to unite with the object to fuse with our memories and maintain a sense of self.


Self Portrait With Portals started as a painting on MDF as part of a mixed show in a shipping contain on Watchet docks, Contains Art.
I needed to express more of myself than just a likeness, so sliced up the painting and created recesses in which to place some small objects I had saved up during my life. Growing up in an army family we moved all through my childhood and at boarding school, some items took on a preciousness and almost talisman like quality. The top left hand recess has a medal I won at netball, the middle space contains a tiny tiny doll and a slightly larger one. A brooch belonging to my grandmother lies in the floor of the bottom portal. There is no space here to explain what memories these objects conjure up in my adult mind of my childish self . Those fears and fantasies, stories woven around the pieces, which I no longer know if they are really true. Does this matter? It brings to mind all the things one has lost…… I should have put them in The Museum of Objects to keep them safe.
Jenni Dutton


The museum is honoured to have Marion Michell as a contributor with this startlingly beautiful and affecting post illustrating the rich layers of meaning contained within the object. Filial love, politics and an early memory of the genesis of an art practice are but some of the strands Marion explores. She asks if such a personal object has a place in a museum. It is an excellent question. For me the answer is yes but this opens up an important area of our work as object artists and I hope this will lead to some interesting comments.


For a brief instant I thought ‘here is an object I can consider without worrying about history, politics or war-fare’, but as soon as I started writing I wondered about working-conditions at the place of production, employees (men? women? different levels of pay?), hours worked, matters of health and safety, sourcing of materials, who could afford buying, etc. etc. The mantra ‘nothing is innocent’ is like a worm in my brain, eating holes into each and every notion, as well it should. To think I’d also doubted if such a ‘purely personal’ object had a place in a museum for object research…

I remember learning to crochet (at school) as an alienated chore – little girls can’t be inspired by making two-tone pot-holders. A couple of years ago however, at my brother’s house, I happened across the tiny, salmon-coloured and rather close-fitting outfit I’d made for his favourite soft-toy: a little brown-beige Steiff-doggy which he’d had since he was a baby and whose once soft fur had become threadbare and was leaking its filling. With the best intention our parents had tried to replace it with a new one, the same kind, but looking like a gleaming, puffed up version of this love-worn pup, lacking its familiar scent and without the hairless indent around its middle (the opposite of love-handles) where my brother’s small hands had gripped it every night.

I had completely forgotten about it and wish I could recall its actual making, esp. as crocheting has become my medium. From he image I get a sense of yarn moving through sweaty hands, and an air of unaffected commitment and concentration, out of love for my little brother. My mom thinks I must have been eight or nine years old.

Steiff of course is a German company (founded in 1870 by the rather inspiring Margarete Steiff). Given my current project – how could I not research its history? Thing is, the question: What did you do in the war? has permanent residence on my tongue and wants frequent airings.

Too great a task though. All I will say after cursory on-line glances is that in times of conflict nothing is unaffected. On the simplest level: male employees become soldiers, manifold materials are unavailable, borders are closed/embargoes in effect, factories do ‘essential war work’ and produce military goods. From cuddly toys to gas-masks and grenade handles… And that’s just for WWI.

Well, Wäuwäu was probably bought in 1961/62, not long after a wall was built to separate East from West Germany – the Cold War in full swing. I don’t think my brother held on to many objects from childhood, maybe a book or two, and I haven’t got much either. For a long time it didn’t seem important. My Fuchsi though, a Steiff-fox, equally thin around the middle, slumbers on a shelf across the room. Looking back in time it’s easy to make connections which are rather too neat, but the outfits I fashion nowadays seem to throw an arc back to this one: a two-piece ensemble, consisting of a vest and pants which logically allowed an extra opening for Wäuwäu’s stubby tail.


Marion Michell


Thank you Elena for stepping up with a fantastic first piece for the museum! Handling quite beautifully the power of objects to suggest narrative and provide a springboard for creative elaborations her post enables a tantalising glimpse of one object artist’s practice. I wonder if this rings any bells with other object artists?


The Bra.

The one I have on my studio table: It is white… well, it was white. It is now both yellowed and greyed. The elastic is perished, and in parts, when manipulated, makes a slightly scrunchy sound as the rubbery fibres crumble. It has been repaired, taken in, perhaps to compensate for the no-longer elastic fabric. It has illegible labels.

As I handle it, I feel the urge to try it around myself, over my clothes. I somehow think I will have some sort of vulcan mind-merge with the woman that wore it. Somehow I will instantly know of her life.

But no. So I imagine. Poverty of money, or poverty of time, or both, has caused this garment to become like this. I also imagine a poverty of self esteem, but that is perhaps a step too far? But despite my internal argument about making assumptions, my imagination wins through. Some life events have caused this calamity. One last broke-the-camel’s-back life event has at last, caused it to be discarded.

It might be the final life event. The final discarding not by its wearer, but by the wearer’s relatives. But me, I imagine a glorious transformation to something more beautiful. I imagine a line drawn in the sand. No More.

The woman takes a deep breath, holds her chin up, pulls back her shoulders, pushes forward her freshly dressed breasts, and strides out into a new world from the changing room.

The bra I have embroidered here, one of a series, is a celebration of the transformation… the scars/repairs. It is an acknowledgement of the beauty of love and effort given before the love of self. A waiting for a time when it is ripe and right for transformation. The stitches to repair and embellish take a long time. I have lavished colour and stitches, it has been likened to automatic writing: my automatic stitching, unplanned to a large degree, responsive, betrays my Eastern European roots, so I’m told. The tears/tears are still visible… they leave their mark. But I have drawn attention to their beauty: I show the struggle is appreciated.

The stitches I make are an act of love for this woman. She might be my mother, she might be me, as a mother. The empty-nested, new-found, mid-life-crisis me.

Life is short.
Sing songs, and stitch faster.

Elena Thomas

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