Helen’s World War One hearts exhibition nears completion

Helen Birmingham takes a break from her sawdust hearts project . Richard Ponter
Helen Birmingham takes a break from her sawdust hearts project . Richard Ponter

A project led by artist Helen Birmingham to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One is nearing completion.

Called 1,568 Sawdust Hearts, one heart to mark a day of the Great War, it opens at Woodend in The Crescent, Scarborough, on Saturday November 3 and runs until Friday November 30.

It features 1,568 hearts stuffed with sawdust and embroidered with pictures reflecting World War One.

It was inspired by the hearts made by soldiers as part of their recuperation from ‘shell shock’. Some of the proceeds from the exhibition will go to veterans’ charity Combat Stress.

Helen, of Belle Vue Parade, Scarborough, launched the project earlier this year, made and sent out all the kits and is now curating them.

“I am hanging them in number order which for a curator is difficult because you worry whether they go together,” said Helen. “But that is the joy of it: they are random. Everybody in the war were working together and all these hearts are working together,” she said.

Helen has produced two catalogues: one featuring the hearts and the name of the person who decorated it.

The Inside Stories booklet features some of the stories 
behind the hearts.

“When the hearts arrived back many of them carried stories which were full of emotion: poignant, amusing, tragic and meaningful in equal measure. I felt the stories demanded their own space to do them justice,” she said.

They include: Kate Tribe: No 1069, 1119 and 1286

“At the end of 2016 I was diagnosed for the fourth time with a cancer that I had lived and dealt with for 33 years. This time it is inoperable but I have a fantastic team of 
oncologists and nurses who keep me going, but I know how it will end and am ready.

“It has taken away the use of one hand and an arm and I am no longer able to sew, embroider, knit, crochet or quilt.

“After doing all these things since I was eight and am now 73 you can imagine how devastated I felt. I did send for a heart – I loved it so much I sent for a second and a third, all of which have been completed with one hand.

“I felt a deep connection to all survivors of conflict. I wanted you to know the effect of that one little heart.”

Denise Kitchin: No. 1063

“The heart is in memory of my father Thomas Johnson Hedley – I was born when he was 48. The King’s Royal Rifle Corps cap badge on the heart is an original. It is a spare one I found in his effects.

“I have the one he wore at the Somme. He was one of the few survivors of the KRRC 21st Battalion raised by Earl Feversham at Helmsley.”

Many are in memory of men – fathers, sons, uncles and pals – who died in the many battles on land and at sea during the 1914 to 1918 war.

Other people who made hearts wrote poems of love and loss to accompany them.

Helen will have spent more than 40 hours hanging the hearts in readiness for the exhibition – and many many more organising the epic project.

Out of the 1,568 heart kits, 150 did not sell and will be hung separately and those sent out but not returned will be pinned: Missing in action.

Helen has also made a map of the UK with a pin for each place where a heart was sent.

“This project is an example of artistic collaboration on a huge scale.It has been an honour to be trusted with these memories,” said Helen.

Entry to the exhibition is free. Woodend is open from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm.

For more information go to: https://www.ww1hearts.co.uk/