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Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, things to do in Shropshire

Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery celebrates life and work of Mary Webb

One of Shropshire’s greatest authors is being celebrated with an exhibition at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery – as well as a writer-in-residence, talks and a big screen movie showing of one of her novels.

‘Treasures: The Literature and Landscape of Mary Webb’s Shropshire’ is being run by The Mary Webb Society from Monday 7th March to 5th June 2016, and celebrates one of Shropshire’s greatest authors in the centenary year of the publication of her novel ‘The Golden Arrow’.

Mary Webb was born in 1881 at Leighton, Shropshire to Welsh-Scottish parents and was the eldest of six children.

Her first novel ‘The Golden Arrow’ was set in the Church Stretton area and was published in 1916 during World War I. Her second novel ‘Gone to Earth’ was made in to a film by the famous partnership of Powell and Pressburger working on this occasion with legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick of ‘Gone with the Wind’ fame.

Mary went on to publish more poems and novels including her best-known ‘Precious Bane’, which was serialised twice by BBC TV in 1957 and 1989. Her failing health led to her premature death at the age of 46 in 1927. Her grave in Shrewsbury cemetery is tended by members of The Mary Webb Society. In 1928 the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin proclaimed her work, which was published by Jonathan Cape in various editions.

The exhibition includes biographical information about Mary Webb and photographs by Gordon Dickens to explore the Shropshire landscape that influenced her writing.

There will be talks and family crafts at Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery during the exhibition.

Meanwhile, from 14 March to 12 June award-winning author Lisa Blower will be drawing inspiration from the Mary Webb Society’s exhibition, ‘Treasures: The Literature and Landscape of Mary Webb’s Shropshire,’ to create a contemporary reimagining of Mary Webb’s ‘Gone to Earth’. She will be writing live on The Gallery every Tuesday and Thursday from 10am to 3pm.

Lisa Blower said:

“This is a complete departure for me in every sense. I’ve been knee-deep in working-class fiction for the best part of 6 years, so it will be a real challenge to re-imagine a classic work and bring it up-to-date for a modern readership, let alone be writing in the spotlight.”

Lisa won the Guardian National Short Story Competition in 2009, was shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Award in 2013, and was Guest Curator for the 2015 Wenlock Poetry Festival. She will start her residency with an empty desk and bare walls. Visitors will be able to observe her novel writing process from the beginning to the reveal of her first chapter on 12 June. Over 12 weeks she will publicly share her research, methods and practice, as well as hosting a six-week novel writing course, launching the museum’s monthly book club, and twice be In Conversation with Mary Webb Society President and Mary Webb’s biographer, Dr Gladys Mary Coles.

Dr Coles said:

“Lisa will bring verve, imagination and her versatile writing skills to the project and is sure to be an inspiration to writers and readers alike. Her residency coincides and is entwined with a major exhibition at the museum celebrating Mary Webb, and it will be fascinating to watch how a contemporary version of a 1916 novel develops.”

Visitors will be encouraged to write alongside Lisa via weekly creative prompts, and there is an open invitation to schools and colleges to come and see a writer at work and take part in a creative workshop with a qualified creative writing lecturer. You can follow Lisa’s residency blog at www.lisablower.com

Finally, on 20th April the main auditorium at Theatre Severn will be the location for a 2.30pm and a 7pm screening of the 1950 film version of ‘Gone to Earth’ starring Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack and George Cole. It was shot almost exclusively on location in Shropshire and many local people appeared as extras in the film. This is a rare opportunity to see the restored version of the film on a large screen and one not to be missed! Book on the Theatre Severn website or phone 01743 281281.

Stuart West, Shropshire Council’s Cabinet member for culture and leisure, said:

“I’m delighted that one of Shropshire’s greatest authors is to be celebrated with an exhibition, writer-in-residence, talks and a big screen movie screening of one of her novels.”