Follow the Thread: renewing 152 year old links between Oldham and Kagoshima

152 years ago 19 students set off from the area which was known as Satsuma (now Kagoshima) in southern Japan. Three of the students visited Oldham, which at that time was the cotton spinning capital of the world. They went specifically to Platt Brothers, to learn from one of the most successful cotton spinning companies of the time. In 2015 we created a small display to showcase the Satsuma ceramics which we have here in the collection, as part of the national Satsuma 150 festival.

As a result of this we met colleagues from Spin 180, a company whose mission it is to promote Anglo-Japanese relations through culture. Spin 180 approached us with a suggestion that we could work together to develop links between two schools in Kagoshima and Oldham. This fitted in well with our desire to further share this important part of Oldham’s history with school children, so the Follow the Thread project was born.

Kagoshima Project

The two groups taking part were Year 2 at Crompton Primary here in Oldham, and a group of pupils from Hashima Elementary in Ichikikushikino. The Year 2 class from Crompton Primary visited Gallery Oldham in January, to see the Oldham Panorama which would be the basis of their art work, and to meet artist Isobel Pickup. They went back to school and looked at many different aspects of life in Japan. In geography the students studied Sakura-jima, Kagoshima’s active volcano, in English they wrote wonderful stories based on the voyage to Japan which engineers from Oldham took in 1866, they tasted Japanese food and of course, made plenty of art! The Hashima Elementary students sent a lovely greeting poster to Crompton, which is on show in the exhibition.

The children in Ichikikushikino and Oldham made lots of drawings of themselves and their surroundings which Isobel Pickup pulled together into one lovely piece, which is the centrepiece of the exhibition. Also on display is information about Godai Tomoatsu, one of the students who visited Oldham and is widely seen as the father of the Japanese Industrial Revolution. You can see lots of the wonderful drawings, paintings and lanterns made by Crompton Primary’s Year 2 students as well.

The finished piece looks amazing. I’m so impressed with the hard work from the students in Oldham and Ichikikushikino, the staff at both schools and artist Isobel Pickup. Crompton Primary staff have enthusiastically embraced the project and delivered it across the curriculum. I’m delighted that it has been such a success – it’s been so lovely to see the children learning about each others’ culture and sharing their own as well as learning new skills. We are in the process of creating a schools’ pack which will be available next year to schools who are interested in incorporating this important piece of local history into their curriculum.

We are grateful for financial support from the Daiwa Foundation and the Japan Society which enabled this project to happen. This project has been delivered in partnership with Spin 180. Follow the Thread is on display at Gallery Oldham until the 8 July.

Rebecca Hill

Exhibitions & Collections Coordinator (Art)