WHEN Louise Weir was given a grant to explore Great Expectations she had no idea it would take her on a journey that would help her make sense of her dad’s death.
The lecturer, who grew up in Hatton, was awarded a research grant from Southampton Solent University in 2012 to investigate the locations in the Charles Dickens classic. But it was when her dad Bernard died a year later that she realised her own experiences had a lot in common with the 156-year-old story.
Louise said: “I started writing texts and poems in response to my dad’s death and then I realised that the themes were quite similar to the ones in Great Expectations. Things like identity and home. Also I grew up in a small village and then moved to London and Pip did the same in the novel.
“I then started doing a lot of drawing based on key places that were important to my childhood like Hatton Arms, the woods and fields nearby and Daresbury Church where my dad is buried.”
The project has continued to evolve over the years and has now become Louise’s latest exhibition, Expectations of the Past. It includes 50 large-scale multimedia pieces which are on display at The Gallery in Bank Quay House until July 11.
Louise’s exploration of her own personal history and how it overlaps with themes in Great Expectations will then head to the Charles Dickens Museum next year.
The mum-of-two to Ella, 11, and Luke, eight who often accompany her when she is drawing, added: “It’s been quite difficult at times. It’s been quite emotional. I’ve been reunited a bit with my childhood because I’ve been thinking about memories.
“I’ve been thinking about where I come from, where I grew up, who I am and what my identity is and the only reason I did that was because I read Great Expectations and it opened it all up to me.”
If people take one thing away from the exhibition Louise wants it to be not to discount where they are from.
“I think it’s really easy to look further afield all the time,” she said.
“To think about everything outside your personal experience being exciting. But I think we need to look at where we’re from and examine where we grew up. That makes us who we are.
“In the process of this I asked my mum lots of questions about my family and there’s things she told me that I didn’t know before. I think it’s important to hear those stories and not let things be forgotten.”
That is one of the main reasons Louise, who now lives in Walthamstow, has brought the exhibition to Warrington. The 48-year-old went to Appleton Hall Comprehensive School where she was inspired by her two art teachers.
She added: “I especially wanted to bring it back to Warrington because I’ve got strong ties with the town. I went to school nearby and learned guitar above Dawsons Music shop.”
Louise became the first in her family to become an artist and recently hit the headlines when she became the recipient of the 500,000th National Lottery grant for Expectations of the Past.
“I never wanted to do anything else,” she said.
“I used to play at my auntie Doris’s house when I was very little and make toy theatres there and my auntie Mary worked in the old Warrington Art School opposite the library where I used to do life drawing classes.”
Louise said that Warrington Museum had a big impact on her too.
She said: “I loved the shrunken heads and all the things from faraway places. They had quite a few things that were frightening and gruesome.
“I found it really fascinating and I’ve taken my own kids there. We went to see the Cabinet of Curiosities which was recently relaunched and my little boy loves the dinosaur.”
Louise’s exhibition has also become something of a tribute to her dad Bernard.
She added: “He was amazing person. He was the publican at Hatton Arms and his mum and dad ran it before him. He was a man of few words but he was great storyteller and was very musical.
“He was never happier than when he was in the pub behind the bar.”
Louise described the 70s at the pub where she grew up as a ‘golden period’.
She said: “We had regulars who became almost like family. It was a different time then when everyone knew each other. You did feel very secure. It was lovely. It was pre-internet and it feels a world away from now.”