Opening Night – The Secret Staircase

After a busy day of ladder-climbing, scalpel-wielding, frame-hanging and plinth-painting – The Secret Staircase exhibition was hung, arranged, laid out and ready for the opening night.

Artist Caroline Isgar and author Michele Roberts initially displayed The Secret Staircase exhibition in London’s Foundling Museum. They used tokens that had been left with babies by their mothers, which are displayed in the museum, as the initial inspiration – then began examining the mother/daughter relationship.

As well as the tokens, Caroline has used mythology, folklore and fairy tales to inspire illustrations laden with animals and cutlery, doodles and writing exercises. Michele has re-written traditional nursery rhymes and produced first-person narratives – from the daughter’s perspective, as she addresses her mother.

They worked together at every stage of the process – aiding and advising each other – so that the literature and visual art became seamlessly merged.

Author John Payne, mulling over Michele’s words…


Old school desk with foundling artefacts:



Three ladies absorbed in the short stories:


The artist’s book:

Michele discussing the working process:


Caroline laying her hand on the woodcut table she designed – inspired by the elm refectory table at the Foundling Museum, which the foundlings carved into:


All images by Richard Ridout.

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