Material Girls

28 Jul 2015

Making a wall hanging out of wedding photographs was more than a simple activity for residents of Rubens House…it became a labour of love. Joy Sable reports.

On a ground floor wall near the reception area at Rubens House is an eyecatching decoration. It is a large material wall hanging depicting photographs of residents on their wedding day. Alongside each picture are a few sentences describing the day – when it took place and what the bride wore. A visitor cannot help but stop and admire the many pictures. Fashions have changed through the decades but what is clear to see is the love coupled with hope for the future, which just oozes out of the material.

The idea to create such a stunning piece of artwork came from Sheree Charalampous, a specialist in textiles who now works at Jewish Care but once volunteered at the Sam Beckman Centre for People Living with Dementia. There, together with staff and volunteers, she helped create a “memory quilt” with members.

In a brainstorming session with Rubens House social care coordinator Christina Brago- Nimako, the possibility of a similar project was put forward. “We came up with the idea of the wedding wall hanging. All the residents were involved and they picked the material,” says Christina.

She says the response from everyone has been amazing: “The wall hanging brings back so many memories. Everybody just stops by it and looks… you just can’t walk past. It has brought back such lovely and fond memories for the residents. These photos are in their rooms, but nobody sees them and we felt that they are really something to be proud of, so let us share them with everyone.”

Looking at the wall hanging triggers precious memories for many of the residents featured on it. They include Anita Glassman, who says: “I married in wartime. The bombs were falling and I had my ceremony and wedding reception in the same hall, because of a shortage of petrol in those days. We had a tea dance as it was wartime and there wasn’t much about. On the day, I was excited, but it was a frightening time as I was in the car and bombs were falling.

My dress was made of parachute silk because you couldn’t get material, but Dickens & Jones had some parachute material, so I bought that and a dressmaker made the dress.

After a few days I went to Scotland to be with my husband who was stationed there. They gave him a little bit of time off for the wedding. He was then sent off to Belgium and I went back down to London.”

Hilda Pressman married in March 1940 and was another war bride who appears on the wall hanging. “It was a lovely day,” she recalls. “The weather wasn’t so good the week before, but the day I married it changed and was sunny. My dress was very pretty. An aunt of mine made it for me. It was white with big flowers, netting on the top and little sequins thrown in. I was able to get the satin material from abroad.

“My husband was called up three days before we got married but he came home to get married and then had to go back. He was stationed in Portland, and it was unusual, as he was a soldier serving in the Navy as an interpreter – he could speak French and German.

“Looking at the wall hanging makes me feel nostalgic. I also think to myself, thank G-d I’ve been a very lucky person. I had a very good husband, my daughters grew up and became teachers, and I’ve got grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

For 107-year-old Hannah Cripps, a practical nature meant she eschewed a traditional white gown in favour of something more useful. “I wore a blue dress. I made the hat as I was a milliner. It was made of wire and lace. As I had to use coupons [because of wartime rationing] I thought I may as well have a dress that I can wear afterwards. It was a wonderful day.”

Pearl Boyask married in Grove Lane Synagogue in Stamford Hill in 1940. Like most of the brides who opted for wedding dresses, she had hers made. “It was all feathers,” she says. “I went to John Lewis and bought the hat.” And like other brides at the time, the celebrations were far from a grand affair. The reception was in a salt beef shop in Shoreditch,” she says, smiling. Now blessed with two daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, the wedding day may seem a lifetime away, but the wall hanging is there to remind everyone of happy, if difficult times.

“It’s a really lovely idea,” says Avril Brandon, one of Pearl’s daughters. “It just brings tears to my eyes to look at all the residents – they look absolutely amazing.”

The artistic creation is just one aspect of the care at Rubens House for which Avril is grateful: “Jewish Care has been my lifesaver. They look after my mum so marvellously and when I come in, she greets me with a smile – that means everything to me.”

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