Every Envelope Tells a Story: Exhibition by Hitchin Library artist in residence celebrates heritage and identity

Artist-in-residence Sophie Gresswell at My Story at Hitchin Library for her project Every Envelope tells a Story

Artist-in-residence Sophie Gresswell, inset, engaged with the community for My Story at Hitchin Library through her project and exhibition Every Envelope tells a Story - Credit: Maya Derrick

Hitchin Library has celebrated the tenure of its current artist in residence with an exhibition, showcasing work created for the project.

Over the last few months, as part of the My Story initiative, the library has been playing host to Hertfordshire Libraries’ first artist in residence, Sophie Gresswell.

During her residency, Sophie has been working with library visitors, school groups, invited audiences, art groups and poets on her project, Every Envelope Tells a Story.

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence 

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick

At the launch of her exhibition on Friday, Sophie explained her inspiration for the project as part of her residency: "The idea stems from the 'My Story' project as a whole, and the idea that every envelope holds a story. Every one tells a story - every envelope you can see hanging in this space.

"Everyone knows what an envelope does and the practicalities of it, but the idea that it also can hold your secrets, your identity or who you are as a person is really what sparked the use of an everyday object to tell a much deeper story.”

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence 

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick

And with being a hub of storytelling at its core, Sophie expressed her excitement of taking Hitchin Library to "flip on its head a little bit", as well as breaking down the stigma of talent in art, and highlight the importance of expression.

The Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library is part of Hertfordshire County Council's My Story project

The Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library showcases heritage, culture and the theme of belonging as part of Hertfordshire County Council's My Story project, funded by Arts Council England - Credit: Maya Derrick

Sophie, as well as others that got involved, contributed to the exhibition in a variety of mediums, including pen, paint, textile, photography, collage and audio.

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"People have been doing portraits with their eyes closed, drawing one-line portraits. Some of the work they've done is absolutely incredible. It's about breaking down barriers and making it a conversation for people to have that everyone can be a part of," she added, noting her joy of seeing how different people have taken to expressing their identities, and sharing it with the community.

Residents are encouraged to share pictures, stories and artwork for Every Envelope Tells a Story at Hitchin Library

Hitchin residents are encouraged to share pictures, stories and artwork for the Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick

The My Story project across Herts Libraries is thanks to the bidding and funding from Arts Council England. Once Sophie’s residency comes to a close at the end of this year, the residency will set off to its next Herts venue in North Watford with artist Sheila De Rosa.

Cllr Terry Douris - executive member for education, libraries and lifelong learning - said at the exhibition opening that events like Sophie’s really highlight the importance of the library service, and not just for books. "People think that libraries are silent places of peace and studious reading, they’re not!

Artist in residence at Hitchin Library Sophie Gresswell encouraged residents to explore their heritage, culture and history

As artist in residence at Hitchin Library, Sophie Gresswell encouraged residents to explore their heritage, culture and history for her exhibition Every Envelope Tells a Story - Credit: Maya Derrick

“They’re really lively and they can fulfil so many different aspects of people's literary and cultural enjoyment.

“Events like My Story help people think about their place, where they came from, how their life developed. How they’ve succeeded, the challenges they’ve had in their lifetime and their story – their loves, their successes, and maybe their failures as well.”

Hitchin Library's artist-in-residence, Sophie Gresswell

Hitchin Library's artist-in-residence, Sophie Gresswell - Credit: Maya Derrick

Opening the event, Sophie read a self-penned poem, and expressed the importance of safe spaces to involve the community in acts of expression, especially around identity and belonging.

Sophie Gresswell's My Story ​​​​​​​residence at Hitchin Library explores identity, heritage and the theme of belonging

Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence at Hitchin Library explores identity, heritage and the theme of belonging - Credit: Maya Derrick

She said afterwards: "It's always a really important part of my work as an artist to get people involved and talking about their own identity and their ideas of heritage and history, and how that ties in with how they feel they belong.

"The people of Hitchin have been really welcoming, chatting to me about their heritage. You can see from all the envelopes around the space that they've been chatting to me about how they feel they belong, their family history.

Visitors to Every Envelope Tells a Story at Hitchin Library were encouraged to take photographs to contribute to My Story

Visitors to the Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library were encouraged to take polaroid photographs to contribute to the My Story project, funded by Hertfordshire County Council and Arts Council England - Credit: Maya Derrick

“It's been a wonderful place to let the community come into the library - which is a safe space already - and delve more into personal stories.”

Cllr Douris added: “It’s an event that grows and develops. They start with a small segment, and they develop it from that into something larger and more powerful, and it charts the highs and lows of their life.

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence 

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick

“I think that libraries will also evolve. It’ll always be about books, but it can be about so much more.”

The free-to-attend exhibition runs at Hitchin Library, in Paynes Park, until the end of this week.

The Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition, as part of My Story at Hitchin Library

The Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition, as part of My Story at Hitchin Library - Credit: Maya Derrick

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence 

Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick

Cllr Terry Douris, executive member for education, libraries and lifelong learning at Every Envelope Tells a Story

Cllr Terry Douris, executive member for education, libraries and lifelong learning at the Every Envelope Tells a Story exhibition at Hitchin Library, as part of Sophie Gresswell's My Story residence - Credit: Maya Derrick