A cup of tea at The Prefab Museum by Keara Stewart

We invited artist Keara Stewart to write about her experience at The Prefab Museum when it was at 17 Meliot Road on the Excalibur Estate, Catford. She was a devoted volunteer who contributed with her lovely presence and also with designing The Prefab Museum logo as well as the successful tea towel starring ex-prefab resident Ted Carter. Nearly 3 years after 17 Meliot Road was deliberately set on fire, here is what she writes about such a wonderful adventure… 

Thinking back to the time I spent at the prefab in Excalibur Estate, Catford back in 2014, every day brought new visitors, new memories and new stories of prefabs across the UK and beyond. But one of the things that always stayed the same was the culture of tea drinking! Everything that happened at the prefab did so over a cuppa. That big metal teapot was never left to go cold. A cup of tea was offered to all who visited, served in an assortment of cups and saucers and most often there was a slice of cake or a biscuit to go with it. The prefab had some regular visitors, most of whom were residents of the estate who would pop in to have a cuppa and a chat. This is how I got to know Ted Carter, a resident of Excalibur Estate who later invited me to tea at in his prefab. Ted is the star of the drawings I made for the Prefab Museum tea towel.

In a wonderfully titled article, ‘Tea culture steeped in history’, tea ‘is often described in terms of formal…tea ceremonies, but we can learn a lot from studying everyday scenes that involve tea’.[1] Everyday scenes involving tea are very often in the home. The prefab museum, formally someone’s home, was transformed into a space open to the public that allowed you to imagine what it might be like to live in one these beloved prefabs. In thinking about tea outside of the home, you wouldn’t normally associate tea with exhibitions. Wine perhaps (!) but not the comfort of cuppa. Traditional gallery spaces don’t serve tea while you wander around looking at the artwork. I think one of the most successful elements of the prefab museum was how welcoming the space was, and I believe that visitors being able to walk around with a cup of tea no doubt played a part in this.

Ted Carter in 17 Meliot Road’s garden / © Elisabeth Blanchet

Elisabeth Blanchet curated more than an exhibition, she created a place that was part gallery, part museum, part community hub, with artwork from various artists from different disciplines with a common interest in prefabs and social history. My drawings which were exhibited were drawn from photographs by Elisabeth of prefab residents she met over the years. Over the course of our time at the prefab, I began to draw residents in person while they sat having a cuppa. The Prefab Museum at Meliot Road is no longer but thanks to the work of Elisabeth and Jane Hearn the ‘moving prefab’ has been created. They travel around the UK to various prefab sites, give talks, are training people in archiving and oral history, run tours and organise prefab tea parties! All this work is so important to preserving prefab stories for future generations as more and more prefabs are being demolished.

 

My personal experience of drawing, tea drinking and hearing peoples prefab memories will always stay with me.

Tea pot outside 17 Meliot Road / © Elisabeth Blanchet

‘The seventh century medical book, Pen ts’ao, proclaims that tea quenches thirst… and “gladdens and cheers the heart.” ‘[2]

And on that note, I’m going to stick the kettle on…

 

[1]“Tea culture steeped in history.” The Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo). (September 12, 2002 Thursday ): 887 words. Nexis. Web. Date Accessed: 2017/09/24.

 

[2] M.S. 1996, ‘Tonic in a teapot?’, FDA Consumer, 30, 2, p. 25, Business Source Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 24 September 2017.

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