curtain up at the toy theatre

The toy theatre I made for displaying in the exhibition has provoked much by way of comment among visitors to the gallery. Certainly a lot more than I’d expected. I made it because I thought it might look good in a large glass display-case that was going spare. Moreover I knew that after the exhibition was over, then it would be useful as a compositional aid in the studio.

People have been kind enough to say that they covet it and would like to be able to go out and purchase one just like it. I fear that’s just not going to be possible as I’m not planning on going into production. However once it’s back at Ty Isaf, friends will be more than welcome to come and play with it.

For the longest time I don’t think I really noticed the frequency with which toy theatres appeared in my paintings. They were lying around the house and studio, so I guess it was inevitable they’d join the list of objects with which I populate my still-life compositions. I thought it might be interesting to assemble them in one spot, though when I came to count them I could see there were far too many to accommodate in a single Artlog post. Instead I’ve selected a few.

All of the toy theatres that serve as models are ones I make myself. Some are tiny, about the size of a matchbox. A couple have been made in ceramic as tea-light-holders. Here’s one.

Also included are a couple of preparatory drawings as stand-ins for paintings that regular Artlog readers may recognise from earlier posts. Finally at the bottom of the page, I’ve included a couple of examples of  the miniature type I sometimes use in my paintings. Over the years I’ve made many of these tiny theatres. They hang over the tiny lights of the tree each Christmas, the stages illuminated from within to conjure the season of pantomime magic and mirth.

15 thoughts on “curtain up at the toy theatre

    • Thank you Nick. I made four or five ceramic theatres that were sold at exhibition with the exception of one I kept for myself. Later I had a call from my dealer saying he had a client who was most anxious to acquire one, and I fear I sold my own so as not to disappoint. I rather regret that now, and so I’m planning a few days with Pip in her workshop to throw some clay around and replace my missing theatre night-light. I’ve had an idea for the longest time to make a pair of angel candle-holders, and I think I must just do it. They’re to be Byzantine angels with ornate wings and embroidered gowns, the candles held in their high crowns.

      At Ty Isaf we have several night-light holders that I made when we lived with Pip: a fish-shaped lantern, a blue-glazed house with a paisley sgraffito pattern and a wren on the roof, and a terracotta Islamic building with a dome and perforations that throw patterns at night when the candle is lit.

  1. It’s no surprise to me that people are coveting the toy theatre. There are probably quite a few readers of your artlog who covet them too! (-:
    I enjoy constructing things out of cardboard scraps. The mystery ball installation in Bisbee was made out of all kinds of scavenged stuff like chocolate boxes, styrofoam packing peanuts, string, bits of wire, and so on. There is something very satisfying about cutting up cardboard and using tape, glue, paint and other bits and pieces to make something exciting. By the way, I suspect the love of making things out of scraps of cardboard was inherited from my dad. He made us things like castles out of cardboard boxes, cardboard mailing tubes, etc… back when we were kids. Sure wish some of those had survived as they were beautiful. Your theatres put me in mind of them!

    • Thank you for your kind comments Bev. I’m glad you have happy memories of the playthings made by your dad. I fear that in a time when so many children are addicted to electronic games, and when multi-national manufacturers seduce them with TV advertisements, cinema tie-ins and efficient product-placements, the day of the home-made toy is probably long behind us. A shame, as when you see some of the wonderful things that were made for children by talented though amateur makers, it’s clear that the imagination, the skill and play-value of their handiwork is unquestionable.

      Then there are the objects made by artists who were not fabricating precious artefacts for galleries to exhibit, but making for children. I recently saw some wonderful wooden push-toys made by Alexander Calder, brightly painted creatures animated by means of cams when their wheels turn. I recall too an ensemble of marvellously inventive and eccentric glove-puppets made by Paul Klee for his son Felix. The painter also made a stage-booth on which the puppets could enact dramas. To begin with Klee performed plays for his son, though Felix soon took over and himself became an expert puppet showman.

      • Very good examples of artists creating works meant to be used by children! I feel that a child’s imagination is allowed so much more space to grow with simpler handmade objects. When my next door neighbour’s son was very young, he expressed some interest in fish. I made him some toy fish out of felt and stuffing and also a couple of small lures made of felt with clothing snaps so that the lures could be snapped onto the fish. He loved dropping his fishing lure down behind a sofa or over a stair railing to have someone surprise him by snapping a fish to his lure. The amusing thing is that, as an adult, he went on to be a fish biologist!

        • Lucky boy! Clearly your felt-fishes worked their ways into the soul of this fish biologist-in-the-making! I never had such a fine home-made angling toy, though I certainly remember a shop-bought, brightly printed cardboard shoal of fish that by means of metal studs glued behind their heads, attached themselves to the pair of magnet-on-the-end-of-string fishing-lines that came with them. I recall there was the representation of an old boot among the fish, and so when two played the fishing game, whoever caught that booby-prize lost the round.

          • Your angler’s set sounds a little more high tech – the magnets doing away with the need for a willing accomplice to attach fish to lures . Just another example of technology doing away with the need for manpower! (-:

            • Oh, I made a lot of black and white and red felt stuffed toys for babies, once upon a time. I think they eventually got tossed during a move…

              I loved this post! Shall come back and stare some more–a number of them that I hadn’t ever seen and others that I loved seeing again.

    • Of course Thom. I must have been having a ‘Fabulon’ moment!

      Explanation to Artlog readers: In his time Thom has created three fantastic Blogs. His present site is a recent creation and may be found if you click on Form is Void in my blogroll. But before Form is Void he produced Fabulon and Chateau Thombeau, both of which were the most entertaining and eye-popping sites in the blogosphere. However Thom… in common with all the best hosts… knows when to call a halt and usher the guests out (otherwise some of us wouldn’t know when to leave the party) so sadly Fabulon and Chateau Thomeau are no longer with us. They are missed but not forgotten.

  2. that st. kevin has always been one of my favorites, but i loooooove the horse inside a horse painting, and the cat is fantastic!!!! magic, all of them. a very cool theme……

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