the evolution of a toy-theatre

Back so long ago that my memories of the event are hazy, I took part in a ‘mail art’ exhibition curated by the late Lizzie Organ at her Kilvert Gallery in Clyro. (Alas, no more.) I decided to make a card that opened to show a garden. I hoped the card might survive the postal system reasonably well, as long as I made it robust enough. (I didn’t want to put it in an envelope.)

It’s constructed from very thick card, hinged at both sides with strips of linen to two flaps that close centrally. The front is painted with the proscenium arch and the curtains of a theatre. For its Royal Mail journey there were narrow silk ribbons tied and secured with sealing wax to keep the flaps closed. When I think about it it’s staggering that such a fragile construction survived the postal system intact. The remains of the ribbons, stained with the residue of red wax, had to be cut to open the card, but remain attached at the hinges.

The back of the card was painted with a decorative cartouche containing the address of the gallery. I underestimated the space the stamps and ‘Special Delivery’ sticker would take up. It’s a shame that the former cover the architecture of the cartouche, and the latter the swagging at the bottom of it, but then again, that’s all a part of the history of the piece.

When opened, the card reveals a simple, three dimensional paper-engineered garden, with windows and an arch cut through a dark hedge, and a view beyond of cypress trees, a path and a wrought-iron gate.

Many years later, I produced a still-life, using the paper-engineered card as a model, all angles and straight edges to contrast with the curves of a pecking-hens toy. But I radically altered the design of the card for the painting, replacing the gate with a view of a simple house, and adding topiary elements as ‘wings’ to the scene.

After that came a second depiction of the card, this time as a still-life prop for the foreground of a painting of Saint Kevin and the Blackbird, and with the house now turned into Ty Isaf, our home in the Ystwyth Valley.

The last incarnation of the visual theme developed in card and paintings, came in this toy theatre, made in 2011 for my retrospective at the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales. 

Later I added gates, and a wolf to prowl the grounds.

The ‘Ty Isaf’ theatre has yet to appear in a painting. But it undoubtedly will. One day.

16 thoughts on “the evolution of a toy-theatre

  1. these are some of my favorites of your creations, i have always been smitten by that card, and amazed you were brave enough to send it in the mail. and of course, the theater–i can’t wait to see it in a painting, but by itself, it’s a masterpiece. what a very clever idea to layer the curtains back, hm…

  2. Wizard.

    These are all just too special. I’m having a hard time tearing myself away from just a photograph of that theatre. Thank goodness my paws are nowhere near it!

    ^ Beginning to see why you got the wolf.

  3. I would also like to try this theatre card making, even better if I received one in the post. It could be infectious. Maybe even an online exhibition …. did I just hear myself say that. [Tip-toed exiting stage left] …

  4. The card is beautiful! It has such depth, I can just imagine walking right into that garden. The theatre is magnificent too of course 🙂 I ‘d like to try constructing some kind of 3D scene one of these days…

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