Silence in the Woods

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Forgive the silence at the Artlog. The reason is simple. Right now I am consumed with completing the Hansel & Gretel Toy Theatre Kit for Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop in Covent Garden. It’s quite a complicated job, designing something not only beautiful, but that also works in terms of being relatively simple to cut out and make. This morning I’ve been writing the assembly instructions and I don’t think in my life I’ve felt quite such a burden of responsibility for making words clearly convey meaning. (I recall all those cut-out toys of my childhood that went horribly wrong because the instructions misdirected me!)

But the silence is largely due to being unable to share the images I’m producing, because the people at Pollock’s understandably want to keep the design under wraps until the launch. Everything has to be a secret until then.

But I can tell you that there will be plenty of scenery by way of back-cloths and cut-cloths, with kuchen-cottages, gloomy kitchens, blazing ovens, haunted woods and confectionary galore. Moreover this production should satisfy the most ardent toy theatre enthusiasts with the number of characters I’ve managed to fit in into a small space, including – apart from the usual suspects – the Witch’s Cat, a friendly Duck, some Gingerbread Men and a couple of Monster Trees.

Scissors and glue at the ready!

Lizzie Organ, ‘a fairy godmother for artists’

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Ashbrook House in the village of Clyro, just outside the book-town of Hay-on-Wye, was where the Reverend Francis Kilvert lived and wrote his famous diaries. Artist Lizzie Organ and her partner, portrait painter Eugene Fisk, acquired the house and commissioned a full scheme of restoration of the external fabric from the architectural practice of Nicholas Keeble Associates. This included complete re-roofing of the house in natural slate, numerous repairs to the original joinery and restoration of the magnificent 100-pane gothic window over the staircase.

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A decorative lead-roofed canopy with a gothic balustrade was made locally and added to the stone-stepped front entrance.

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When the work was completed, Lizzie opened the ground-floor and cellar rooms as galleries at weekends, and by arrangement on weekdays. The spaces were full of beautiful furniture, paintings and objects, most of them for sale. When the galleries were closed the rooms reverted to Lizzie’s and Eugene’s private use. It was a clever juggling act. Lizzie held several mixed exhibitions a year, with occasional shows for featured artists.

Visitors came as much to see and be inspired by the house as to purchase art. Lizzie’s creation was an exercise in the combination of business and lifestyle. She gave people a glimpse of how they might live. She always did her utmost to persuade artists who had the skills, to make small, beautiful and relatively inexpensive objects for her themed exhibitions, because she said people loved to buy something affordable by an artist they admired, even if that artist’s paintings were too expensive for their pockets. And buy they did.

The Summer and Christmas exhibitions were always a triumph. In this way I was persuaded by Lizzie to make a eight place-mats for her ‘Christmas Dining-Room’ themed exhibition. The set had relief chequerboard patterns, was finished in faux-patinated bronze and it sold in about ten minutes. For her ‘Box of Delights’ show I made a folk-inspired faux-bronze house with the roof as the lid. That went to the USA.

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At Christmas the reception-room/shop of the gallery (see above) always had a selection of my tiny hand-painted pantomime toy theatres, each with a single character on the matchbox-sized stage: Priscilla the Goose from ‘Mother Goose’, Dick Whittington’s cat and and a pantomime horse among them.

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Lizzie encouraged me to make objects. She believed that painters were the better for extending themselves through the act of making. Thanks to her a foundation was laid for my studio practice that has continually supported my painting with acts of exploration. I still make toy theatres and decorative objects.

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From time to time I make ‘postal’ art, as I first did at her request. I made these ‘Fairy-Tale’ envelopes for a Kilvert Gallery postal art exhibition, the paper drenched in black ink and the addresses written with a mapping-pen dipped in bleach! (Apologies for the poor  images, digitised from slightly out-of-focus transparencies.)

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I build articulated paper maquettes too, that are models for paintings, but have additionally carried me into the realms of film-making and animation. Lizzie would greatly approve of it all.

When Lizzie neared the end her life, Ashbrook House closed for business. Her funeral in 2009, like the gallery she’d presided over, was an example of creativity in action. At Clyro Church she was arrayed in all her silken finery in an open casket of basketweave, decked in her ‘Barbarian Queen’ jewellery. While the vicar played his violin in the nave, a beautifully groomed and ostrich-plumed horse was led in circuits of the church, high-stepping a stately pavane that ended at the graveside. Peter wrote Lizzie’s obituary for The Guardian. The strap-line read: ‘She traded high society for the Welsh borders to become a fairy godmother for artists.’ And that she did. She was certainly my fairy godmother, kick-starting my career as an artist, and I was not the only one.

Ashbrook House was sold. Without Lizzie at the helm there could be no Kilvert Gallery. These days it’s a private residence.

Lizzie began showing my paintings in mixed exhibitions at the Kilvert Gallery after my partner Peter had shown her a portfolio of my work. In 1996 when she asked me which of her regular artists I’d like to have a two-man show with, I unhesitatingly chose Charles Shearer, whose work I greatly admired.  At the exhibition my paintings were on the ground-floor and Charles’ prints and paintings were in the cellar that opened onto the garden and the brook that ran through it. We’ve been friends ever since.

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I was in awe of Charles, but thought the challenge of having a show with him might spur me on to be a better painter. I think it very likely did.

Below: Armistice, painted for my first one-man exhibition at the Kilvert Gallery in 1996.

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Resurrecting Trevor

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First there was my father, Trevor. In 1999 I was at his bedside as he died. I had to lean in and watch closely, to be sure of the moment. When it came it was as intangible as the faintest wisp of smoke, half-seen out of the corner of my eye. I looked so hard I almost stopped breathing, and then he was gone, his cool, unmoving hand a deadweight in mine.

From 2000 onwards I drew him into my grief, while my friend and his, Catriona Urquhart, watched and wrote what would become the text for my 2001 exhibition and an edition of poems published by The Old Stile Press, under the collective title of The Mare’s Tale.

I made many images. First the studies, wrenched out of sadness, and thereafter the giant drawings made on the floor of our dining-room in Plasturton Avenue. I begrimed myself with black Conté pencil that stained the cracks in my fingers and transferred in smears as I wiped my sweaty face. I must have looked like a madman, crawling over the images, buffing their surfaces to a slatey sheen with knees getting stiffer by the month. When finally I came to his likeness, I wept incessantly. It was too painful to make. I’d left it as an absence in the black surface, but with the drawing completed save for his face, the task couldn’t be put off any longer. I repeatedly had to dry the paper out, and so I know there’s hidden salt in the fibre of it. Sometimes I wonder whether one day it’ll emerge, like crusted sadness on the surface, the way salts emerge out of old bricks, and stonework. That would be an interesting one for the paper-conservators, charged with erasing grief from an artwork.

Above: Tend

A decade after I’d completed The Mare’s Tale, I was persuaded to give permission for a ‘performance work’ to be created for a chamber orchestra, inspired by the drawings and what lay behind them. This would require a collaboration with the composer Mark Bowden. I agreed, and elected Damian Walford Davies to be the librettist, because we’d worked together before. He knew my story intimately, and through me my father’s story. He also knew and had written about Catriona’s poems. (She’d died too young in 2005, The Mare’s Tale the only volume of poetry published in her lifetime.) Damian’s narrative was a fiction, a psychological ghost story, though conjured from some of the biographical facts of my father’s life. The title was borrowed from the original series of drawings, as were the ‘secrets’ buried in Trevor’s childhood memories. Two key scenes were lifted directly from my accounts of what had happened to him. Though this was hard-to-negotiate and dark terrain, I felt safe in Damian’s hands, and in Mark’s. Trevor became Morgan, in the new story, and he would be played by the singer Eric Roberts.

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In 2013, a single, fully-staged  performance of the fledgling work was given at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. I designed and directed it. Morgan’s nightmares… my father’s nightmares… were given form though the medium of puppetry and animation. The drama was played out on a set I created to reflect the bleached sepulchres of  the original Mare’s Tale drawings.

From drawing (above) to set (below).

Puppeteers Anne Morris and Diana Ford gave sinister life to the various apparitions, and scale was added by an on-stage video crew filming the effects and streaming them to a screen suspended above the action.

Topographical models were filmed and projected onto the screen, to compass Morgan’s cramped world.

From concept drawing…

… to rehearsal.

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I ruthlessly pared back the turbulence of my drawings from the stage imagery. I wanted the production to be visually stark, to give space to the music and text. Mark and Damian built from their own materials what I had once made out of densely-worked Conté pencil.

Eric Roberts was astounding as Morgan Seyes. In the scene where the character, fevered and enveloped in tangled bedsheets, believed that the Mari Lwyd had returned to claim him, the lines between performance and reality blurred, and Eric/Morgan became Trevor.

I didn’t set out to resurrect my father when I began work on the stage presentation of The Mare’s Tale. In rehearsals, as I began to understand where the last scene was going, it came as a shock. The visceral power of Eric’s performance shook everyone present. Our perceptive dramaturge, Helen Cooper, stepped quietly forward to continue helping, while I retreated to the back of theatre to let her, the music, the text, the lighting and the actor do their work.

 …

Chronology of The Mare’s Tale, 2001 – 2015

2001: The Mare’s Tale opens at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. An illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition

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The Old Stile Press publish The Mare’s Tale, their edition of Catriona Urquhart’s poems accompanied by Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ illustrations

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The Contemporary Art Society for Wales purchases Stumbles and Cannot Rise (below) from The Mare’s Tale, and the drawing subsequently enters the collection of Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery purchase The Mari Lwyd Approaches (below) from The Mare’s Tale 

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2002: new works in the Mare’s Tale series form an expanded exhibition at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery under the title The Tower on the Hill

Selected drawings from The Mare’s Tale appear in Dreaming Awake at the Terezín Memorial Gallery, and subsequently tour to four venues in the Czech Republic

2005: Catriona Urquhart dies. Her poetic text for The Mare’s Tale includes Pegasus, in which she reflects on Trevor’s last months and his death. However so apposite is the poem to her own failing health and intimations of mortality, that Clive Hicks-Jenkins reads it at her funeral.

2011: the artist’s sixtieth birthday is celebrated with a major retrospective in the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Many of The Mare’s Tale drawings are gathered for the occasion from private collections and institutions

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Lund Humphries publish Clive Hicks-Jenkins, a monograph. Montserrat Prat contributes an essay titled Metamorphosis of a Folk Tradition, in which she explores the drawings of The Mare’s Tale

2012: The Mare’s Tale, a work for chamber-orchestra and actor, is commissioned by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra from composer Mark Bowden and librettist Damian Walford Davies. The piece takes its inspiration and its title from the 2001 series of Mari Lwyd drawings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

2013: a fully staged performance of the chamber-work The Mare’s Tale, is given by the Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. It is designed and directed by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Helen Cooper is the Dramaturge. The role of Morgan Seyes is played by Eric Roberts

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2015: Eric Roberts and Damian Walford Davies read extracts from the libretto of The Mare’s Tale at a special event held during Clive Hicks-Jenkins most recent explorations of the Mari Lwyd theme in Dark Movements at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. At the event Mary-Ann Constantine reads from Catriona Urquhart’s collection of Mare’s Tale poems.

Below: Eric Roberts reads at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre

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Jane’s Dream, a film by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and Pete Telfer based loosely on Damian Walford Davies’ libretto for The Mare’s Tale, is screened in the gallery throughout the Dark Movements exhibition. Original music for Jane’s Dream is by composer Peter Byrom Smith

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Storytelling

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This image, made by me long ago as a paper-engineered Christmas card, was picked up at Pinterest and thereafter requested for the cover for a magazine published in the US. I received a PDF of the cover today. Magazine due out shortly.

It’s fascinating how images travel around the globe these days. In 1989, when this card was made, I was working as the relief custodian at Tretower Court and Castle. My ‘office’ was a temporary wooden hut erected in the courtyard of the monument. In the summers I cooked and in the winters I all but froze. But I liked the winters particularly, because cold notwithstanding, my time was my own as there were few visitors once I’d done my duties. As a consequence I spent some of the long hours making my Christmas cards.

The Punch Booth card began as a series of pen and ink drawings that I then photocopied in multiple onto thin cards. Then I hand-coloured each set, cut them up and assembled them. I can’t pretend they were quickly made, but I enjoyed the process.

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Tom Bromwell: conversation with a puppet maker


Above: The Harbinger

Tom Bromwell makes puppets. He gained a First in BA Fine Art at Cardiff School of Art and an MA at Dartington/Falmouth. He currently works at The Art Shop and Chapel galleries in Abergavenny.

Clive: So what happened after your BA and MA?

Tom: To all intents and purposes I gave up practicing. I became rather disillusioned with it all. I even closed my website.

The Trickster

Clive: Can you explain further?

Tom: My previous artwork had taken a very intellectual direction, and had increasingly focused on the philosophical and theoretical side of art. However this began to destroy the pleasure in it for me. So I found work in other areas of the arts, including research and administration. I’m about to start a PHD in the History of Art as a result of my research work on Apocalyptic visions and interwar art.

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Clive: The artist Philippa Robbins showed me photographs of glove-puppets you’d made, which is how I came to contact you. How did this interest come about?

Tom: I’ve only started making puppets in the past year, prompted by Pauline Griffiths of the Art Shop Gallery, and I’ve found it’s brought back my enjoyment in making. I’ve always had a strong interest in theatre, though I struggled to reconcile it with my past practice. Perhaps I was too self-conscious. But somehow, and unexpectedly, the puppets have bridged the gap. I’m continuing to make them, and finding my ideas are developing as I gain greater familiarity with the processes. I’ve been giving puppet performances for children in the Art Shop & Chapel.

Clive: Paul Klee made glove-puppets for his son Felix, and together they gave performances. The Klee puppets are quite roughly made, but each has an undeniable presence.

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Tom: I see my puppets as riffing on archetypal characters and forms, and yes they are inspired by the sense of wonder I experienced on first seeing Klee’s puppets. His coarse technique combined with found objects accentuated the personality of his creations. Had they been refined and highly finished, I think the immediacy of them would have been lost. They would have been more anonymous and forbidding – and less a product of imagination. Yet made as they are, they revel in their status as crafted objects.

Clive: You use one of your puppets, Abel, as your Facebook profile image. Is it a self-portrait?

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Tom: I’ve avoided using images of myself for online profiles for a number of years. I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with them. The Facebook puppet is the one I most identify with, the one onto which I’ve projected some of my uncertainties and insecurities. The simple design is inspired by the sense of bewilderment I think we’ve all known on occasion.

Clive: I’m interested in the names of your puppet characters. Tell me about them, and why you chose them.

Tom: Abel and Rebecca are old-testament names, and the characters represent facets of my personality. Abel embodies my more negative, paranoid side. He’s oblivious to his destiny in the bible to be a ‘victim’, and just puts his head down to get on with his work, only to end up being murdered by his brother. Lets be honest, Abel is basically there just to move the plot along! I think my sense of being an innocent cog is best represented by him! Rebecca on the other hand is both strength and kindness – things that I aspire to.

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Other names have their origin in bits of philosophy. The Trickster (aka The Nameless One) is a bit of a wordsmith. Semiotics and Derrida’s concept of différance played a part developing the character. His name changes from performance to performance (his name really does differ and defer!), suggesting the characters’ awareness to how arbitrary names and definitions really are.

Polt is an abridgement of Poltergeist, but it also conveys something else in the sound of the word. The plosive sound is almost onomatopoeic. Like a hard blow, it sounds forceful. The name and the puppet, with it’s shocked expression, seem to fit each other perfectly. And while Polt might sound po-faced, he’s not really so bad!

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Clive: Tom, tell me about the performances. How do you prepare for them?

Tom: The performances can be underpinned by science, philosophy or suchlike, and the stories often focus on a single aspect of one of the characters. I am not the sort of person who normally does things spontaneously, so I usually aim for an underlying structure from which I can play with ideas or materials. I encourage audience interaction to explore the potential embodied in the narrative.

I shall post information of Tom’s next performances at the Chapel Gallery when I have the dates

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Tom Bromwell

Afterword

I’ve been having a spot of trouble at WordPress edit today, and have had to post this piece for a second time, losing in the process one of the comments. Luckily I’d saved it, and have pasted it below, together with my reply.

From Cosima Lukashevich:

Submitted on 2015/08/26 at 5:34 am
Its fascinating to me to hear how and why artist make. It seems that one can get lost in the maze of the thinking mind, and that path cycles round and round. So to physically make, to create, is a relief and a positive direction outward. The living energy of creativity bursts forward… in Tom’s puppets… towards the lively arts of theatre in ‘character forms’. (aka puppets.)

His puppets are only half of the story. It would be very interesting to see a performance of them!

From Clive Hicks-Jenkins:

Submitted on 2015/08/26 at 5:59 am | In reply to Cosima Lukashevich.
Hello Cosima. Yes, it is indeed interesting that a performance art has facilitated Tom rediscovering his pleasure in the act of making he’d somehow lost after his MA and BA. It was perceptive of Pauline Griffiths to point him in the direction of making puppets. And yes, I’d agree that this is only half the story. Puppets need to be seen in action. Tom’s are brimming with potential.

The Castle of Otranto

Detail of toy theatre character from my 2014 Christmas card design

Having written and posted quite a lot about toy theatre (juvenile drama) over the weeks leading up to Christmas, and toy theatre having been the inspiration for the 2014 Christmas/New Year e-cards that Peter and I sent, I’ve decided to make a series of occasional posts showing  images from my collection of toy theatres and toy theatre ephemera.

J. K. Green’s juvenile drama production of The Castle of Otranto or Harlequin and the Giant Helmet, in the version published in 1841, consists of 8 plates of characters, 10 scenes, 4 wings and 2 sheets of tricks. (Plus some generic scenic pieces that were intended to supplement any number of scripts.)

The sheets were produced separately… presumably so that they could be sold individually… and came into my possession with a small bound script. The characters of the Harlequinade are all present and correct, including Harlequin in his tight, spangled suit, a winsome Columbine and a Clown in motley. Here are a selection of the sheets, together with a couple of images of the script.

Some time ago I posted about another toy theatre production in my collection, Orlando Hodgson’s extremely beautiful The Siege of Troy (1833), and you can see it HERE.

‘The Wood Daemon’

Tonight my toy theatre underwent a change of appearance. Out came a box of Skelt scenery for The Wood Daemon, and in no time the stage was transformed from a representation of the garden here at Ty Isaf, into a bosky dell with woodcutter’s cottage and a distant vista of castle and lake. There is nothing quite like Christmas/New Year to send me catapulting back into the pantomimes of my childhood, and so here to entrance you is a world in miniature contained within the magic aperture of my Pollock’s toy-stage proscenium. Happy New Year to all the Artloggers. Long may you frolic here.

the road to beastly passions part 2: penny dreadfuls

There is something in the British psyche that is drawn to both the prurient and the ghastly. UK tabloid newspapers have long evidenced an interest in both, and it’s not a recent phenomenon, as a history of such things predates the twentieth century.

The Victorians had a vision of an industrialised economy that would drive innovation, and anyone casting an eye over the staggering technical discoveries of the nineteenth century can’t but be impressed at how we led by example. Iron forged in the south Wales valleys was exported the world over. It made not only our own railway systems, but the ones that bridged the vast reaches of the United States. The period threw up the engineering geniuses Thomas Telford and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who between them changed the face of Britain with canal systems, bridges, dockyards, roads, harbours and tunnels.

But in the middle of all this brilliance, there were other industries running like dark veins through our great cities, fuelled by poverty and a lack of any social welfare. Prostitution was rife, and of many varieties to suit all tastes. While the glittering new world was being raised by the celebrated civil engineers, Jack-the-Ripper stalked the sheets of Whitechapel, predating on the poorest and most vulnerable sex-workers.

The Illustrated Police News was one of the earliest British tabloids. It launched in 1864 and ran right through to 1938. Needless to say it made much of the Ripper murders, bad news being good for circulation, and the IPN got very good indeed at plastering its front pages with horrors as a spur to sales. Wherever misfortunes were to be found, the newspaper’s journalists would lay them out for the public to feast upon. The more dreadful the stories, the better everyone liked them.

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There was a precedent for this interest in the grotesque. Pre-dating The Illustrated Police News with its tales of real-life horrors, there had been the Penny Dreadfuls, cheaply published novels specialising in murder and mayhem, often with supernatural overtones.

 

And before the Penny Dreadfuls, the great engraver Hogarth had titillated our relish for comeuppance in his series The Rake’s Progress.

With such a native appetite for the lurid, it comes as no surprise that the Staffordshire potteries occasionally proffered equivalent horrors, such as the tableau of a mother slain by a tiger escaped from a menagerie, her baby pathetically flailing in the beast’s jaws. Who knows what tragedy this was based on… I can find no specific source for it… but whether true or invented, it’s a strange subject to have produced in jaunty glazed pottery to decorate a dresser. Perhaps it was deemed as ‘cautionary’, to warn little children not to step too close to the bars of the animal cages in the ‘zoological gardens’.

The notorious slaying in 1827 of young Maria Marten, shot and buried in a barn by her lover William Corder, was commemorated with bucolic Staffordshire groups belying the violence of the event. (See top of post and below)

Even the toy theatres that gained popularity in the Regency were not averse to a touch of Penny Dreadful, as the surviving play-lists show. Jonathan Bradford, or The Murdered Guest was available as a toy theatre melodrama, as was a dramatised version of Bluebeard, the serial wife-killer of fairy-tale. Then there was The Mistletoe Bough, or The Fatal Chest, the story of a bride who dies when trapped in a heavy coffer during a coy game of hide and seek with her groom.

The toy-like naiveté overlaying lurid melodrama in the Staffordshire groups commemorating tragic events, make for oddly unsettling pieces of popular-art. Looking at them I began to wonder what would happen if instead of making paintings of existing examples… like the one I made for my friend Ben Elwyn’s birthday…

… I invented versions based on contemporary tabloid front-page reports. The idea for Beastly Passions came about when I began to imagine what today’s headlines might look like re-imagined as though through the prism of Staffordshire pottery groups. Dreadful events, it seems to me, would carry an unexpected and perhaps more tender charge, if wrapped like brightly coloured boiled-sweets in shiny cellophane.

The research is already underway and the first drawings are emerging. I’ll be posting about this project when I’ve more to show.

R.I.P. Mr Turnip

 

Mr Turnip was the brain-child of the BBC producer Michael Westmore, who in 1950 was looking for a new puppet character for the children’s magazine programme Whirligig. Muffin the Mule was already appearing in the series, but Westmore wanted a marionette that could play alternate weeks with Muffin. Annette Mills fronted the Muffin sequences, playing the piano and singing songs, but the mule remained voiceless, which was proving restrictive in terms of the scripts. A creative team was assembled to make good the deficit. Peter Hawkins would be the voice of the new character… as he later would provide voices for the puppets Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men… and Peter Ling was engaged to write the scripts. Richard Henry created detailed miniature sets, and Humphrey Lestocq… H. L. to the viewers… was chosen to be the presenter. In fact so effective were Lestocq and Turnip as a team, that the method pioneered by them became the standard practice for presenting puppets on TV.

Michael Westmore entrusted the realisation of Turnip to the young puppeteer and puppet-maker Joy Laurey, who operated him for the six years he appeared on Whirligig. Laurey had impeccable credentials for making the marionette. Her great grandfather was Sam Laurey, a Drury Lane clown who had been apprenticed to the young Joseph Grimaldi. The Laurey family had long been making beautiful marionettes when Joy, her mother and her sister were recruited by E.N.S.A. to entertain the troops with their puppets. When the BBC went into production with Children’s Hour programmes at Lime Grove after the war, Joy’s reputation with puppets secured her the commission to design and make Mr Turnip.

In these days of syndication and lucrative character-led merchandising, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like for the young Laurey when confronted by the almost instant, unexpected success of her marionette. Single-handedly and with no experience of such matters, she attempted to deal with the flood of Turnip-related enquiries.

Quite quickly the puppet had his own cartoon strips in Playways and Mickey Mouse Weekly, and to begin with Joy supplied artwork for the comics, though because of her bi-weekly Whirligig commitments she eventually had to pass the responsibilities to other hands. She frankly struggled to keep up with the demands generated by Mr Turnip ‘mania’.

Such a thing would never happen now. The assumption at the time seems to have been that Joy owned the copyright of the puppet she’d been commissioned to produce, and so he was hers to do with as she wished. The BBC hadn’t anticipated the success Turnip would enjoy, and his maker wasn’t at all savvy in the ways of business. (The BBC wouldn’t make such a mistake again, and subsequent TV puppet characters were copyrighted by the organisation.) There were Mr Turnip bars of soap, painting books, story books, jumping-jacks and pyjamas. A small lead puppet was produced ‘By arrangement with Miss Joy Laurey’. There was a request for Mr Turnip to be represented on the backs of Kellogg’s cereal boxes, and enquiries regarding Turnip endorsements of products. Joy didn’t know what had hit her.

Below: ‘Luntoy’ Mr Turnip metal marionette, manufactured by Barrett & Sons.

Later Mr Turnip was licensed to the Marlborough-based toy company, Pelham Puppets, who produced a beautifully realised marionette of the character. When I contacted Joy in 1997 to request an interview, she explained in our initial telephone conversation that she had never even seen the puppet Pelham had produced to her design, and so I traced one down and brought it to her as a gift.

Below: Mr Turnip meets his Pelham doppelgänger.

Smaller than the original Mr Turnip, the Pelham version was in all other ways an impressive facsimile of the original save for the stringing, which was much simplified. The commercial puppet sartorially aped Turnip Snr’s rather dandyish style, and Joy Laurey was enchanted with the ‘mini-me’ version of her old friend.

Below: Joy Laurey and Clive Hicks-Jenkins in 1997.

Below: Joy with Mr Turnip

Meeting and talking with Joy Laurey at her home was a wonderful experience. I’d loved Mr Turnip as a child watching Whirligig on the television, and the opportunity to shake hands with him over forty years later… and then to operate him too… fulfilled a long held ambition. He was a weighty and complicated marionette, with an elegance of movement that was apparent the moment I took up his control-bar.

When in 1957 Mr Turnip was retired, Joy was hired by Gerry Anderson to create the puppets for The Adventures of Twizzle. She not only made the puppets for the show, but with Murray Clark and Christine Glanville, operated them for fifty-two episodes between 1957 and 1959. Joy explained that she didn’t always get on particularly well with Anderson, who she found to be rather impatient with the processes of making and performing with marionettes, and saw the puppet programmes simply as stepping-stones to his ultimate ambition to produce live-action TV adventure series. (He eventually managed this leap from puppets to live actors, with somewhat mixed results.)

Joy couldn’t have been more generous in sharing her memories of her life as a puppet-maker/puppeteer, which were still vivid and fresh. She’d pretty much set aside her puppets after marriage and children, and we spent the afternoon together sifting through old suitcases of memorabilia. She told me there were many more puppets stored in boxes her garage, and she rather dreaded the task of going through them all, though she said it with a twinkle, and I could see that in fact she rather relished the idea of time spent examining her past. Had I lived closer I would have volunteered to help, but it’s a long drive from Wales to Essex.

I walked away from the day with a treasure: a tiny calling-card, almost the last of a small cache Joy had preserved from Mr Turnip’s glory days, when children visiting him at the BBC Lime Grove studios would each be presented with a memento from their hero’s waistcoat pocket. I keep it in the marionette cabinet with my own Pelham Puppet Mr Turnip. It’s no bigger than a postage stamp, though freighted with memories that make me almost dizzy with happiness.

A bare year after I’d visited Joy in Essex, I discovered to my surprise there had been an auction of all her puppets and puppet memorabilia. Later I found an online catalogue of items in the auction, which included the following:

“Mr Turnip BBC TV original Whirligig puppet prop, 1950s, papier mache and lime wood, hand-made by Joy Laurey, fully operational moving inset eyes, articulated jaw, coiled wire turnip root at top of head, painted features including black beauty spot to upper lip, jointed wooden arms and legs, lead weighted feet, fifteen strings and control bars, wearing original brown velvet jacket, white cotton dress shirt complete with collar and tie, tiny pearl buttons, multi-coloured spotted brocade waistcoat with pair of charms (heart and coin) attached, green cloth trousers, within original carrying case labelled ‘JOY LAUREY PUPPET STUDIO TIPTREE ESSEX TEL TIPTREE 133’ on a hand-written paper label to inner lid. In addition dark brown velvet smoking jacket with gold brocade trim, padded collar and cuffs, extra brown velvet jacket and cloth cape, green stage curtains, linen thread for stringing. Plus props: despatch case, brass candlestick, wooden chair, rocking chair, brocade cushion, miniature business/calling cards, miniature TV , straw boater, Colonel Beetroot’s hat, patterns for Mr Turnip’s clothes and disguises. Some moth damage to clothing, overall wear commensurate to age, 21.5″/55cm (qty). NB These props can be seen within many of the period photographs of the time.”

Below is an image from the Vectis auction site showing the Pelham Mr Turnip I’d given to Joy the previous year, together with the photograph (bottom left) taken by my partner Peter Wakelin of the moment the original Mr Turnip met his Pelham facsimile. There is also a copy of the magazine for which I’d produced an article about Joy.

On seeing the auction contents I supposed that Joy had died. I didn’t think for a moment that she would have surrendered her precious Mr Turnip while she still lived. The time I spent with her… and him… was evidence of her pride in and affection for the little man. I was perplexed too that her family could have relinquished what Joy had produced in her youth. But the auction catalogue and the prices the items had fetched were online, evidence that the collection had been sold. I was saddened, though relieved that I’d taken the opportunity to contact and then meet the puppeteer the previous year. Among the many puppets and puppet-related memorabilia listed in the auction catalogue, was the Pelham Mr Turnip marionette I’d left with her at the time of my visit.

It turned out I was mistaken in believing the auction of Mr Turnip and many other of Joy’s puppets had been evidence of her death, when a recent Guardian obituary announced her passing this year, aged ninety. Why the collection representing her lifetime of achievement as a respected puppeteer was sold a year after I’d met her and long before her death, remains a mystery to me. Perhaps it had become a burden to her and to her family. I wish I had known about it at the time. I don’t think I could have passed on the opportunity to acquire the puppet-hero of my childhood. Mr Turnip started a journey for me that continues. In my head he’s an old and much loved travelling companion.

Joy Laurey (Joy Dorothy Luczyc-Wyhowski), puppeteer. Born 30 April 1924; died 2 June 2014

Mini Me: a post about puppets

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Actor, Gary Cooper

French singer, songwriter, pianist, film composer, poet, painter, screenwriter, writer, actor and director, Serge Gainsbourg

Entertainer, Liberarchie

Theoretical physicist and philosopher of science, Einstein

Contemporary artist, Philippa Robbins. Her Devon Rex kitten is called Racket, and soon there will be a puppet of him, too.