The Root that Grew Into a Tree


I found this dried root of hogweed on a hilltop walk with friends. It’s been in my studio for quite a while now, and has given birth to many images. Upended on its stalk the root becomes a tree. I’ve written about using it as a model in a post made last year, but since then there have been even more manifestations of it.


I made a toy theatre out of building blocks, and stood the root on the stage to make an image I titled Day of the Triffids in honour of John Wyndham’s novel about an invasion of killer alien plant-life.

I’ve drawn it extensively for my picture-book of Hansel & Gretel, due out this summer. Here it is in a detail from a preparatory image of a witchy forest drenched in moonlight.


My friend, artist Phil Cooper, has made a model of it in preparation for a film we plan as a book-trailer.


Versions of the root-as-tree made by artist Johann Rohl when he worked in my studio for a month last summer.


And in the background here, another by Johann with a horse by me hiding behind it, plus a couple of trees and a maquette that I made.


In this detail of an endpaper for Hansel & Gretel, a leafy version appears bottom left.


Festooned with icicles in my study for the print Christmas at Camelot.


Yesterday my friend Philippa spent a day with me in the studio, and she produced this delicately beautiful version of the root, made in coloured pencils and sgrafitto.


Johann made the three images on the left, and I made the tree.


Four artists all working from one, small, dried root.

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.

The Blackened One

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.

The Wanderer

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?


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.


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!


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


Tom Bromwell


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 collector’s eye

We’ve just enjoyed the company of our friends Dave and Philippa Roberts, here at Ty Isaf for a weekend of walks with Jack, reading in front of the blazing wood-burning stove, good conversation and meals prepared while chatting and quaffing wine in the cosy warmth of our kitchen.

Philippa took the above shot of the small china store-room at the back of our hall, where we keep a collection of ceramics, tin toys, fossils and various curiosities. Among them there’s an alabaster cosmetics jar from a tomb of the Ptolemaic dynasty, a clutch of Meri Wells porcelain beasts, a curious seedpod picked up in a Barcelona park and a tiny, obelisk-shaped throne made for the set model of a stage production of ‘Robin Hood’ I designed decades ago. (You can see it silhouetted against the light plate on the left of the top shelf.) Later Philippa sent me photographs taken on a trip she and Dave had made to Mexico, and I post them here to illustrate the collecting/curatorial aesthetic that fuels mankind’s need to put similar objects together.

my days away

After our trip to the Discerning Eye ‘Private View’

we had supper at Bill’s in Covent Garden:

Christine, Sally and Peter,

plus Megan,

Kate and Phil.

I had fish pie

and because I wasn’t driving…

On Friday, Peter, Jack and I called off at Dulwich Village, where I’d once lived with my Aunt Amy and her husband J.L. Manning and my cousin Katy. We walked around the park, so beautiful at this time of year. As a boy I’d walked there most weekends in term-time, with Katy’s Yorkshire terrier, Bobby.

On Saturday Peter had to remain in Cardiff for a conference at the National Museum of Wales, where he’s Director of Collections and Research. I headed for home, calling off en route at the Art Shop Gallery in Abergavenny

to see the beautiful exhibition of puppets and paintings

by my friend Philippa Robbins.

Philippa produced her first puppets earlier this year for the Artlog Puppet Challenge

and has quickly become most expert and inventive in making them.

All her ‘puppet portrait’ paintings… made on newspaper… are beautiful

but I particularly love this one of her ‘Frida Kahlo’ glove-puppet.

From Abergavenny I began the long drive home to Ty Isaf. But I cannot pass Tretower without my heart nearly stopping for love of the place. I approached by the route I always followed when I worked there for seven years as the relief custodian, because it reveals the castle at its most lovely. Winding its way across the valley, the lane crosses a stream, and then, quite suddenly from around a bend, this appears.

Tretower was where I came to rest and heal, and where my work as a painter began.

Puppet Challenge: the ‘overflow’ gallery

I promised that I would post some of the puppets made by the Puppet Challengers that didn’t appear in the official posts, because we’d decided broadly to confine the exhibition to one puppet per person. I snuck two in for Scott Garrett, but as both Lynne Lamb and Philippa Robbins made many puppets, I decided to save the extra ones for showing after the main event.

Philippa Robbins: Blue

Philippa chose Frida Kahlo as her subject for the Puppet Challenge, an artist who painted many self-portraits that effectively mythologised her appearance. But in the process of making Frida, Philippa was producing a whole cast of glove-puppet characters. Here are some of them.

Below: the Diva

Below: the Prisoner

When Philippa came to stay with us at Penparc Cottage, her puppets came too, and this is the sight that greeted my trip to the loo one morning!

He has lots of tattoos. These are pictures taken during the process of making him.

Finally, Philippa produced a pair of puppets made in the likeness of her and her husband, for his birthday: Mini Philippa and Dave!

The images printed onto the hospital gowns are from drawings Philippa produced.

Below, Philippa at work in her kitchen, shortening a puppet’s neck with a saw!

Lynne Lamb: Bog Body

Lynne’s first puppet was a Frost Witch. She began with digital-renderings made on a tablet.

From the very first time I saw the renderings, I loved her vision of the character. Not pale and beautiful, the way Snow Queens are usually portrayed, but frost-blackened, leathery and pinched, like a bog-body preserved in peat. Deeply creepy, especially when arrayed in sparkles and icy lace.

Finally, the puppet as realised, and it doesn’t disappoint. I love those twiggy, scratchy fingers.

Below: Lynne’s portrait of the puppet. What started as digital renderings, and then became a creature of papier-mâché, at the conclusion was reinvented as paint on canvas. The puppet as muse and model!

The Puppet Challenge Part 5: Philippa and Karen and the two Fridas

Philippa Robbins & Karen Godfrey

Philippa Robbins: Raising Frida

A few years ago on a visit to Mexico to attend the festival of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) Philippa visited the studio of Frida Kahlo. I recall poring over the photographs when she returned, entranced by the collections of folk-art and antiquities in Kahlo’s living and work spaces.

When Peter Slight came up with the theme of the Puppet Challenge, I think most minds turned to the expected. Fairytales and folklore. But when I began to think about it, I could see that Kahlo was not such a strange choice of subject for an exhibition themed to ‘Myths and Legends’.

She has certainly achieved a legendary status due in no small part to her extraordinary life. There was the traffic accident that nearly killed her and thereafter severely compromised her health, and her celebrated marriage to the painter/muralist Diego Rivera. From the former she mined what would become some of the most iconic twentieth century self-portraits… though they are so much more than that… of the artist in the centre of her universe. So there’s a case to be made for her being a self-mythologiser, both in the manner she presented herself in person… the vividly coloured and embroidered folk-costumes, the flower-decked hair, the robber-queen jewellery… and the astonishing art that celebrated her ‘self-creation’.

Philippa built a lot of puppets over the period leading up to the Puppet Challenge. Although only the Frida puppet was intended for it, I plan on showing the rest of the puppets in a later post, because they’re examples both of the artist’s creative thinking, and of her capacity to acquire new skills to develop her work. But for today, here’s her Frida glove-puppet.

Philippa’s technique for all her puppets has been to build them in brown paper gum-strip layered over rough forms of tin-foil and balled-up paper, a puppet-making technique we share. Last year at her kitchen-table, pre-Puppet Challenge, I modelled a glove-puppet of a cyclops and Philippa built her first glove-puppet head and hands. (We two have long been hatching a plot for a collaboration themed to our puppet interests.) Philippa has evolved an interesting technique of finishing her papier mâché in layers of blue kitchen-roll.

When dry (she hastens the process by the use of a fan-assisted oven set judiciously low) Philippa creates the faces by transfer-printing, often using photographs of old Hollywood stars collaged to create her characters. In this way her puppets have an intriguing, organic finish that imparts to the group a collective identity, as can be seen in this snapshot of ‘blue’ puppet-parts in the studio.

Below: assembling Frida

A pleasing quality of all Philippa’s puppets is her attention to detail in the matter of their clothes. She shares with Jodi Le Bigre a distaste for garments that are nailed or glued to puppets. (Jodi writes about clothing her puppet in the ‘process’ post at her blog, and I wonder whether this is an aspect the two makers have in common because of early experiences with dolls, the dressing and undressing of which can be such a significant ritual of ‘play’.) Philippa’s puppet has a canvas ‘sleeve’, made the way I recommended to her, that permanently holds the head and hands in the glove-puppet shape… if you will, the ‘body’ of the puppet… but then over the sleeve is a beautifully-made muslin shift (see below) worn beneath the carefully pieced together patch-worked dress. This puppet is not only good in the hand to work, but it also has a hidden visual aesthetic known only to her maker and to those lucky enough to get a closer look.

Karen Godfrey: Touched by Fire

Karen Godfrey also chose Frida Kahlo as the subject for a puppet, this time a marionette. She built a puppet theatre for her as the setting for the film, set-dressed as a Día de Muertos altar complete with skeleton jumping-jacks, sugar skulls and fairy-lights. Frida’s appearance, with her elaborate, flower-dressed hair-styles, her sweeping dark brows and an emphasis on extravagantly coloured and patterned folk-costumes, has clearly been a gift to the puppet-makers. Karen wrote to me in an early e-mail about the project, how much she was looking forward to creating puppet-Kahlo’s jewellery, a happy anticipation I’m sure the real Frida would have shared.

Karen writes:

“I had never made a movie before and was surprised at how easy it was to use the free software program of Windows Movie Maker on my computer. The most challenging part, besides making the Frida marionette, was taking the hundreds of photographs for the stop-motion film. It was not easy keeping the lighting consistant through the whole photo shoot. Sometimes the sunlight would change and the trees by my window would create shadows.”

Above: a still from Touched by Fire

“What I loved about the Puppet Challenge is that it led me to make the movie. I have always thought it would be fun to make one, and I had always wanted to create stage props for plays. Having my Frida marionette to create small scale props for was exciting. I especially liked making the props for the ‘phoenix rising’ scene in the movie. I was surprised at how realistic the night scene looked around the fire, and I was pleased with the shadows I created with a lamp and a cut out image of a bird.”

My idea to create a Frida Kahlo marionette started because I am inspired by how she painted for herself alone. She didn’t care whether other people liked what she produced, creating her art because she needed to. In today’s world many artists don’t feel it’s worth creating something if it can’t be sold. They feel like if they are not well known, then they are not artists. It was my goal to create this puppet and movie for myself first. It helped me to connect with the deeper meaning of artmaking. I know something was happening to me on a subconscious level as I created the symbols, images, and scenes in the movie. Also, being able to move Frida’s body helped me to connect with her story and legacy. In some of the stop-motion photos that I took of Frida, I was amazed at how goddess-like she became. I felt like something greater than myself was happening duirng the photo shoots.

Below: from drawing to puppet

You can watch Touched by Fire, HERE.

Below: a stop-motion frame from the film

Philippa and the Puppet Challenge

Artist Philippa Robbins has been rocking with the Puppet Challenge, though to be fair her prolific output is probably less to do with the challenge, and more with with the long-term puppet-themed gallery-installation she and I are collaborating on. I’m none to sure which character in this fantastic ‘bouquet’ of glove-puppet heads is for the Puppet Challenge.

And here, an early stage of making the foundation of a glove-puppet, before adding his garments, though Philippa reports she’s intending to shorten his arms a little before dressing him.

I’m compiling a file of Puppet Challenge images from those of you who’ve been posting about puppet progress at your blogs. But if any of you are working quietly and not posting publicly, yet would like to be included in the next online Progress Report, then please send us images and updates. We won’t show any finished puppets at this stage, but work in progress is good to see, and sharing it here will help inspire others.

Peter Slight and I are acutely aware than many of you are very busy people indeed, and that a good few of those who signed to the Puppet Challenge might be looking anxiously at their watches as the deadline approaches. Please don’t panic, or be put off. And don’t whatever you do pull out. This, after all, is supposed to be a bit of fun. Serious too, of course, in the sense that we want people to question, think hard about their making skills and stretch themselves in ways they may not otherwise have done. But nothing of great import is riding on the online exhibition itself, and the most important things to emerge may not necessarily be what you do or don’t produce, but what you learn about your creative thinking along the way.

Quite a few of you have committed to dauntingly ambitious schemes, and we certainly don’t want you panicking about running out of time. If you only get to a part-way stage, then on the day we’ll present what you’ve done as a work-in-progress. When all is said and done, no-one need feel uncomfortably pressurised. That’s not what this is about.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

progress on the puppet challenge

It’s been a while since I posted about the Puppet Challenge and its contributors, so here’s a catch-up, reporting progress by some of the makers who’ve sent us news. I regularly check the websites and blogs of participants, but if any of you have made progress that you’ve not yet shared at your sites but would like us to post at the Artlog, please drop me or Peter Slight a line with some images.

Philippa Robbins

Philippa Robbins has made an entire cast of wonderfully characterful ‘blue-heads’, of which this is one. She’s still playing with ideas and isn’t yet a hundred percent certain whether they’re to be glove-puppets or some other type. But it’s interesting that as an artist, she’s found a way to make her puppets completely of her own creative universe, and in a room-full of puppets I would know them as hers. I’m sure that however she resolves them, they’re going to be appearing in her drawings and paintings before very long.

Jill Desborough

Artist Jill Desborough writes:

‘Attached are a couple of images of designs for two puppets I’ve started. The Spring one might be the 1st in a quartet of the Seasons. He is a a slavic god called Jarilo who comes from the underworld every spring bringing growth and fertility. I am making him androgynous in a flower and leaf strewn gown.’

‘The other is a bird-headed figure who I see as a guardian/watcher of borders- who will be all in black- a bit ambivalent …malevolent or protective I’m not sure. The image came into my mind on the train … he is I guess from my own mythological library rather than the historic canon.’

Liz King

Painter Liz King is underway not just with puppet designs, but for an entire story-boarded legend of the Loubérou or Lébérou, known in various rural areas of France. The story is of a man who turns into a goat after bathing in an enchanted fountain. You can read the full scenario at her blog, but here’s an extract from it:

‘He reads the watery words, stands up and with hands on hips, tosses his head in disdainful disbelief. But it feels top-heavy and cumbersome. He reaches up to feel two unfamiliar shapes protruding from it, hears the clop of hoof on horn. Lowering his hands he sees with horror two cloven hooves where hands should be. Slumping down onto all fours, he lets out a prolonged and enfeebled bleat. From the black waters of the fountain the reflection of a wild, long-haired goat stares out at him.’

I love Liz’s visualisation of the fountain-source as a giant bearded head, like a Roman river-god spewing words written in the black water.

Karen Godfrey

Artist Karen Godfrey writes:

‘I have decided after much deliberation to make a marionette of Frida Kahlo.  She is a favorite of mine and I thought I would be able to use her the most for occassions such as, Day of the Dead.  What also appealed to me were the endless amounts of outfits, accessories, jewelry, etc I could make for her. 

I made her head out of foam covered with polymer clay.  Then I painted her with acrylic paint.  The body, arms, and legs were made out of wood.  I haven’t made her feet yet.  I am using leather straps for the hinges at her elbows and knees.  I also will be adding hair to her.

‘This has been a lot of fun so far.’

Since writing the above, Karen has finished her Frida Kahlo puppet, and has sent us wonderful images of her standing on a specially made Day of the Dead stage, surrounded by coloured lights and sugar skulls. Marvellous!

Matt and Amanda Caines

Matt Caines is a sculptor, and Amanda Caines is an artist with a multi-discipline approach to her work. Matt has written of their work toward the Puppet Challenge:

‘We are currently engaging in the darker side of fairy stories and folklore and are producing a series of free standing pieces and some wall hangings. We are combining my interest in structure, assemblage and engraving on shed antler, with Amanda’s sense of colour and pattern in her stitch worked sections.
The horse is inspired by the legend of the Kelpie, a malevolent Scottish equestrian water spirit that lures lone travellers into rivers and lakes and gives them a dunking. Ireland has the Each-Uisage who inhabits seas and lochs. After carrying his victims into the water, the Each-Uisage devours them.’


‘The puppet and drawings that match are inspired by Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and all its creatures. Poor Sedna was thrown out of a boat by her angry father, who to stop her holding on to the side, chopped off her fingers. As she sank into the murky depths, her fingers turned into seals, walruses, fish, whales and all the sea life.        
Now she lives at the bottom of the sea, angry at all men, sometimes bringing famine, sometimes plenty. Shamans swim down to appease her by combing her hair and begging for mercy. 
Amanda is creating a bound skirt for Sedna that will be patterned with a fragmented fish-tail pattern. Her face will be a mixture of shamanic mask imagery filtered though cubist fragmentation.’ 

Scott Garrett

Scott Garrett is rocking with the Puppet Challenge. This, the Whittlesea Straw Bear, is his second folk-tradition based glove-puppet, the first having been a magnificently realised Earl of Rone. (I’m saving images of that for the online exhibition, though if you can’t wait, you can see some at Scott’s Blog.)

Lynne Lamb

Lynne Lamb has already stormed ahead in the Puppet Challenge with her ‘bog-body’ reinvention of the Snow Queen and a splendid ship’s figurehead mermaid. Now she’s come up with this deceptively winsome multiple-headed wolf-in-grandma’s-clothes, that cleverly riffs on notions of multiple identities and the three-headed canine guardian of the Kingdom of the Dead, Cerberus.

Caroline McCatty

Caroline is making her own version of a novelty that delighted nineteenth century audiences. The ‘transformation puppet’ was the Victorian puppet showman’s coup de théâtre, his blink-and-you-miss-it sleight-of-hand that would leave viewers perplexed and delighted. A popular subject was ‘The Grand Turk’, a figure that dissolved in the blink of an eye into many smaller puppets scattering in all directions. For her Puppet Challenge subject Caroline decided on the story of an ogre who goes in disguise as a little girl, and if I’ve understood her correctly, her puppet is intended to transform from small child to to outsized monster in an instant. In the photograph of this puppet-in-progress we see the girl’s head lying atop the large head of the ogre. The latter is of a soft construction, and I believe is intended to pack into a small, hidden place, from which it then inflates to effect the trick. Although I don’t know the details of how she plans this, Caroline is certainly on the right track, as in the nineteenth century collapsible puppets pre-rigged ready to burst out were the basis of many transformation marionettes. You can see two nineteenth century transformation puppets HERE.

Nomi McLeod

Nomi’s puppet-in-progress stares out at us with troubled eyes. This hauntingly beautiful head is her starting point for the intriguingly titled ‘The Girl Without Hands’, a tale that it sound as though Shakespeare may have borrowed from for Titus Adronicus.

The Puppet Challenge becomes altogether more stimulating as a creative experience when contributors share ideas and progress with us. For those of you who’ve so far remained silent on the matter, get in touch and let us know what you’re up to. A thumbnail sketch, a reference image or just a few words by way of ideas you may have, will help enrich all who’ve signed to this project. We’d love to hear from you.

Philippa and the puppet from Palermo

Artist Philippa Robbins and I are in the early stages of discussion for a project we’re undertaking together. This is the first time I’ve worked collaboratively with another artist toward an ‘art event’, and it’s an idea grown out of our joint interest in puppets. Earier this year together we visited the Toone Puppet Theatre in Brussels, and Philippa has just returned from a research trip to Sicily, where she’s been exploring the tradition of Sicilian marionettes. On Friday evening we met at her home in Penarth for a de-brief of the trip, and she presented me with a vintage puppet head acquired in Palermo.

This little chap has clearly been used in performance (there are signs of wear and tear to his paintwork) and I would imagine he’s the result of the tradition of changing a puppet’s head and costume when time is too short to create a new figure from scratch. He appears to be sculpted from a composite… something like ‘Milliput’ I think… and though small, the head is quite dense and heavy. He’s now ensconced in the puppet cabinet here at Ty Isaf, sandwiched between some vintage Pelham marionettes and the head used in The Mare’s Tale to transform a Mari Lwyd into an apparition of Jane Seyes.

The face is hawkish and saturnine, though rather noble, and it’s interesting to speculate about what sort of a character he was when intact. Clearly stern, but not I think an out-and-out villain.

Thank you, Philippa, for this wonderful gift. I love it.

philippa and the toone puppets

Above: drawing in progress by Philippa Robbins of marionettes from the Toone Theatre.

I’m not the only one who found inspiration at the Toone Theatre on our recent trip to Brussels. I returned home fired by the idea of borrowing on the simple carved faces of the Toone puppets in order to create the character of Joseph for The Soldier’s Tale.

From Toone puppet…

… to a drawing of a Toone puppet in my notebook…


 … to Joseph the Soldier.

And while I made maquettes and then animated them, my friend Philippa returned to her studio to produce a magnificent Conté drawing of puppets from the historic Toone collection.

Having had a preview of the works Philippa has prepared for her forthcoming exhibition, Magical Thinking, at the Art Shop Gallery in Abergavenny, I can promise that art-lovers are in for a treat. In addition to this beautiful drawing there will be some smaller ‘Toone’ paintings in the show, for those of us who are in thrall to the puppets.

Below: details from Philippa’s drawing.

When we were in Brussels Philippa and I fantasised about having an adventure together. We planned a venue in the great European tradition of café/bars, where in the evenings we would mount puppet shows to entrance patrons. Not puppet shows for children, but puppet shows that would be darkly erotic, rumbustious and subversive. The programme would always be a secret, so no-one in the audience would know what was on offer until it happened, and the puppets and the scenery, which Philippa and I would make, would of course be works of art that afterwards would be sold to discerning patrons! (This is how, innocents that we are, we planned to create some extra income!) I’m not sure that Philippa is particularly keen on working the puppets, so that task would probably fall to me, though I’d enlist the skills of Dave and Philippa’s daughters Oonagh and Lauren, who I’m sure would make wonderful puppeteers, and would just need a little encouragement and coaching from me to bring out their performing skills!

Well, I guess the puppet theatre will remain a fantasy for us to occasionally dip into for inspiration. But at the very least Philippa and I should one day have a joint exhibition where we can indulge our passion for puppets, and  we should start seriously planning for that.