Puppet Catch-up: Clive’s Posts

19th century Italian glove-puppet show

Over the past months there’s been much written about puppets at the Artlog by way of offering encouragement to those taking part in guest curator Peter Slight’s Puppet Challenge. In fact between us Peter and I have written so much, that I’ve decided to offer links for easy access to posts that may have been missed first time around, plus links to some puppet-themed items from my archive, written before the challenge. To save crowding, I’ve made two posts. Today we kick off with my collected puppet posts, and Peter’s will follow on Friday.

Clive’s Posts

Guide to Types of Puppetry (ongoing)

Glove-Puppets

Shadow-Puppets

Marionettes; Part 1

Marionettes: Part 2

Bunraku

The European Tradition

The Puppets of Palermo

The Royal Toone Theatre, Brussels: Part 1

The Royal Toone Theatre, Brussels: Part 2

The Royal Toone Theatre, Brussels: Part 3

The Guignol Puppet Theatre of Alexei Romanov

20th century artists and puppetry

Dada and Constructivist Marionettes of the 20th C.

Luigi Veronesi’s puppets for The Soldier’s Tale

The Marionettes of Aleksandra Ekster

Paul Klee

Contemporary puppet-makers.

Czech puppet-maker, puppet maker Bára Hubená

Interview with Czech puppet maker Jan Zalud

Interview with Julian Crouch

Jan Svankmejer

20th Century puppet-makers.

Richard Teschner

DoLores Hadley

William Simmonds

Walter Wilkinson

Puppet Performances

69 Degrees South, Phantom Limb

Spartacus, Théâtre La Licorne

The Devil and Mr Punch

How the Hoggler got its Name

Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Cyclops Glove-Puppet

Modes of Locomotion: one puppet, two techniques

Born

The Puppets of The Mare’s Tale

Audrey II

walter wilkinson and the peep-show revival

Walter Wilkinson

Walter Wilkinson

In the comment boxes of yesterday’s post I wrote about the puppeteer Walter Wilkinson, who in the first half of the twentieth century spent his holidays tramping the byways of rural Britain, wheeling his cart loaded with a collapsible booth and a cast of glove-puppets. Wilkinson camped out in fields and set up his puppet booth wherever he thought he might find an audience for his performances. He chronicled his adventures in a series of charming books that went by the titles of the countries and counties he travelled, and copies of them may be found in second-hand bookshops and online at Abebooks. Wilkinson’s goal was to revive interest in the traditions of the ‘peep-show’, though the days when travelling showmen could wheel their puppet-booths unmolested by motorists were already numbered as the car became increasingly popular, and not even the back lanes Wilkinson elected to use as his highways were safe from vehicles as he trundled his bulky hand-cart. But he was undaunted and made journeys through Wales, Scotland and a good many counties of England, including Sussex, Yorkshire and Lancashire, each adventure recorded in a book to celebrate the event. He even ventured a tour of America, and his account of his progress, Puppets Through America (1938) is a delight from beginning to end.

Wilkinson with his travelling showman cart.

Walter Wilkinson ‘Pearly King’ glove puppet at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.

Wilkinson’s glove-puppets are of the old ‘peepshow’ type, with weighty carved and painted wooden heads. They’re much larger in scale than the children’s glove-puppets many of us are more familiar with. Those travelling ‘Punch Professors’ must have been strong fellows, as the old puppets are enormously heavy to operate at arm’s stretch above the head. Frequently two puppets were in play at any time, and so the strain would have been considerable for the duration of a performance. Some of Wilkinson’s glove-puppets are on show at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and pretty splendid they are.

Wilkinson was a marvellously expressive wood-carver, and the faces of his puppets are always enlivened by character.

Another Wilkinson glove-puppet in the collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

This cow at the Pitt Rivers was once among Wilkinson’s repertory company of characters, and in the photograph below you can see her captured in a long-ago performance. (I love her dainty legs!)

Of course it’s vital that puppets such as these are treasured in our institutions where they can be kept safe and shown to the public. Nevertheless, for me there is something infinitely sad about Wilkinson’s puppets when splayed motionless behind glass, with no chance of them being coaxed into life by the hands of a skilled puppeteer. They once lifted spirits, provoked laughter and conjured all the lively drama of the puppet-shows they were fashioned to populate. Without the showman’s spirit to animate them, they simply can’t demonstrate what they were intended for. I can almost hear the gales of laughter of long-vanished audiences, and I wonder whether the puppets can too, and pine for them.

My small collection of Wilkinson books.