Things are a little up in the air

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Working on the multiplane camera with the help of my stepladder

 

Over the last month I have been shooting my stop motion animation to get it ready in time for the exhibition at Halsway Manor, which starts on Thursday 27thSeptember 2018. I may have mentioned that during filming I work in a very small, completely dark room for many hours – it can be quite a disorientating process but it allows me time to think the project through and really consider all that I have learnt.

There have been so many folktales and interesting finds during my residency that it has been extremely difficult to narrow the final outcome down to just three stories. However, I feel the final cut brings together elements of Ruth Tongue and Lotte Rieniger’s work and recreates a feeling of nostalgia whilst reintroducing elements of Halsway Manor’s rich folklore landscape.

 

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Setting up for the Ruth Tongue section of the film

 

Whilst creating the animation I felt a sense of responsibility to the lost people and creatures that I had discovered along the way and I hope I have managed to re-establish them through my work or in the case of John Walford’s wife, Jane Shorney, create a new folktale that rights a few wrongs .The film is created in three parts and covers humour, sadness and, hopefully, a little bit of wonder. I hope you will all come and see it for yourselves.

 

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Working in darkness – In the background you can see my computer which is used to store all of the photographs for editing

 

I have included a few shots of me at work on the multiplane camera stand, which I hope you find interesting. You can see that, as the camera is only accessible by stepladder, I literally spent many hours ‘in the air’ setting up the puppets and lighting. The camera is suspended over the silhouette and you can see the photographs being collected by the computer in the background.

 

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A photograph looking down onto the multiplane from above

 

The photographs were taken during the shooting of Ruth Tongue’s section of the animation so I have included a very small preview of the film for you to see. This part of the film shows Ruth collecting some of her stories and in this piece you can see her meeting the ‘Gurt Worm of Shervage’. The vocals are Ruth Tongue singing ‘I want to get up the Quantocks’ which, was provided by Halsway Manor courtesy of their librarian Matt Rose (copyright The Halsway Manor Society).

Don’t forget that the full animation and my pop up studio, including some of my research and processes, will be on display during the final weekend of Somerset Open Studios at Halsway Manor from 27th October – 30thOctober 2018. I will also be holding a ‘Meet the Artist’ event on Saturday 29thOctober at 2pm when I will be discussing the project.

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When Ruth and Lotte came to Halsway

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One of the aspects I really enjoy in projects like this one is the Community Engagement as it’s always really interesting to see how the public bring their own ideas to the work.  Recently I was invited to Halsway Manor’s annual Fete to run a shadow puppet workshop and I took along a shadow theatre and a couple of helpers so that the guests could make some of their own puppets and then have ago at their own production.

I was really pleased to see how both the children and adults responded to the puppets. I always feel that my own animation silhouette puppets almost come alive once the lights turn on behind them and its interesting to see the children playing with their puppets and experiencing that little bit of magic once they sit behind the screen and cast their shadows. I like to think that it would have made both Ruth and Lotte smile.

Thanks to Kieran, Lauren and Mollie for all their help on the day.

 

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Catcheldy: adjective. Changeable or uncertain (Southwest England dialect)

 

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The Castle of Twelve Towers by Ruth Tongue. Copyright Somerset Heritage Centre. Document reference A\CPY/1/2

 

I know I have been a little quiet over the last couple of weeks, which is due to me working on my animation. However, I thought it might be nice to share with you some images from Ruth Tongue’s book, ‘The Castle of Twelve Towers’.

You may recall I previously mentioned that during my research I had discovered a book, written and illustrated by Ruth Tongue, held at the Somerset Heritage Centre.  The book is dated 25thSeptember 1916, when Ruth would have been 18 years old and is dedicated to ‘My dear old Dad and my Little Mother’. It is a collection of hand written fairy stories and illustrations all completed by Ruth Tongue and it is a real labour of love. Interestingly, many of the illustrations are created on the back of the drawings that Ruth Tongue had created during her art studies at Harrow College.

I have been waiting for permission to share the images of the book with you. Unfortunately, Somerset Archives have been unable to contact the original depositor but have now generously given their permission. You can of course look at the book yourselves, it is held at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton under reference A/CPY/1/2. I am also very pleased to tell you that Halsway Manor have plans underway to introduce images of the book to their own resources.

If you do manage to look at the original book or even spend a moment looking at the photographs of Ruth Tongue’s work I hope you find you are able to appreciate the talent and dedication shown by an 18 year old in completing this work. However, what I would really like to ask you to do is change, or at least be a little less certain, of any belief that her work is unworthy, as she is just a discredited folklorist, and allow me to reintroduce Ruth Tongue to you as a credible artist, performer, writer and lyricist. In short try to be a little more catcheldy in your categorisation of her.

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‘Better do a thing than wish it done.’ Crowcombe, 1955 (Tongue, R. and Briggs, K. (1965). Somerset Folklore)

You may recall from my last blog post that I have been experimenting with the techniques used by Lotte Reiniger in creating her shadow animations and I promised to show you some of the techniques that she used to make her puppets.

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The Crowcombe Dragon

For my first animation I have been focusing upon the dragon, illustrated on the bench end in Crowcombe Church. You can see from the photograph he is an extremely unusual dragon with a second head coming from his stomach. However, for reasons I will go into at another time, this dragon is quite relevant to the project and therefore my first puppet is an illustration of this strange creature.

Reiniger would cut all her silhouette figures with articulated limbs to provide as much movement as possible. In the early days the puppets would be cut entirely from thin rolled out lead, however this progressed to a combination of lead and cardboard.  Obviously at this point I need to point out that working with lead can cause health problems and therefore precautions need to be taken, alternatively let me work with the lead and you watch from the safety of your own home!

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Silhouette puppet of the Crowcombe Church Dragon in the style of Lotte Reiniger

I did find myself wondering why Reiniger would use the lead and whether it would be far easier to just use cardboard. However, I continued exactly as she directed and I hope you can see that the dragon’s thigh and base of his wing are cut from lead.  When lifting the puppet the lead can pull against the card requiring more support than if it was all made of card. This awkwardness made me doubt Reininger’s method. Yet, when I began animating the dragon I found the lead really helped to stop unwanted movement and keep the puppet flat on the glass.  It would be nice to find a more healthy alternative for the lead but I am not sure what this would be – feel free to send me any suggestions you may have.

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Detail of Silhouette Puppet showing figure of 8 hinges

You might also notice from the photos that Reiniger used her own method of hinging the limbs. This consisted of a figure of 8-wire hinge made from fuse wire. I could have used a paper craft split-pin and saved a huge amount of time but once again I wanted to do things by the book. Obviously modern fuse boxes don’t use fuse wire and it is expensive and difficult to get hold of. Therefore, I used jewellery wire, which is cheap and readily available. I am not going to post a ‘how to make wire hinges’ but if anyone wants to know any more I am more than happy to share the information with you.

Finally I have included my first animation test so you can see how it all came together. Overall I am really pleased with my first attempt, but the tests have given me a number of issues to work on and I will let you know more of that next time.

 

 

 

“Even with primitive materials one can work small wonders” Lotte Reiniger

I wanted to spend a little time giving some context to the work I have been making as part of my Artist Residency. I have previously worked with stop motion animation and have been extremely keen to develop my knowledge in a relevant way as I feel the folk stories cannot really be brought to life using normal 2 dimensional artworks. Obviously Ruth Tongue’s work,  and life story, have had a strong impact upon my work. However, every time I see Halsway Library’s copy of ‘The Chime Child’ I find myself thinking of another artist of that time, Lotte Reiniger.

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Lotte was a German film director who specialised in silhouette animation and was an innovator in her field. Both Ruth and Lotte were strong women working in male dominated industries with their own unique styles.

Reiniger’s animations were created using silhouette cut outs, which are positioned on a flat sheet of glass. However, Reiniger’s creation of the multi-plane camera allowed for these animations to have greater depth than had been seen before. This method of animating uses several planes or levels on which images can be positioned thereby creating a three dimensional aspect to the animation. Although Reiniger invented the multi-plane several years before Walt Disney I have included a link to his film about the multi-plane camera as it explains the process really well, just remember it was Lotte Reiniger who invented the method not Walt Disney!

 

Keen to try this method of animating I spent an interesting afternoon building my own multi-plane using three picture frames, some wood and some sheets of glass. Once assembled the frame was painted black, to stop any reflections, lights were placed at the bottom of the frame and a camera was fixed facing down. The silhouettes were then placed upon the different planes (sheets of glass) and as the silhouettes are slowly moved photographs were taken to form a stop motion animation. It’s worth mentioning that to get smooth movements the figures are only moved in very small amounts between photographs. I shoot all my animations at a rate of 24 frames per second, which translates to 24 photographs per second of film. I always shoot at night, which helps stabilise the light and stops the film flickering and I like to capture the whole scene in one go, something that I can often result in me working well into the night.

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My own version of a multi-plane camera. You can see lights at the bottom and different paper silhouettes on each of the three planes or levels

 

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Photo of scene arranged on the multi-plane. The tree on the right seems furthest away as it is placed upon the bottom plane or layer

It’s an extremely interesting method of animating but the multi-plane camera is just one aspect of Reiniger’s work. Next time I will show you some of her methods of puppet making.

 

 

20th August 1789

I have been experimenting with the use of shadows to animate stories from Halsway Manor’s Landscape and have included a test shoot for John Walford’s Gibbet with a soundtrack of Ruth Tongue’s ‘Severn No More,’ sung by Biddy Rhodes.  I am hoping to explore several stories in this manner and want to share some of the facts behind the folktale with you.

It would be possible for me to write a whole blog on John Walford alone, but I thought I would share a couple of documents with you that remind us this is no folktale. Unusually the passage of time has seen this story become heavily romanticised. John Walford is raised up to almost angelic status. He is described as having striking good looks, even in death.  However, his pregnant victim has been vilified, described as slovenly and cunning. John is trapped into marriage and kept from true love. John Walford is the victim of a cunning woman who repeatedly seeks him out leaving him powerless to resist her. To add a little context I would like to add that, at the time of the murder, Jane was heavily pregnant with her second child by John. The first child continued to live in Over Stowey following the murder of her mother and where her father’s body hung from a gibbet on Doddington Common for a year.

 

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Copy of John Walford’s Sentencing from Somerset Summer Circuit 1789

 

As I said earlier the story has been heavily romanticised with claims that the Judge was so distraught at having to deliver the death sentence  he cried during sentencing. Yet, the notes from the Summer Circuit do not show any form of leniency for the prisoner. Walford’s body was initially to be passed to a surgeon for dissection. However, Judge Kenyon later changed this, instructing that Walford’s body would be ‘hung in chains’ on Doddington Green at the place where the offence was committed. Apparently this public display was at the request of the parish due to three murders being committed in the area in living memory.  It is worth mentioning that, for many of the poor, life was very hard. The full document shows several entries for execution and deportation for theft of relatively small items such as a coat.

Lord Kenyon’s bench notes from the trial on 18thAugust contain statements from several witnesses who knew both John and Jane Walford. The notes refer to Jane as Jenny, allowing me to gain a sense of the woman who was so horrifically murdered.  John was clearly acting strangely. Blood was seen on his hand and he had been heard saying that he would either ‘murder her or go from her’. Walford accuses another man of the murder and even implicates his brother ,William, before claiming that Jenny had done him a ‘good chore’ by cutting her own throat. At no point is he seen to express emotion, any shock is perceived by the witnesses as a sham. I couldn’t help notice that none of the witnesses heard John and Jenny arguing before the murder, none of them make any comments that relate to John’s unhappy marriage at the hands of a slovenly or sly creature and none of them, including the two called to speak for John as character witnesses, make any comment regarding his good character.  John Poole, in speaking on John’s behalf, can only say that he had ‘never heard anything about his character (and he had) as good a character as other common Labourers’.

 

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Over Stowey Church Burial Records. Jane Shorney’s Burial is listed at the bottom left of the page.

 

It is worth noting that although Jenny and John set out for cider from the Castle of Comfort Inn they were not seen there that night and there is nothing to suggest that they were arguing.  I remain unsure how a seemingly premeditated and violent murder of a heavily pregnant wife and mother became anything other than a heinous crime but to answer that I think we would have to consider the influence of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Thomas Poole who, in the years following the murder, will come to have a huge impact on the area

Perhaps Doctor Blake’s account of Jenny’s wounds is all that needs to be said?

I inspected the Body. Large wound in fore part of the neck. It appeared to have been cut with great force, as a mark in one of the bones of the neck.

The windpipe & principal vessels all divided. Must have occasioned death.

I opened the scalp. Found an impact contusion on right Temple. Exhausted blood. Scull materially hurt. Sections in the scull had given way. The injury must have happened by a blow from a large blunt instrument or by a violent fall.

X          She must have died for Death from the consequence of the hurt on the head.

 Evidence of Mr Blake, Surgeon, from Judge Kenyon’s bench notes 

“Let the Curtain Rise!”

 

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The memorial to Frances Gair Wilkinson’s parents at Halsway Manor.

 

Halsway Manor’s status as the National Centre for Folk Arts started when Frances Gair Wilkinson  purchased the Manor  11thJune 1965. A full history can be found on Halsway Manor’s website.

Frances was an artist and came from an extremely creative and freethinking family. However, I am very interested in the family’s links to puppetry, as it seems a natural progression for my work.

Francis’ Uncle Walter built his own barrow which he took around the country to perform his shows entitled ‘the Peep Show’. He seems tireless in his resolve to master his art and his travels seem to be an act of love rather than necessity

 

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Walter Wilkinson with his travelling puppet show

 

Walter wrote a series of eight books about his travelling puppet shows which can be found in Halsway’s library.

At the beginning of any project there can be periods of self-doubt, especially when the work is taking a different direction. Walter’s books generously share his own doubts together with his belief that he could master his art. I must say I found his advice to be quite inspiring and very well timed.

 All showmen should make their own figures. Like a picture, a puppet-show should be a work of art, dominated by one personality, organised into a harmonious production of form and colour by one definite style of thought.

                                                                              Walter Wilkinson

In the next post I will let you know how making my own figures is going.