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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‘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!

Silhouette Puppet of Crowcombe Dragon
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.

Detail of Crowcombe Dragon
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.

 

 

 

“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.