Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Toy Theatre Salon

Painting by Jill Hoy







Jill Hoy created an extraordinary painting of a real-life event.  It shows a toy theatre performance that took place in a private home to a group of invited guests.  In fact, it was a full-blown dinner theatre.  A quite rare event, so a very special occasion to all those in attendance.

I recently spoke to Jill to ask her how the painting came to be.  She shared with me how "...the salons are a very rich environment for everyone - the diverse mix of people, including professors and artists who are friends of the family and invited to a dinner theatre in their home."  A dinner theatre of the small.  "It's total magic!  All the different voices for all the play's characters, all the songs sung, all done by David."

That would be David Lewis Worobec, the man behind it all.

Jill Hoy wanted to create a painting that captured the camaraderie of one of these events, all held in David's home.  The focal point of the painting is David.  He is in mid-performance far right in the back, the lights from the stage illuminating him from below.  Joy herself can be seen doing some sketching of the scene before her - sketches that she would later paint - just below the figure of David.  "The owl is a symbol of David's mother," Jill added.

I asked David to share what the salons have meant to him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Pollock's Toy Museum: A Magical Mystery Tour


Do not be fooled, this beautiful house and its neighbour have more to pose than this dancing jester. If you approach, do so with caution. The sheer unimaginable excellence of this rare collection of exhibited, ingenious and engaging articles, lost in time, is undoubtedly a worthy and untamed match for J.K.Rowling’s ‘Diagon Alley’.
Take a magical mystery tour with Eddy Fawdry, of Pollock's Toy Museum1 - a place like no other, in the world...

1 - Children lured by the colourful shop window of Pollocks Toy Museum to explore inside, whether at 44 Monmouth Street, in Covent Garden, central London, or, after 1969, at 1 Scala Street, were likely to meet the museum's founder, Marguerite Fawdry, and to be drawn by her, with a delicious sense of complicity, into the arcane world of Victorian melodramas performed with cardboard figures three inches high.

If they visited with any regularity they might find themselves put to work in the basement collating sets of plays from packets of printed sheets unopened since the 1890s, with a paper bag of special treasures to take home at the end of the day. This eccentric private museum with its associated shop selling model theatres and unusual toys has been an enduring feature of the West End since the 1950s. It was a pioneering venture in conservation, taste and way of life.

She was born Marguerite Desnieres in 1912, the daughter of a Breton father killed two years later in defence of his country and an English mother, and was educated at the Lycee in South Kensington, west London, and at the University of Lille. In 1935 she joined the theatre studio of Michel St Denis but worked in journalism before the Second World War took her into the French Section of the BBC and the Press Office of General de Gaulle.

In 1942 she married Kenneth Fawdry, a schoolmaster, whom she had first met on a train from Florence to Rome. They shared radical politics, unconventional attitudes and a strong sense of missionary purpose. Their son John was born during the war and in 1951 Marguerite left the BBC, which Kenneth had by then joined, to write scripts for language-teaching broadcasts. It was into this fertile seedbed of education, parenthood and the stage that the germ of toy theatre fell almost by accident in 1952.

Benjamin Pollock of Hoxton, whose name is commemorated in the museum, died in 1937. In 1944 his stock of copperplates and lithographic prints for traditional English toy theatre, dating back to the 1830s, was acquired from his daughters by Alan Keen, a bookseller who revived the business with more flair than the post-war austerity years could support.


Click above to see inside Pollock's Toy Museum...


The Fawdrys, enthusiasts for many kind of popular arts including the naive paintings of Mr Bucket of Battersea, had been among his customers, but Marguerite was dismayed to discover that the business had gone into receivership in 1954, when she wanted some of the wire slides (twopence each) for pushing the tiny figures on to the stage. The accountant whom she traced gave a provocative response, "I believe there are hundreds of thousands in the warehouse, madam, but there's no one who could look them out for you. Of course, you could, I suppose, buy the whole lot if you wanted them."

This is what she did, with help from Kenneth's father, and started business from the attic in Monmouth Street, encouraged by other visionaries such as George Speaight, author of Juvenile Drama (1946), and the photographer Edwin Smith, and enlisting the first generation of helpers for whom, down the years, shared enthusiasm substituted for earnings.

The museum began as a complementary attraction, gradually filling all floors of the house with a shop on the ground floor and the stock divided between the Dickensian basement and the Fawdrys' house at Wrotham, in Kent. Marguerite's friend Jacques Brunius, Surrealist and film-maker, lent and ultimately bequeathed his collection of optical toys. The museum displays were cunningly devised by the toymaker Yootha Rose and the display style was (and remains) a tightly packed cabinet of curiosities with strongly coloured backgrounds.

Marguerite Fawdry had an excellent eye and a lifelong curiosity about other cultures, reflected in the museum and the shop which was stocked with finds from the Fawdrys' long summer holidays in Italy, Yugoslavia and elsewhere.

Almost equal to the discovery of the Pollock stock was the chance find of a barn in the Dolomites full of wooden Dutch dolls packed in brown paper parcels for dispatch to a vanished pre-1914 toy market. Pollocks bought the lot and some of the dolls found themselves dressed in Pearly costume by a genuine Pearly Queen. There were toy-theatre sheets from Copenhagen, Epinal and Barcelona, American cast-iron automata banks and Japanese paper carp.

In the 1960s shopkeeping became a performing art and Marguerite Fawdry excelled in it. In George Speaight's words, "the shop became a mecca for parents in search of unusual toys and decorations; boutique owners in swinging Britain of the Sixties flocked to Monmouth Street in search of `with-it' stock for their shelves".

Fawdry's cosmopolitan outlook inspired her to produce brightly coloured reprints of simplified Victorian plays in multi-language European editions and in New York she and Kenneth, an equally compelling figure, did impromptu demonstrations for the buyers at Maceys and Bloomingdales. Pollocks catalogues were designed with witty graphics.

Having begun the fashionable revival of the Covent Garden area, Pollocks moved north to Fitzrovia. Marguerite was able to buy two adjacent houses on the corner of Whitfield Street and Scala Street for a larger museum, now a charitable trust, held exhibitions, including one on Chinese toys, on which she wrote one of her several entertaining and scholarly books. In 1980 Pollocks opened a shop in the newly refurbished Covent Garden Market, now devolved to its manager Peter Baldwin.

In his retirement, Kenneth Fawdry helped the business to flourish. His death in 1986 was a blow but Marguerite continued to run Scala Street with John Fawdry despite declining health, remarking recently, by way of explaining its business philosophy, that "no one in their right mind would have reprinted The Siege of Troy", the grandiose romantic play reissued in 1985.

Marguerite Desnieres, museum curator, writer, entrepreneur: born Bexleyheath, Kent 14 May 1912; married 1942 Kenneth Fawdry (died 1986; one son); died London 15 September 1995.

[Marguerite Fawdry Obituary, The Independent]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Puppet Festival (r)Evolution 2013 Trailer

Trailer for the feature-length documentary of the Puppeteers of America 2013 National Puppetry Festival - Puppet Festival (r)Evolution in Swarthmore, PA. This documentary features puppet shows from every puppet company that performed and interviews from the artists.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

David Worobec: One-Man Show

The hand of David Worobec enters from stage left at Tophat Toy Theater, –a DIY dinner-theater experience
in a townhouse on Portland's West End– during a recent performance of "Les Miserables." Worobec - a
one-man theater troupe - sang all the parts while simultaneously manipulating about 45 toy characters,
running the lights and music cues, and changing sets that were designed by his mother, Polly Plimpton.

David Worobec is a very talented young man. Only 25, he has created single-handedly a theater company, built the theater, created sets for several productions, designed them all, cast and created all the characters, does all the lighting, directing, props, etc., plus plays all the parts and does all the singing. How does he do it? Find out, in this revealing and fascinating article!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Hari & Deepti: Paper Cut Lightboxes

"The Protector", on the hunt...























Paper dioramas.  Paper Cut Lightboxes.  Whatever you call them, the creations of Hari & Deepti are intricate, beautiful, and mesmerizing. They share:
“Paper is brutal in its simplicity as a medium. It demands the attention of the artist while it provides the softness they need to mold it in to something beautiful. It is playful, light, colorless and colorful. It is minimal and intricate. It reflects light, creates depth and illusions in a way that it takes the artist through a journey with limitless possibilities.”
"When the Dust Settles"

You can see the heavy influence of shadow puppets in these works.

"Uncharted Waters"

Monday, March 10, 2014

Exhibition: Puppetry in America



Although donated last fall, it was only recently that the Jim Henson Foundation puppets went on display at the Smithsonian, in an exhibition called Puppetry in America.


Included in the exhibit are many original, older versions of the muppets from Sesame Street (now in its 45th year on TV), the Muppet Show, and Fraggle Rock.

Read more about the exhibition, behind-the-scenes conservation, and more here...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Shout-Out: Weekly Puppetry News!

The famous Marionette Theatre in Prague, one of the many cities hosting puppetry opportunities this year
[Photo Credit: Steve Collis, used under a Creative Commons CC-BY license]

A great round-up of puppetry-related news, events, and learning opportunities from around the world, you'll definitely want to check out Andrew Young's Weekly Puppetry News...

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Magic of Paper


Wheel Of Life from Andre&Markus on Vimeo.

Paper is one of the most versatile and beautiful mediums available to makers, able to create and reproduce entire worlds at the cut of a blade. After years of experience perfecting this craft, The Makerie Studio teamed up with Director André Gidoin to magically bring one of these worlds to life, by creating and filming a hand made paper Zoetrope.

A zoetrope is a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures. Often referred to as the Wheel Of Life, we were inspired to tell the story of one zoetrope in particular, that one night came to life.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

WORDLESS!

"Art Spiegelman has almost single-handedly brought comic books out of the toy closet and onto the literature shelves."  - LA Weekly
Celebrated cartoonist Art Spiegelman comes to BAM with WORDLESS!, an innovative hybrid of slides, talk, and musical performance created in collaboration with acclaimed jazz composer Phillip Johnston. Spiegelman leads audiences on a personal tour of the first graphic novels—silent picture stories made by early-20th-century masters like Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and Milt Gross—accompanied by an all-new score by Johnston, who performs with his sextet. In navigating “the battle between words and pictures,” Spiegelman smashes at the hyphen between high and low art, featuring a new work drawn specifically for this project called “Shaping Thought!”


My friend, Frances Ruth Harris, attended last night's performance, and here is her review:
He presented a history of how the graphic inspirations began. Phillip Johnston, along with other musicians, made up a band (the Phillip Johnston sextet) that accompanied Art Spiegelman's visual slides and presentation. The music was all the way live sizzle! The presentation was entitled WORDLESS! Spiegalman did a lot of talking at various points, and during the graphic moments, he did not always talk. He spent time explaining how the absence of words generates thought. It was wonderful. I also love the BAM Opera House where all this took place. I had seen a ballet there two years ago, and I was lucky enough to get a wonderful seat then so that I enjoyed the orchestra in the pit as well as the ballet on stage. Trish, I'll mail the play bill for you to enjoy. Then you can read a couple of pages on Spiegelman. This evening's show was originally commissioned by the Sydney Opera House for GRAPHIC. And, on February 12th is "Co-Mix: The Artistic Adventures of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly." Tonight's performance was a chance for Spiegelman -- in addition to all the revealing and captivating history he shared -- to showcase his own life in terms of how others influenced who he has come to be. He did spend most of his time on the history of other graphic artists and how each influenced the other. There's no denying his pleasure -- and the audience's joy -- in his own successes. It's who he is; one can't hide a reality like that! It will be interesting to read what the Times and the Journal have to say about this evening's show.
Speigelman at the podium, shares with the audience using images &  music, and minimal narration

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Usual Suspects: Tom Haney



The latest piece by automaton maker extraordinaire, Tom Haney - "The Usual Suspects".

Tom describes the piece:
Handmade figurative, kinetic sculpture - also known as automata. 
Over 250 hours start to finish. Hand-carved bodies; heads sculpted from polymer clay; scratch-built mechanisms; handmade clothes. 8 cams and levers control all movement. Powered by a 4.8 RPM synchronous gear-motor.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Collector


Meet Richard Balzer. He collects optical toys, and much more.
How do you convince a generation that’s perfectly content to watch a cat in a shark suit ride a Roomba to be interested in antique animation toys? "The simple answer is, just show them as they were," says Balzer. "Not as static figures, but as animations." This led Balzer to hire Brian Duffy, a young Los Angeles-based animator who began helping Balzer digitize and animate Balzer’s collection of phenakistoscope and zoetrope illustrations.
See more animations on Dick's tumblr!


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Doctor Who in the Small

Scene from BBC 2013 Doctor Who Christmas Special:  The Doctor contemplates alien with his sonic screwdriver

Doctor Puppet, created by
Alison Stern


With this being the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, there are many creative projects and performances being inspired by the Doctor.  This includes projects that take the doctor to the small stage, as well as to the world of stop-motion film shorts.

The creativity of the people behind these projects boggles the mind.  Even the official Doctor Who program itself will be featuring a Punch-and-Judy-like puppet story in this year's Christmas Special!




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Burke Dollhouse

6' wide x 5' tall.  Fully functioning electrical lighting
and running water in the kitchen and bathroom...

Recently, a very special dollhouse was donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA).

It's special because of its size and complexity.  The rooms were outfitted over many years, and no attention to detail was spared.

One can look into each corner of a room, and discover something new upon every viewing.  The house is truly a work of miniature art.





The dollhouse was donated by Mary Livingston [Griggs] Burke, who passed away in 2012. It was built in the early 20th century, and had been added to over the decades by the original owner and her daughter. The family foundation donated the dollhouse to the MIA in 2013.

Ms. Burke, a distinguished art collector,  made known her intention to donate her Japanese art collection upon her death to the MIA.  The dollhouse may have been a fortunate after thought that the MIA inherited along with it.

Michelle Mausi, the author of
Tales of the Tchotcke Family 

One of the staff at the MIA began taking snapshots of the rooms as well as the miniature figurine characters that inhabit them, captioning each image with a fictional narrative.

The figurines became the Tchotcke family.  They had individual names, back stories, and narratives for their particular scenes.

You'll want to check the stories out here and here.