Sunday 26 August 2012

Fairground Organ

I’d been looking for a small Fairground Organ for years. Not an actual working one that takes paper rolls, but one of the replica ones (although many still have an age to them) that would have taken tapes but that I could get converted to play MP3’s. I’d wanted one just to have one really, but my thought was it would be a great way of playing music for the marionette shows. As many of the marionettes are circus themed, and I love anything circus related, I had the idea that if I ever found one I would have it restored, or redesigned, in a circus theme.

How it looked when I bought it
A couple of years ago I spotted one on eBay that was being sold down in Bournmouth. It was in good condition, sold looking and had the sort of intricacy in the front that I was looking for. It wasn't painted at all well and had an awful figure in the centre, but it had potential so I decided to put in a bid and I got it!

Totally renovated!
Once I had got it back home I approached my good friend and excellent wood carver, puppet maker, ingenious creator and all over amazing individual Ted Beresford. I went over my ideas with Ted and explained the sort of thing I was after. I explained I needed some speakers added and the ability to hook up and MP3 to them, I would like a new figure in the front with a circus theme (a Ringmaster conductor perhaps?) and if possible some lights around the inside edge. Yes I know I wasn't asking for much, but this is Ted and I am always so confident with him and what he does that I wanted to make sure I covered everything! A few weeks passed and I got the call from Ted to pop over and have a look at what I thought so far. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed but I never dreamt how good it would look.

Ted and Charlotte in front of the renovated Fairground Organ
Ted had given it a total overhaul repainting it, carving a wonderful ringmaster conductor for the front complete with working arm, added fairy lights all the way around, speakers and an amp and even hooked up a microphone! It was superb. I brought it home and couldn't stop looking at it! Hooked up my MP3 and got it going with some fairground Organ tunes and it looked and sounded superb.
Now on top of renovating the fairground organ so perfectly Ted also offered to make a cart for it to be pushed along on, so that week I went to a reclamation yard and bought some old cart wheels, gave Ted an idea of the sort of cart I was after, though as always with Ted he added his own suggestions and improved on my ideas immensely. Adding a handle for pulling or pushing that can be pulled out from the cart and then stored away again when in use, and storage space within the cart if required. Ted and his son created a special spindle for the wheels and fixed it all up so that it works perfectly. It looks superb and I couldn't have hoped for anything better. I can’t thank Ted enough! But Thank you Ted – you’re amazing!

It went from this to this.....thank you Ted!

Tuesday 8 May 2012

RIP Maurice Sendak

From the BBC:
Maurice Sendak, the US author of the best-selling children's book Where the Wild Things Are, has died aged 83.
His long-time editor, Michael di Capua, told The New York Times the author died in Danbury, Connecticut, after complications from a recent stroke.
He wrote some 17 books and was a prolific illustrator, but was best-known for his 1963 tale of Max, who became the "king of all wild things".
It was made into a Hollywood film in 2009, directed by Spike Jonze.
The book, which became a children's classic in the US and sold more than 19 million copies worldwide, told the story of a boy who goes on a journey through his own imagination after he is sent to bed without supper.
There have also been several other adaptations including an animated short in 1973 and an opera in 1980.
Considered controversial for its images when it was first published - which some claimed to have scared children - the book went on to earn Sendak a prestigious Caldecott Medal for best children's book in 1964.
Born in 1928 and raised in Brooklyn by Jewish-Polish immigrant parents, Sendak said his own life had been clouded by the Holocaust and that the events of World War II were the root of his raw and honest artistic style.
His childhood dream to be an illustrator was realised in 1951 when he was commissioned to do the art for Wonderful Farm by Marcel Ayme and by 1957 he was writing his own books.
Other titles written and illustrated by the author include In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, Higglety Pigglety Pop! and The Nutshell Library.
His last picture book Bumble-Ardy was published in 2011. It tells the story of an orphaned pig who gives himself a riotous birthday party.
A posthumous picture book, My Brother's Book - a poem written and illustrated by Sendak and inspired by his love for his late brother, Jack - is scheduled to be published next February.
The author won a number of awards for his work, including the Hans Christian Andersen medal for illustration in 1970 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award from the American Library Association in 1983.
He also acted as producer on various animated TV series based on his illustrations, including Seven Little Monsters, George and Martha and Little Bear.
As well as writing, Sendak created costumes for ballets and staged operas, including the Czech opera Brundibar. He designed the Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker production that went on to become a TV film.
President Bill Clinton also awarded Sendak a National Medal of the Arts in 1996 for his vast portfolio of work.
Children's Laureate and author of The Gruffalo Julia Donaldson paid tribute to Sendak, saying his death was "a great loss".
"I admired him just as much for his illustration of other author's texts as for his own work," she said.
"Particular favourites being Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present, written by Charlotte Zolotow, and Else Holmelund Minarik's Little Bear books.
"His own stories tended to deal with quite powerful and scary emotions, but these were often alleviated by humour."
She added: "I feel confident that his work will live on because it had such a timeless quality."
In 2009 and 2012 US President Barack Obama read Where The Wild Things Are at the White House Easter Egg Roll.
When asked whether the president had any comment to make on Sendak's death, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said he had not asked, but was sure Mr Obama's two daughters had read the book.
"I know every parent must be a little bit in mourning today and every child who grew up with that book. It's a sad day," he added.

Monday 30 April 2012

Liverpool's Sea Odyssey

I’m really delayed in writing this, but had a fantastic weekend in Liverpool for their Sea Odyssey festival with Royal De Luxe’s amazing Giant figures. There doesn’t appear to be any company quite like Royal De Luxe, and kudos to Liverpool and all involved in arranging the logistics of such a fantastic day. It can’t have been easy closing all those roads and just administering the movement of the huge puppets from one end of the city to the other, but it was so worth it.

 Literally thousands of people lined the streets to watch in awe as these larger than life characters roamed around puppeteered by some of the most energetic and enthusiastic performers you could wish to see. From the excitable and brilliantly life like dog, his tongue was wet and he even had a wee in the street! 

To the rather eerie site of the 50 ft tall diver slowly lumbering his way along roads where he could glance into 2nd and 3rd floor windows with ease. My favourite though has to be the little girl giant, I think possibly because she is so life like, eerily life like, but at the same time representing such a big, monstrous marionette. 

The rustic slightly unfinished nature of the Royal De Luxe creations gives it that steam punk, mad inventor type feel that makes you wonder in awe how they got the things to move at all. It’s all looks a little haphazard thrown together (in a good way) natural and effortless, however anything that looks this good clearly has taken years to perfect. Well done to all involved, I hope this is just the beginning of more exciting collaborations between Royal Deluxe and Liverpool.

Sunday 15 April 2012

National Puppetry Archive - Hogarth Puppets Donation

The Puppet Centre was recently contacted by a museum in Devon. The museum had a loans service that loaned items out to schools, but due to funding cuts the service had to close and many of the items were donated to the various schools in the county. Some however were deemed too valuable and the museum set out to find homes for these. Amongst them were seven puppets which once belonged to the Hogarth Puppets. 

The Hogarth Puppets, founded by Jan Bussell & Ann Hogarth in 1932, were one of Britain’s largest touring puppet companies. They are best known for the character "Muffin the Mule" who appeared with Annette Mills on the BBC programme from 1946 to 1955.  Muffin had been a member of the Hogarth’s circus Since the 1930s, but was chosen by Mills from the vast array of Hogarth puppets that could appear on the show. The Hogarth Puppets toured the world, playing West End theatres, Australia, Canada and all over Europe. In summer they toured the parks of London with their caravan and tent theatres. Jan wrote many books on their adventures.
Ann Hogarth performing Muffin (with Annette Mills)
There are 6 puppets in the donated collection, consisting of;
  • ‘Grump’ the night watchman from the play ‘Fly by Night’
  • ‘The Green Man’ a disjointing puppet
  • ‘Charlie Acorn’ the Pianist from the Hogarth band that opened each show
  • ‘Clifford Sax’ the Saxophonist from the band
  • ‘Captain Jack Smyth’ the drummer also from the band
  • ‘Tickler’ the Sword Swallowing clown
  • ‘Muffin the Mule’ in armour to fight the crusades (this is all made from tin)

All of the puppets now reside in the National Puppetry Archive (you can see the archive here and the official website here ) some of the puppets will be on exhibit at the AGM of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild in May. What’s so wonderful about them is not just the puppets themselves, which are superb examples of the Hogarth’s work as well as Jack Whitehead carved heads, but the fantastic display boxes that each puppet arrived in. Purpose built and fitted with bespoke foam for traveling - once opened out they can be easily displayed inside their boxes within a few minutes! 

Saturday 14 April 2012

SEA ODYSSEY - Liverpool

Ever since Royal De Luxe brought their Little Girl Giant to London many years ago (and I wasn't able to get there) I have been desperate to see their work. I didn't think they would bring the Girl Giant back, so I couldn't believe it when I saw they were bringing it to Liverpool next weekend and really am so excited. looks set to be a spectacular event. here is the blurb from the official site;
In April, the world's greatest street theatre company, Royal De Luxe, will bring their Little Girl Giant to Liverpool in one of the UK's most spectacular events. Sea Odyssey is a magical tale of love, loss and reunion played out on a gigantic scale. It will take place in key city spaces, moving across North Liverpool and the city centre, wowing the hundreds of thousands of people who are expected to descend on the city over the three days.

For more information including the routes that the parade will take visit the official site here

'Paper' App by 53

I've been looking for an app that would allow realistic drawing on the iPad. Tried Sketchbook pro, Bamboo Paper (by Wacom) as many as I could find, but none of them have really cut it for me. Although I like the idea of being able to sketch into the iPad, I'm a big believer in why recreate something electronically when you can do it better with an actual pencil and paper, and none of the apps so far have convinced me otherwise........however 'Paper' by 53 has nearly converted me.
Firstly I'd recommend watching the video, (below), this shows what the app is, and does so very neatly. Many of the guys behind the app worked for Microsoft on the short lived Courier software. However where Microsoft runs on the amounts of options and complexities it fits into software, Paper's success for me is its pure the video and you'll see what I mean...

'Paper' allows you to create as many different sketchbooks as you wish and populate them with a range of sketches, notes, doodles and designs. What's so wonderful to begin with is how simple and intuitive it is. There is a range of tools, which although the main app is free you have have to buy, and these include; dip pen, pencil, two pens, and a watercolour brush. Each work so well, the dip pen in particular, that it makes you want to keep picking it up. You can customise your sketchbooks with covers of your choice and name them, add/delete pages as you see fit..but that's about as far as it goes and lets face it do you need more? 
That's what I think the key to this is - its simplicity! Yes I'd like more colours (and I hope they add a few in the next update) and true it would be nice to be able to change your books to Portrait for longer drawings, but overall this is all we need to be able to sketch and sketch quickly. As long as you have an intuitive reactionary app like this, that actually does what you ask of it why do we need hundreds of options? You don't, and the guys at 53 have realised this (perhaps through working for Microsoft!) and have given us an app which is a joy to use. Its made me want to draw on the iPad, something I never thought I would achieve.
'Stongman' drawn on 'Paper' April 2012 (MDixon)
53 have endorsed the Wacom Bambo Stylus for this app. I have the Bamboo Stylus and yes it is good. However the nib is a little spongy (and from what I have heard rips easily when used often) it works well and the lines follow pretty much as you draw them, but we are crying out for a really good stylus pen, that feels like an actual pen both to hold and use - one that allows you to lean your hand on the iPad whilst drawing without making a mark...and it looks like it is coming in the new Blue Tiger stylus from Ten One Design. Lets hope so because that would make this app even better.
Some quick sketches done on Paper after it was dowloaded
Overall 53 have created with 'Paper' a really nice, simple and intuitive app which makes sketching on the iPad effortless and enjoyable. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with next and if they make any additions to 'Paper' without making it option heavy - at least give us some more colours!
For more about 'Paper' or to download it click here

Sunday 22 January 2012

Oh Yes it is!' Exhibition at Bantock House

I take down the 'Oh Yes it is - A history of Pantomime!' exhibition tomorrow at Bantock House in Wolverhampton. The exhibition was linked to the popular Pantomime at the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre each year. 
When I was approached by the museum for an exhibition I decided to use Victorian Toy Theatre's with Victorian pantomime toy theatre sheets depicting the panto 'Mother Goose' with the Commedia Del'Arte characters; Harlequin, Columbine etc and also Victorian Marionettes and costumes. In particular Joey Grimaldi the most famous of clowns, and a particular favourite of mine, who went some way to making the Panto what we know it as today. Items on display come from my own collection and the Puppet Centre's.