Archive for the Paper Category

“Toy Theater: Worlds in Miniature”

Posted in Christine Cariati, Collage & Photomontage, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Music & Dance, Paper with tags , , on July 14, 2010 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Toy Theatres: Worlds in Miniature is now on exhibit at San Francisco’s Museum of Performance & Design.

The exhibition is a wonderful display of 21 rare toy theaters from the United States, England, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Mexico—they date from the 18th century up to the present. In addition to the theaters, the walls are filled with colorful printed sheets of scenery and costumed characters.

Venetian Red has previously written extensively about toy theaters, so this post is merely a reminder to anyone in the Bay Area to go see this delightful show. Perhaps it will inspire a toy theater festival like the one Great Small Works hosts annually in New York!

Wider Connections

The Play’s the Thing: A History of Toy Theater in Three Acts
Great Small Works
Peter Baldwin, Toy Theatres of the World
Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop, London

The Play’s the Thing: A History of Toy Theater in Three Acts

Posted in Christine Cariati, Contains Video Elements, Fine & Decorative Arts, Illustration, Paper, XC with tags , , , , , , on June 15, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

FireworkstheaterOmbres Chinoise, A Toy Theater
Fireworks on the Seine during the Exhibition Universelle, Paris 1900
Mauclair-Dacier, French, colored lithograph, 13 7/8 x 18 1/4in.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein

Act One: “A Penny Plain, Twopence Coloured”
The history of miniature theater, once a very popular form of domestic entertainment, is fascinating and engaging. Toy theaters flourished in 19th-century England where it was known as Juvenile or Toy Theatre. It was also popular throughout Europe—Papiertheater in Germany, Teatrini di Carta in Italy, Kindertheater in Austria, Imagerie Francais in France, El Teatro de los Ninos in Spain and the Dukketeater in Denmark. With some variations, the format was essentially the same—characters and scenery (complete with back drops, side wings, top drops and prosceniums) were printed on paper. Children then colored these sets and figures, cut them out, mounting some pieces on cardboard or light wood. The characters in the dramas were sometimes attached to flat wooden sticks that were moved across the the stage from side to side. On these tiny stages, large dramas were enacted.

GuignolGuignol, France, 1900s

In England, the early theaters were printed from copper-plate engravings and could be purchased colored or uncolored—hence the catchphrase “a penny plain and twopence coloured.” Because these theaters were exact reproductions of sets and scenery being presented on the contemporary stage, these theaters often provide the only visual record of the history of the London stage of that period. The toy theaters in England were predominantly melodramas and pantomimes, and plays by Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott.

ToytheaterToy Theatre by A. How Mathews, England, c1900
courtesy Peter Baldwin

In Germany, they were often plays by Goethe, Schiller and their contemporaries; and operas by Wagner, Mozart and Rossini as well as popular comic operas of the day. In Denmark, beginning in around 1880, the firm of Jacobsen  printed colored lithographs for theaters largely depicting plays about Danish history and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson. Many of these are still published today by the firm of Prior, in Copenhagen.

dukketeater-mogensDukketeater, Prior, Copenhagen

In England, paper theater began with William West, who first sold sheets of characters for the popular pantomime, Mother Goose, in 1811, and soon went on to publish sets and characters for a number of plays then enjoying success in London. These were very popular and other publishers joined in. Eventually, the style of theater productions changed and became less suitable for toy theater production—after 1860 only a couple of publishers continued to produce and hand-color the old plays up until the 1930s. One of these publishers was Benjamin Pollock. After the war, production was revived, and Pollock’s plays and theaters, now printed in color, can still be purchased today at Pollock’s Toy Museum in London.

ep-pollock-interiorInterior of Pollock’s Toy Museum

WestPirate

The fascinating history of toy theaters, lavishly illustrated and discussed in great detail, can be found in Toy Theatre, edited by Kenneth Fawdry, (published by Pollock’s Toy Theatres Ltd., London) and Peter Baldwin’s excellent Toy Theatres of the World (Zwemmer, London, 1992.)

pollocksToy Theatre display, Pollock’s Toy Museum, London

Act Two: Not For Pleasure Alone
One of the most fascinating things about toy theaters is that while adults enjoyed them as well, they were intended for children. Imagine the dexterity, concentration, imagination and thoughtfulness required to assemble and produce these performances. Quite a far cry from the offerings of today’s dumbed-down children’s entertainment industry. These miniature impresarios took their work very seriously—sets were constructed, speaking parts rehearsed, musical accompaniment (usually piano, perhaps a small ensemble) organized. The footlights were tiny candles with metal reflectors. Often tickets were sold at the door. This was a total performance experience.

For a wonderful glimpse of the magic of toy theater, watch the opening scene from Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece, Fanny and Alexander. About 35 seconds in, you will see Alexander playing with his toy theater. Notice that his theater has the motto of the Royal Theater in Copenhagen inscribed on the proscenium: “Ej Blot Til Lyst”—Danish for Not for Pleasure Alone.

However, toy theater also had its adult enthusiasts—Goethe was inspired to write for the theater by home performances he saw as a child. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote lovingly of stopping in the street and peering into the window of a shop in Edinburgh that displayed a working miniature theater. G.K. Chesterton was a life-long aficionado of toy theater. Here he is, cutting out characters for his miniature theater play, George and the Dragon:

GKCtoytheater

Chesterton wrote: “Has not everyone noticed how sweet and startling any landscape looks when seen through an arch? This strong, square shape, this shutting off of everything else, is not only an assistance to beauty; it is the essential of beauty…
This is especially true of toy theatre, that by reducing the scale of events it can introduce much larger events…Because it is small it could easily represent the Day of Judgement. Exactly in so far as it is limited, so far it could play easily with falling cities or with falling stars.”

The artist Jack Butler Yeats, son of painter John B. Yeats and brother of poet William B. Yeats, loved toy theater, and wrote and performed plays every Christmas for local children. Included in Jack B. Yeats, Collected Plays, is Yeats’ introduction to his plays for toy theater, My Miniature Theatre. In it Yeats says: “As to the plays, I write them myself. So what shall I say of them but that I like the piratical ones best.”

JBYplayadPhoto courtesy The Collected Plays of Jack B. Yeats by Robin Skelton
Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1971

Yeats designed sets for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, which also produced three of his own plays. This watercolor, of a performance at the Old Mechanics’ Theatre (later the Abbey) wonderfully invokes his enthusiasm for the theater—both large and small.

Jack Yeats

Jack B. Yeats, Willy Reilly at the Old Mechanics’ Theatre
Watercolor, Courtesy of the Abbey Theatre

Another toy theater aficionado, the writer Jean Cocteau, said: “When I had scarlet fever or German measles and was kept in bed…I would design scenery for my toy theater…I think that was when I caught the red and gold disease of the theater, from which I never recovered.”

jcferdessins2-1

Act Three: Toy Theater today

greatsmallworksjpgStephen Kaplin, banner for Great Small Works’ Travelling Toy Theater Festival, 1997
photo by Jeff Becker

Traditional toy theaters, now understandably difficult to find, are avidly collected by antiquarians and Pollock’s produces 20,000 reproduction toy theaters a year. However, the love of miniature theater is not just an exercise in nostalgia, there is a thriving international community of toy theater enthusiasts who create wonderful contemporary works of wildly varying content and complexity.

Great Small Works has produced seven Toy Theater Festivals that have featured the work of hundreds of theater and visual artists from around the world. I invite you to take a minute to peruse their web site and find links to information about upcoming performances and festivals.

In closing, here is a wonderful newsreel from the 1920s which shows Mr. Pollock printing and constructing a toy theater. Feel free to try this at home!


A Day at CAMP: Thoughts on the Fisher Collection

Posted in Architecture, Bay Area Art Scene, Fine & Decorative Arts, Painting, Paper with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by Liz Hager

One of the 1,000+ pieces in the Fisher collection: Chuck Close, “Phyllis,” 1984, pulp paper on canvas

Don Fisher’s proposal for a Contemporary Art Museum at the Presidio (CAMP) has generated substantial uproar since its unveiling last summer.  At the root of the controversy are the 100,000 square-foot building—designed by the Gluckman Mayner Architects to house Fisher’s extensive collection of contemporary art—and its placement on the parade grounds of the Presidio.  

Since the details of the proposal became public, many have weighed in on the value of the collection to the community and the aesthetic costs of the current proposal.  Other than a video of art critic Kenneth Baker touring the collection with Don Fisher, however, there aren’t many details available on the collection itself.

In a move to drum up support for his proposal, Don Fisher hired Ground Floor Public Affairs. In September, the group was conducting guided lunchtime tours of the collection for members of the public. As it turned out, the tour did not cover the whole collection, although there was certainly on view to form an opinion about the value of the collection within a greater art historical context.

The tour congregated in the lobby around Richard Serra’s sky-scraping sculpture “Charlie Brown.” So-named because it was installed on the day Charles Schultz died, the piece has an internal space (characteristic of some Serra works) created by the placement of massively vertical steel slabs. The resulting acoustics make for a wild and child-like experience, as tour members whispered and sometimes felt compelled to shout while inside. Unfortunately, “Charlie Brown” will not be part of the CAMP collection, as it was purchase by the Gap, not by Fisher.  

Six large rooms (and one or two hallways) on the bottom floor of the Gap’s headquarters house the artworks on public view. Overall, it was hard to detect a particular curatorial hand in the collection (and the reason may be because there hasn’t ever been a curator of the collection). American artists figure prominently, although a few of the artists, such as Sean Scully, were born elsewhere and live here, and some—including Richard Long and Gerhard Richter—aren’t American and don’t live here. Not visible were Damien Hirst or Anselm Kiefer, arguably necessary components in any collection of contemporary art. To be fair, however, these artists might be represented in the collection, just not on public view. 

Works are presented in loose chronological order—i.e. Lichtenstein and Stella in the first rooms through Jeff Wall and Sam Taylor in the last room. This organizing principal isn’t so strict as to prevent a meditative pairing of Agnes Martin’s organically-inspired 1950/60 paintings with Richard Long‘s reverent natural stone “Autumn Circle” (1990) on the gallery floor. 

In the aggregate the Fisher collection does a fine job offering up the eminent artists of the last four decades—including Philip Guston, Sol LeWitt, Elizabeth Murray, Bryce Marden, Bill Viola—a solid starter course on contemporary art. What’s more, with many of the artists represented by multiple pieces the depth of the collection provides important glimpses of individual leitmotifs, as well as an overview of the march of artistic movements. Three Sean Scully paintings hanging together brings out the lyrical quality in his structured “bricks” of color technique; a single painting could not do this. Almost an entire room of Chuck Close works clearly demonstrates the artist’s prowess manipulating media in service of “portraiture, redefined.”  The two copies of “Phyllis” hanging side by side illustrate this point well.  The larger (above) is constructed from quarter-sized disks of reconstituted paper pulp; a smaller study has been executed purely with his fingerprints. Both from a distance read with photographic-like clarity. 

There is no doubt that San Francisco would be immeasurably enhanced by a public venue for this collection. But how to deal with its container?

There are loads of fantastic contemporary buildings that fit in, even augment, their surroundings. One need look no farther than to the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences for examples of successful parkland museums.  Herzog + de Meuron and Renzo Piano  have managed to conjoin two buildings of radically different design with a neo-classical bandshell in a graceful embrace of their shared plaza. Perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to edifices on those sites, as buildings had been there previously for nearly a century.

By contrast, the Gluckman Mayner big square white glass box plopped on the wide-open (rehabilitated) green of the Presidio parade grounds is austere.  The CAMP building feels self-conscious and alone, like a singleton in desperate need of a sibling.

Fisher’s proposal may ultimately pass the public review process, but this is not a fore-gone conclusion. Under National Park rules, the Presidio Trust must publicly vet the proposal.  As a result it finds itself embroiled in the community agitation; the July BOD meeting is a painful reflection of that. For his part, Don Fisher has threatened to keep the collection private.

One hopes that the benefactor will be persuaded to move the building to one of the less prominent, though no less agreeable, sites suggested. One hopes the historic preservation, YMCA and various other groups fighting the proposal will see that the right modernist design will augment the beauty of the Presidio.  IIf a compromise cannot be reached, we all lose. 

Want to dig deeper?

July 2008 BOD transcript

Tyler Green on the proposal

Corrections & Amplifications—10/25/08

* The Trust does not operate under the National Park’s Organic Act, but under the Presidio Trust Act. All federal agencies must comply with the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act, which determine the public process. Neither the state nor the city have any decision-making authority, but clearly it is better to have their support than not. 

* The Y does not oppose the project. 

* The Fisher collection has more than 1,000 pieces, many of which are in the Gap executive offices and various other locations without public access. 

 

 

Little Paper Offerings

Posted in Central Asia, Liz Hager, Paper, Sculpture with tags , , , , on September 22, 2008 by Liz Hager

Editors Note: For more on the Buddhist art of Dunhuang, see Flying Down the Central Asian Steppe; Talisman of the Pole Star; On the Trail of Alexander.

By LIZ HAGER

Collaged Flowers, Tang Dynasty (9th-10th c. AD),
“retrieved” from Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China, by Sir Aurel Stein
(photo ©The British Museum)

The paper flowers above, found in the Mogao caves by Aurel Stein, are probably the earliest surviving examples of Buddhist votive flowers. Stein must have been electrified when he discovered these prosaic gems among the sacred art. It’s nothing less than a miracle that they even survived, having been in the caves for perhaps as long as 1500 years.

Glue found on the backs of the flowers suggests that they were offerings pasted by devotees onto the walls of the shrines or perhaps on to the Buddha statues themselves. Flowers, the lotus in particular, are a central motif in Buddhist iconography, so it is not surprising that the Dunhuang grottos would be full of floral rosettes; stylized flowers have been painted on ceilings, woven or embroidered in textiles, added to borders and patterns. In the harsh desert climate of the Takla Makan, it would make sense that delicately cut and painted paper would stand in ceremoniously for natural flowers.

As Susan Whitfield observes in the Dunhuang chapter of The Silk Road, her catalog of the 2004 British Library exhibit:

Despite the wall to ceiling painting, the Mogao caves as they appear today are denuded of much of the decoration which would have once adorned the walls and the Buddha statues. . . It is difficult to image now but the caves full of offerings, colorful hangings, and other decorations, with the sound of prayers being recited and the smell of the hemp oil from the flickering lamps mingling with the incense offered to Buddha, must have had a very different atmosphere from today.

Wider Connections

Susan Whitfield—The Silk Road: Trade, Travel, War And Faith

Eternal Paper

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Paper with tags , , , , on June 5, 2008 by Liz Hager

Unknown Artist, Taishō-era Chiyogami, ca: 1912-26, courtesy The World of Chiyogami

The art-book collection at the San Francisco Public Library never ceases to amaze me. Many days, I’ll just go to a random spot in the stacks (usually DDC=700s), pull titles that look interesting, and check out the books.   I’ve rarely been disappointed.  In this felicitous way  I was introduced to The World of Chiyogami. Of course no student of art goes for very long without an introduction to the enchantments of Japanese paper. But with my discovery of this venerable printed art form my appreciation for the Japanese aesthetic soared to a higher plane.

Chiyogami first appeared in Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868). I guess they were right to name it from root words chiyo, meaning “a thousand years” or “through eternity”), and kami/gami (i.e. paper), knowing that as an art form it would be around forever. Chiyogami refers to the brightly-colored patterns, which are hand-screened or block printed onto hand-made paper. (Now machine printed.)   Originally chiyogami designs were developed by papermakers for use as home decorating schemes (early Japanese wallpaper possibly?). But, as the designs were largely based on popular kimono fabrics,  it is no surprise that paper doll stylists honed in on them, as well as fans of the other Edo-legacy art form origami (from oru – folded; kami – paper). To this day, chiyogami remains popular with both groups and has been adapted for use in the paper doll-making world.

Is it the simple repeat square, the pleasing color combination (love that chartreuse!) or the spidery calligraphic element that caused me to present this design to you?  Regardless, in its wholeness I think I see one early-20th century Japanese designer caught between the influences of Arts Nouveau and Deco.

Bonus: See this fabulous resource on Contemporary Chiyogami.

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