Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Art of Play: The Gair Wilkinson Monkey Puppet, 1928

This and all
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The Victoria &
Albert Museum
This little wooden simian is quite realistic and beautifully carved. This marionette is easy to operate due to its flawless construction and remarkably light weight. This is the work of artist Arthur Wilkinson (1882-1957) who was inspired to make puppets after becoming enchanted by a group of toy Italian puppets in 1914.
This new passion led to Wilkinson becoming a professional puppeteer, subsequently touring England in a caravan with his brother, Walter. Walter Wilkinson, later, independently, spear-headed a revival of glove puppetry in Britain, while Arthur Wilkinson continued with his marionettes.

Feeling much the way that I do about puppetry in the present-day U.S., Arthur Wilkinson was distressed that puppetry had been neglected in England in the 1920s. His answer to this was to introduce The Marionette Society which was dedicated to producing marionette theatre throughout England.

The inaugural performance of his new Marionette Society was at the Poetry Bookshop in London in November 1923. During the performance he employed his own figures including Harlequin, Columbine, the dragon and Pantaloon. Later, around 1928, he carved an impressive set of marionettes and introduced them into the show. This set includes this monkey and Marino, Pagliacci and Pimpinella, and different figures of Harlequin and Columbine.

This figure is referred to as the Gair Wilkinson monkey because after Arthur Wilkinson married Lily Gair his show became known as the “Gair Wilkinson Marionettes.” Later Arthur used the professional name Gair Wilkinson as his own moniker.

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