A new year, and a nice new show at my local gallery. The main artist Roo Waterhouse has worked with historic toy collections in Halifax and Burnley museums and used them to inspire conversations with community groups. Each of her unframed oils on canvas explores a different toy era and is displayed alongside selected quotes from participants in her workshops and museum cases full of toys and games from a variety of eras. There was some fun to be had spotting items from one’s own youth, I was a particular fan of Britain’s farm models.
The paintings themselves have a rather eerie atmosphere, they have flat, smooth surfaces and are painted from a very low ‘toy’s-eye’ viewpoint or perhaps a child lying on their tummy? The perspective comes across a little oddly perhaps because of this. I couldn’t quite decide whether this oddness was deliberate or simply because the paintings weren’t well-drawn. They are certainly strange to look at, moments frozen in time with the toys looking as if they are actually living things, caught unawares – there are of course no actual children in any of the paintings. The fun, noise and excitement to be had from playing is entirely missing, almost as if these are archival records of a past civilisation now dead and gone. I wondered if this was as a result of the objects actually being from museum collections? The title of the show is of course a play on the idea of museum collections being used to recollect the past
By contrast, the wooden automata by Lisa Slater were anything but dead. Adults visiting the show (and there were plenty in when I dropped by) were gleefully turning the little handles making a whole herd of bristly-maned birch-wood mules chomp and nod and twirl their tails with gay abandon. A lovely sight, and such fun! Mounted on the wall were some rather darker objects ranging from a spinning rack of well-used wooden spoons to shoe-stretchers that played a tune. Even better were the no-doubt Quay brothers-inspired porcelain dolls’ heads spinning around in their little dark boxes, eyeless sockets staring at nothing. I really coveted the ‘Opera Singer’ made from reclaimed bits of carved wood turned by magic into a rising and falling costume.
The design sketches accompanying the centrepiece horse and rider model showed that the artist is no slouch with a pen either which impressed me even more. The fact that all the objects can be played with and are well-made enough to be surviving so far is wonderful too.
The show is on until 6th May 2013
More details www.cravenmuseum.org