"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Puppets and Dragons

I am so delighted to be involved in the Puppet Challenge. The theme comes at such a good time for me as I have been researching aspects of folklore for some work for a while now. And both of my other projects will feed into the puppet project too.

I have never made a proper puppet but in my past work I used quite a bit of puppet/toy imagery and as dragons have been on my mind, I decided to base my dragon on the Henham Dragon.  A dragon reputedly seen in the Essex village in 1669. “Real” documented sightings are always so fascinating and Henham Village website has not only a splendid image of the dragon but also the front of the pamphlet which was published to describe the beast.

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Sighting were many and various but from what I have read, it seems the dragon was never killed, which also appeals to me.

This may be because it could have been a hoax. Reading more on the website I see that recent evidence from Alison Barnes suggests it might have been a hoax dragon made by a William Winstanley who,

" created a hollow nine-foot wood and canvas dragon or "flying serpent" activated by a man which made fleeting appearances in and around Birch Wood, Henham throughout that summer and caused great excitement and mystification in the neighbourhood."

So in effect this dragon was a large puppet. A perfect starting point for me. More of this wonderful Henham Dragon as I go along. Henham is also close enough for me to visit.

The 17th C seems to have been a good time for dragons in the UK because another was recorded in Sussex in 1614,  the St Leonard’s Dragon. The accompanying pamphlet from the Harleian Miscellany is  titled:

"Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614".

There will be more fascinating research to do. I see that Dr Andrew Hadfield has written a paper on the Sussex Dragon which I hope to read, and more.

Exactly what sort of puppet it will be I am not sure yet but I will be starting off with some drawings.
I don't think I am quite up to the full size Henham Dragon. But the description is reminding me of the wonderful Chinese New Year Dragons from the parades. I illustrated them years ago..so they too will be in my mind and, as a new printmaker, pamphlets appeal greatly to me.

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A Pencil Margin Book Illustration

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Half a full page spread, with the Dragon Head
Mine definitely won’t be on this scale.

It makes you wonder about the “real sightings” of dragons.
On this black windy night we have just been for a walk. Fast dark clouds race across the face of the moon, twisted branches of bare trees flicker in the intermittent light. It’s easy to stumble, to lose your way, to misinterpret the wind shearing through the branches for something else.  In a flash of moonlight did I see a small dragon twisting itself around the spire of our village church?…Who knows.

3 comments:

Diana Studer said...

you could draw us - the small dragon - on your church spire ...

Vikki said...

Hi Val,

Just to say wow I'm really looking forward to seeing your dragon and the rest of your mythical beasts. I'm also in the puppet challenge, I have the first sketch for one of my puppets but the other 2 my need to wait for he seasonal holiday (during which I'll also be checking out the archieves of your blog, its a facinating space you have here :-). Vikki

sharp green pencil said...

No sooner said than done Diana!

Vikki: Hi there and many thanks for your kind comment. I look forward to seeing everyone's puppets. It will be fascinating. I am not going to get started till the New Year but looking forward to it very much.