Automata & Puppets


September 12th – 26th

Weekends11 – 6;  to visit any other time, please
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The culmination of “The First” Gallery’s 40th year is this rare chance to come face-to-face with a large range (c. 125) of automata and
puppets.  UK-wide, there is hardly anywhere that the public can visit to interact with serious numbers of examples of this amusing and
amazing field.  Our event comprises work by the famous and the not-so-famous displayed cheek-by-jowl.  The list below may change
more than once between now and opening night (or maybe even after that!)

A bit short of pix currently, as I’ve only photographed a few of those that have arrived, but more will be posted nearer the date.
For now, if you’re yet to be inducted into the bizarre world of automata, try clicking here and here, for examples from our previous shows.  Do revisit this page periodically, to browse the latest images.  To point up each update, the headline will change colour.


Read brief bio’s, some with images, below table.  Links in table jump to these.
Apologies to those whose details, or images, are missing.
I hope to add titles, prices and some explanations, to the photos.
Early in the show, I will try and indicate numbers of exhibits from each maker and how many are for sale.

( ) = yet to confirm;   * = no items on sale;   §  = no items unseen since our last show;   bold font = ‘New Face’ here;   italic CAPS = company or trade name


shadow puppets / storyboards *


abstract automata


movable turned wood

H. Margery CLARKE

fabric puppets;  ‘pop-ups’

Richard EURICH (1903 – 92)

carved vintage puppet heads *

Susan R. EVANS

wood automata;  sculpted boxes


papier-mâché automata / tableaux


captioned automata


painted wood automata


stained & painted wood automata


wood automata


painted wood automata

Peter MARKEY §

plain & painted wood automata


wood mobiles;  mixed media automata

Robert RACE

driftwood automata

Angela & Laurence St LEGER

miniature painted metal automata

Lucille SCOTT & Dee MacNAMARA

automated blacksmithery, with glass


wood automata

Sam SMITH (1908 – 83)

jointed painted wood figures *


flexible-joint finished wood animals


‘all-wood’ automata


painted mainly wood automata


wood-carved automata / puppets


painted wood automata

  Based on the Surrey / South London border, Karin Andrews Jashapara is one of a creative Anglo-Swedish family, cosmopolitan in outlook, some of whose members’ work we’ve shown before.  With her professional cellist sister Lizzie and several others, she runs Play of Light Theatre, writing, acting and producing small theatrical story-telling events incorporating shadow-puppets.  She has been in this field for over 20 years.

  Living in Havant, 25 miles from here, Tom Bennett focusses mainly on machine-like pieces where the mechanism IS the object, rather than depicting figures.  That said, there’s an anthropomorphic look to some of them.  Those on show are either pendulum / escapement mechanisms, or use resisting magnets.  These latter riff on the theme of scientific models, the sort of things found in every school physics lab. of the past.

  Ken Briffett is a master wood-turner, by some distance the most inventive and ‘design-considered’ woodworker we’ve shown.  Most of his working life was as a technician at the University of Portsmouth, from which he is long retired.  Technicians often make great craftspeople, but it’s less usual to see the practical ability allied to such a developed artistic sense.  A highly active member of Forest of Bere Woodturners, he regularly participates in (and often devises) their themed projects, for which he enjoys stretching his mind and skills.
  Not yet fully-fledged in the ‘true’ automata field (though he turned 80 last year!), the mind is already tuned to it:  he already makes what you might call “low-level” automata (e.g. shaped forms in which a marble rolls about, etc.)  He was trying to make something specially for this show, which would satisfy the criteria of the more typical automata-collector (as if one could typify such collectors!), but a cataract op. skewed his schedule.  Describing (probably tongue-in-cheek) what he’s showing as “interactive”, his contributions invite your physical engagement.

  H. Margery Clarke is an artist in her own right (though this gallery she founded and still runs is not, and was never meant to be, a vehicle for her own work) but she has a lighter side, exemplified in her fabric hand-, finger-, and near-life-size dancing puppets.  She also makes ‘pop-ups’ (a term unrelated to its modern usage), toys which push out of the mouth of a cone, revealing a character, or occasionally an animal.  Her versions are hardly for children, though they’re strongly stitched to try proofing them against such over-enthusiastic use!  (The cones for them are discarded Pirelli’s cable winding-bases, which her artist friend Eric Meadus [of whom more here], who worked there, used to bring for Margery and he to decorate.  Some of these were included in the first ever exhibitions at “The First”, back in 1968 and ’69, long before it acquired the label “gallery”.  These events were the seedbed of what became this sequence of 40 Xmas Shows, which Moving On celebrates).

  Richard Eurich O.B.E. R.A. is widely appreciated as a painter.  Like many men of his generation, he was a also skilled craftsman and carved four of the puppet heads being shown (for the first time ever in public).  They originally had fabric costumes and were used to entertain his children in a home theatre (which he also built, inspired by his fellow student and long-time friend, the sculptor John Bickerdike, who had a line in making these).  Sadly, this, and other puppet heads, and their fabrics, have suffered the ravages of time (woodworm, moth, damp etc.) and have been destroyed or disposed of.  The two other heads on show are antique (of unknown more specific origins), and appropriated for the Eurich’s domestic productions, but not made by him.

  Susan REvans, previously working as Sue Evans, is a former history teacher, whose passion for wood just HAD to find an outlet when she retired.  Her latest foray is into sculptures with less of an automata element, as in the lower pictures:  both bird and seal are boxes whose backs open [left] to reveal eggs and fish, respectively

  Under the brand Total Pap, Emily Firmin & Justin Mitchell have made automata and static sculptures in papier-mâché since 1990.  Emily makes tableaux, often of animals, but people feature too.  If her surname seems familiar, it has been in the news recently, with the widely-welcomed remake of The Clangers, devised by her father, Peter (also responsible for Bagpuss, whose “Emily” character was named after his daughter).  While working on an exhibition for Peter’s barn, Justin was trying to give one of his pictures a surprise motive element.  Peter saw this and showed him some card characters he’d devised for live TV.  He encouraged Justin to make more, an enthusiasm which has been maintained for the past 25 years.

  Neil Hardy has been showing and selling in most of our Christmas Shows for the last 10 years.  Along with Peter Lennertz, he shared a two-hander here in 2011, under the title Turn a Surprise.  His architectural training is evident in the clean lines of his designs, and in his method of batch-making (echoed in very few automatists’ output).  He was prompted to start making in 1992 by both redundancy and a visit to Cabaret Mechanical Theatre, Covent Garden, the UK’s foremost centre devoted to automata*.
  Most of our visitors remember his work for the often laugh-out-loud gags, a combination of drily witty captions and surreal actions, some with a considerable delay (the automata equivalent of the stage comic’s ‘pause for effect’).  His captions have echoes of the spoof cartoonist Glen Baxter, and Neil acknowledges a debt to the humour of Gary Larson (The Far Side).  All his automata are based on creatures (he trades as Fabulous Animals) and within this there is a mini-series called Evolutionary Blunders [yes:  let your imagination run riot…  though, better still, come and see for yourself!]  He has spent the early part of the year completing a huge piece for the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum, but has supplied three new designs for our show, including a rare one-off.

  Peter Lennertz was a plumber who, while working in Covent Garden (home to Cabaret), was inspired to start making such things himself.  His most recent foray has been into static framed tableaux (though he’d shrink from the use of such a highbrow word) of the sort of figures that populate his automata.  Only his automata are on show this time.

  Philip Lowndes was inspired by a former automatist to take up the craft, after retiring from agricultural products sales.  Like his mentor, the mechanisms are often immensely complex:  one piece on show [below, centre] needs 50 handle-turns to run its full cycle!  Two of these pieces derive from ethnic museum exhibits.

  I must apologize for the surfeit of makers with the initials PL who make pieces depicting dogs cocking their legs.  Just thank the Fates there are no more.

  Ian McKay is half of the duo that ran the now defunct Hitchcock’s of Bath, for most of its existence the only other UK outlet focussing on automata (they also had a branch in Alresford, outside Winchester, which kept a smaller display of pieces among many forms of high-quality crafts).  The sea features heavily in his imagery, an obsession reflected in all three pieces on show.  One is motorized, so can run continuously.

  The sea underpins Peter Markey’s life and work, too.  Born in Manchester of Celtic parents, he was brought up in Swansea, out of where his father was a trawlerman (Peter cited the squeaking of the boats’ mooring ropes as an echo he recreated in his larger wave-motion models).  The Grand Old Man of UK automatists turns 85 during Moving On and has relocated from mid-Wales to Frome to be nearer the rest of his family.  Health problems have caused him to cease making anything, a sad decline for one so irrepressible.
  This vigour fed into all his (more rarely seen) other fields of creativity:  painting;  drawing;  furniture design;  sculpture;  even, briefly, tapestry.  He’s a true original, in many senses.  Cabaret’s founding automatist, when it was still in Falmouth, Peter helped the owner physically set the shop up.
  His simplicity of style, the result of deceptively intense thought and effort, is widely admired, but unfortunately just as widely copied, mostly illegally.  Wave-Machines, depicting the motions of the sea (his anti-pretentious outlook means he doesn’t use art terms) and Kissing Couples, though in many variations, are two of his ‘signature’ designs.  All the pieces we’re showing are from our collection, or small stock.

  Sergio Pinese is an Italian-Swiss collector who, like many serious enthusiasts, has turned to making at a low-output level.  His style is very varied, but always incorporates verbal-visual wit (even in English, not his first language), an aspect of much automata.  We’re showing one popular piece from a previous exhibition, and three mobiles made specially for this one (they “qualify” as automata by dint of your picking them up and putting them down, to make them move).  Having got into the groove, he suggested he might bring more when he attends the show on the last Saturday.

  Husband-&-wife team Angela & Laurence St Leger have a stranglehold on the market in miniature automata.  Over 25 years ago Laurence, a watchmaker by training, made a tiny strongman who lifts his dumbbells above his head.  More designs followed, and they found they could focus on these full-time.  Angela does the painting, including eyes on some of these figures!  These eleven will be on show, but their range is over 200.  Very more-ish!!  To gauge their scale, the roof on which the white stork perches is 1" (25mm) long.

  Paul Spooner genuinely needs no introduction to automata fans.  Almost without question the most widely known automatist in the world, his pieces, with their surreal back-stories, are in constant demand, snapped up wherever they’re on sale.

* now in a London warehouse, selling mostly online, and touring parts of their collection to other venues worldwide.