Wednesday 6 December 2023

Perchten Hexentanz (The Perchten Witch Dance)

I've been looking for inspiration for more characters in my May Parade series of sculptures. I already knew about Krampusnacht and, indeed, the night of the Krampus has just passed us by. But today I discovered the Austrian Perchten Haxentanz and it's amazing!

Perchta or Berchta ('Bertha'), also commonly known as Percht and other variations, was once known as a goddess in Alpine paganism in the Upper German and also Austrian and Slovenian regions of the Alps. Perchta is often identified as stemming from the same Germanic goddess as Holda and other female figures of Germanic folklore. 

According to Jacob Grimm and Lotte Motz, Perchta is Holda's southern cousin or equivalent, as they both share the role of 'guardian of the beasts' and appear during the Twelve Days of Christmas, when they oversee spinning. Grimm says Perchta was known precisely in those Upper German regions where Holda leaves off, in Swabia, in Alsace, in Switzerland, in Bavaria and Austria'. 

Perchtenlaufen (Parade of the Perchten) is a folk custom that involves two groups of locals marching to drums and horns and fighting against one another using wooden canes and sticks. Both groups are masked, one as 'beautiful' and the other as 'ugly'. People masquerade as a devilish figure known as Percht, a two-legged humanoid goat with a giraffe-like neck, wearing animal furs.

It makes Morris Dancing look a trifle tame doesn't it?

It does make we want to create a sculpt loosley based on the costumes though ... 

Tuesday 5 December 2023

The Mask Series

I am fascinated by masks and mask-making and I recently came across this extraordinary project from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. Photographer Inge Morath and cartoonist Saul Steinberg teamed up to create a 'mask series' of people wearing cardboard boxes and paper bags illustrated by Steinberg.
The idea of disguise is central to Steinberg’s art. In the world as he saw it, everyone wears a mask, whether real or metaphorical. People invent personas through makeup, facial expression, hairstyles, and these facades become who they are. 

As Steinberg wrote, 'The mask is a protection against revelation.' 
You can see a lot more by visiting the Saul Steinberg Foundation here.  

Monday 4 December 2023

Scenes from an Imaginary Folk Festival - Update

A sixth figure has now been added to the parade - the Dragon Piper

I loosely based the design of this one on the dragon that features in the Hal An Tow, a pageant from my home town of Helston in Cornwall that happens every May 8th. You can watch the whole thing here.

And I did make a dragon costume head from waste cardboard earlier this year ...

So, I started, as always, with some sketching, followed by making a basic armature of aluminium wire bulked out with kitchen foil.
I then applied a basic cover of white Sculpey Original polymer clay and baked it. Then I started to build up the shape of the body in pink Super Sculpey. 

I then did some work on the head and face. I made the dragon costume head in white Cosclay as it's flexible after baking and will prevent acidental breakage.   

The pipe/horn was made from a bamboo golf tee that I once found. I used my Dremel to hollow out the wide end.
Next I began the (let's be honest) fairly labourious job of covering the body in diamond-shaped scales. They were stuck on using a liquid polymer clay called Sculpey Bake and Bond. I also used a mix of Super Sculpey, which is strong and has a fine surface, and flexible Cosclay which will prevent any protruding scales from snapping off.
Finally, I added hands and feet, painted the whole thing black and then gave it gold highlights. The Dragon Piper was completed.

He/she/they now join my May Parade.
Who will I make next?

Saturday 2 December 2023

Whitby Krampus Run

Today is the day of the 10th Whitby Krampus Run 2023.

Whitby Krampus Run started in 2013 as a lone Krampus. It was joined by friends in 2015 and then became a full-blown annual public event in 2017. The costumed street parade is an interpretation of the Alpine winter tradition with inclusion of local folklore and history to infuse a unique take on the Krampus legend and lore. 

Whitby Krampus Run has now become a tradition in its own right and it and the evening Krampus Ball both raise money for St Catherine's Hospice.

Friday 1 December 2023

I'm officially a weirdo now

Well well well, here's a thing ...

I am the guest on the latest episode of Dan Schreiber's marvelous podcast We Can Be Weirdos! (listen here)

Why this this a big deal for me? It's because this podcast was the Number 1 podcast WORLDWIDE on Spotify recently.


And guess what? I was on two other podcasts that achieved Number One status in the past - QI's No Such Thing As a Fish (also co-hosted by Dan) and Stephen J Dubner's Freakonomics.

How mad is that?

We Can Be Weirdos is a fantastic deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of human beliefs and comes off the back of Dan's excellent bestselling book - The Theory of Everything Else.

It's a hugely entertaining book that explores many 'batshit' theories and beliefs but never in an insulting or preachy way. Rather like Louis Theroux, Dan has the knack of always sounding interested and respectful while maintaining an almost childlike enthusiasm for other people's enthusiasms. Do get yourself a copy.

I've known Dan for 15 years or so and we worked together on both QI and Radio 4's The Museum of Curiosity. Over the years we've had many many conversations about cryptids, curious beliefs, conspiracy theories and so much more.

And back in 2013, we created a pilot for a podcast/radio show called 101 People to Meet before You or They Die which was a kind of precursor to Weirdos. I did a lot of the research, Dan and I bashed the script together and then he presented the show (he's good at that stuff). 

We recorded the pilot with explorer Charles Brewer Carias, a somewhat eccentric and controversial figure who has discovered many new species of insect, a South American breed of dog with 'two noses', and what he believes to be living rocks. At the time we spoke to him he was also convinced that he had discovered clues that would lead him to El Dorado - the fabled lost City of Gold.

We then took the show onstage with a live performance featuring Dr Jan Bondeson - who has written books on subjects as varied as extraordinary dogs, Victorian freakshows and instances of people being buried alive - and Marc Abrahams, creator of the Ig Nobel Prizes. We did the show at Conway Hall (home of the Ethical Society) in London. Other highlights of the show included a performance by the insanely tall magician Pete Heat and a guest appearance by Ig Nobel Prize winner Elena Bodnar, who invented a bra that can - in an emergency - be turned into two gas masks. Of course, back then we had no inkling of the Covid pandemic to come so I hope she sold a few! We also had New Scientist cartoonist Maria Boyle - better known as TwistedDoodles - in the audience creating live cartoons of the show.

The event went down very well with the audience but pressures of work meant that we never got the chance to take it further. But, a decade later, Dan has now done so and very successfully too. I am delighted for him.

To listen to the Weirdos podcast, click here. Apart from me, guests include Dan Aykroyd (yes, THAT Dan Aykroyd), Danny Robbins, Dr Irving Finkel, Lucy Cooke, Ross Noble, Prof Richard Wiseman, John Higgs, Dan Snow, Sara Pascoe, Richard Herring and many more great people.

Add it to your podcast playlists today!