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Fairytale in paper - a magical film

When The Adventures of Prince Achmed premiered in Germany on September 23, 1926, it was hailed as the first full-length animated film. More than seventy-five years later, Lotte Reiniger's enchanting film still stands as one of the great classics of animation — beautiful, mesmerizing and utterly seductive.

Taken from The Arabian Nights, the film tells the story of a wicked sorcerer who tricks Prince Achmed into mounting a magical flying horse and sends the rider off on a flight to his death. But the prince foils the magician’s plan and soars headlong into a series of wondrous adventures — joining forces with Aladdin and the Witch of the Fiery Mountains, doing battle with the sorcerer's army of monsters and demons, and falling in love with the beautiful Princess Peri Banu.

This cinematic treasure has been beautifully restored with its spectacular color tinting and with a new orchestral recording of the magnificent 1926 score by Wolfgang Zeller. Thrilling, sensuous and dazzling, Prince Achmed will enthrall children and film enthusiasts of all ages.


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Embroidered History - The Story of the Sami...

Embroidered History - The Story of the Sami...


Previously known simply as ‘Lapland’, a twinkling white snowscape filled with reindeers and forests as far as the eye can see; but the local name for this territory is Sápmi, and its rich and tumultuous history lives on in a poetic new embroidery Historja, made by Swedish textile artist Britta Marakatt-Labba.

In exquisite detail, this artwork reaches back centuries and across 24 metres of linen, mapping out the lives of the land’s indigenous Sami people – of whom MarakattLabba is a descendant. Historja gently leads the viewer into this extraordinary culture. From the everyday tasks of Arctic life to the mythologies and beliefs ingrained into its society, Marakatt-Labba worked on the piece over the course of four years.

The epic embroidery can be read as the artist explains. ‘From the right, the picture opens with a scene in the forest where several faces peep out from between birch trunks.’ To her, these mysterious figures represent ancestors, the ‘mothers of origin’ as she says herself, who share their wisdom with children as they bring their culture into a new era. The close relationship between man and nature is cherished among the Sami, who work with the harsh environment and not against it. Tradition tells us that the Sami people often used wood from nearby forests to make their skis, and the power of local reindeer to help them cross the icy planes. In her embroidery, you can see the Sápmi landscape, sprinkled with a population dressed in traditional warm hats and blankets as they tackle the frost.

In one scene, the artist pinpoints a famous moment in history when the Sami people revolted against Norwegianisation a form of colonisation in the mid 19th century, and known as The Kautokeino Uprising. A group of Sami attacked a local merchant’s building that was representative of Norwegian authorities. They burnt down the store and a church, killing two people. ‘I chose to picture the burning of the church,’ explains Marakatt-Labba, ‘because the priests played a role in instigating the uprising.’ ‘In the middle of the piece you can see three goddesses begging in the hopes that their future generations will be able to live a peaceful life on the land.’

Although the environment is extreme and maintaining a sense of normality can be tough in such treacherous weather conditions, the Sami people generally live peaceful lives and spend a lot of their time fishing, farming, caring for their families and their herds of reindeer. Art forms an integral part of their culture and, unsurprisingly, Marakatt-Labba is at the centre. Part of the Masi Artists Group, formed in 1978, Marakatt-Labba has helped to support a network of makers in the polar regions of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia since its inception. She has cemented herself as one of her generation’s most formidable artists and story-tellers. Thanks to her incredible stitched landscapes, the history of the elusive and often misunderstood Sami culture can go on to enter new eras with resounding recall.

With thanks to Beatrijs Sterk, Britta Marakatt-Labba, Sofia Brenner and Elisabeth Brenner Remberg and Ola Petter Røe.

Read all about this extraordinary work in the Luna issue of Selvedge - available here.

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THEO JANSEN - Strandbeests (Beach Animals)

Theo Jansen is an extraordinary Dutch artist. In 1990, he began building large mechanisms out of plastic tubes that are able to move on their own with simply the use of the wind. Collectively these works are known as Strandbeest which translates to 'beach animal' as all of his 'beests' live on the beach.  The kinetic sculptures appear to walk and these animated works are intended to be a fusion of art and engineering. Jansen has said that "the walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds" and strives to equip his creations with their own artificial intelligence so they may avoid obstacles such as the sea, by changing course when detected. 


Make your own version with Theo Jansen's mini Strandbeest kits - available here...

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Shadow Play - The work of Lotte Reiniger

We are very excited to add a magical box set of films to our collection, by one of our favourite artists, Lotte Reiniger (1899 –1981). Each Christmas we settle down with hot toddies, light the fire and watch these emotive, early paper-cut animations.

Charlotte "Lotte" Reiniger was a German film maker and the foremost pioneer of silhouette animation. Reiniger made more than 40 films over her career, she created the oldest surviving feature-length animated film, preceding Walt Disney's feature-length Snow White by over ten years.

The article below was published in the Guardian newspaper on 2nd June 2016 by Pamela Hutchinson - celebrating the day of Lotte Reiniger's birth.

Lotte Reiniger, a pioneer in the world of animated film, and a standard-bearer for women in the industry, was born 117 years ago today in Berlin.

Film was Reiniger’s passion: as a child she was delighted by the trick films of Georges Méliès, and later the dreamy horrors of Paul Wegener. She was also an enthusiast for the Chinese art of shadow puppetry, creating her own silhouette spectaculars for a parental audience. As a young woman and keen to work with Wegener, she found a job designing silhouettes for the intertitles in his films. Her first step into animation proper was on his film The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1918). Wegener found he could not control live rats (or even guinea pigs) on set, so Reiniger was tasked with animating wooden rodents, stop-motion style. “The projection was a triumph,” Reiniger remembered. “Those rats really moved as erratically as you would expected panicky rats would and they followed the Piper all right.”

Reiniger’s choice of career, and her signature style, was therefore assured. She joined an experimental animation studio, the Berliner Institut für Kulturforschung, where she met avant-gardists including Bertolt Brecht and her future husband Carl Koch. There another important aspect of her career was settled. Reiniger did not work like a film-maker, but as an artist. Another peer who combined experimental art and film work, Hans Richter, said of her that while her films were based on fairytales and modelled after ancient techniques, she “belonged to the avant-garde as far as independent production and courage were concerned”.

Her hypnotic films, painstakingly crafted out of snippets of card and wire and animated by hand, have influenced generations of film-makers and artists. She also made one of the world’s first animated features, a whirlwind of a fantasy film called The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926). The films, and their enduring charms, are phenomenal, but there are contradictions in the Reiniger story. While we think of Reiniger as a trail-blazer, her work was mostly inspired by antiquated traditions of performance and storytelling. You could also say that her story is also a cautionary one – she worked around the limitations of being a woman in the film industry, rather than storming in to claim her place in the studio.

In the following years, Reiniger made six beautiful short films. She collaborated with artists including her husband Richter, Jean Renoir and Walter Ruttman, but the essence of her technique was work that could be completed at home, at a small desk or kitchen table. In this clip you can see Reiniger explain how to create an animation studio at home. “You take your best dining table, cut a hole into it, put a glass plate over it, and over the glass plate some transparent paper …”

Reiniger may have continued making shorts, if she hadn’t had a windfall. The father of one of her students, a man called Louis Hagen, had invested in film stock during the shaky years of Weimar hyperinflation, and gave the young artist the reels, encouraging her to try her hand at the broader canvas of a feature film. Reiniger responded with The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

During the 1930s, Reiniger and her husband fled Germany but unable to secure a visa in any one country, they moved from place to place until they settled in London after war. It was in Britain that Reiniger’s career flourished again. She initially made films for the GPO Film Unit but in 1953 Hagen’s son, also called Louis, who had come to the UK as a refugee after being interned in a concentration camp, founded a studio called Primrose Productions. Reiniger made a dozen films for Primrose, which reinvigorated her career for another decade.

In the 1960s, Reiniger stopped working and lived quietly in London, but by the 70s her work was being revived and she toured the world talking about her career. In 1979 she made the gorgeous The Rose and the Ring, from a Thackeray story, before dying in 1981, back home in Germany.

Reiniger decribed herself as a “primitive caveman artist”, but her work is anything but simple. Her films have a distinct style, one that was mimicked by several contemporary artists in both commercial and more refined areas (so many early German advertisements use her cut-out method), as well as those who followed her. But Reiniger’s films are so often, if you will excuse the pun, a cut above.

The crispness and intricacy of her black, scissored figures, combine with fluid, bouncing animation. As soon as you think that you have spotted a join, or seen the technique behind the movement, the scene changes, another transformation occurs and the picture has been reformed again. The cut-outs are often backed with jewel-like colours, so the impression is of visual richness, rather than stark monochrome. By conjuring fantastic worlds out of paper and light, Reiniger’s films reach us on a deeply emotional level too: we seem to see imagination at work, as when a story is improvised or embellished from memory at a bedside.




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Peggy Angus - Design Hero

Peggy Angus - Design Hero

On our radar this month is the designer, teacher and painter Peggy Angus (1904-1993). Her remarkable life was filled to the brim with creativity which she shared by tirelessly encouraging others. Angus taught at the North London Collegiate School for Girls where the students were given ambitious projects and allowed to collaborate on real commissions (the tiles she designed with the students can be seen in the school's staircases).

Her home, Furlongs in the South Downs, played host to a hotbed of pre-war artists from Eric Ravilious to Enid Marx. This ramshackle farmhouse acted as a blank canvas for her experiments - the walls covered in hand made wallpapers.

Born in Chile in 1904 (to Scottish parents), Peggy moved as a child to London. A student of the Royal College of Art in the 1920s, her contemporaries included Eric Ravilious, Edward Bawden, Enid Marx and Helen Binyon.

Peggy travelled extensively throughout her life, she captured places, people and scenes of everyday life with an intuitive perception. The portraits she painted are highly original; the designs she created for the wallpapers and tiles that furnished her interiors are inspired by (among many other things) her travels, medieval designs and heraldic symbols. 

Following WWII she began producing patterned tiles, adapting the design skills she had taught in the classroom, and up to the 1950s her colourful and decorative tile murals, commissioned by Carters of Poole, were used in a range of newly constructed buildings from Heathrow airport to modernist schools and universities around the country. Her success in this area prompted her to experiment further with wallpaper design, creating a diverse body of work that carries echoes of an artist and designer whom she admired greatly, William Morris.

In 1958 Angus was commissioned to create a tile mural at the Brussels World fair.

We highly recommend the fascinating and important biography by James Russell which is full of images of Peggy Angus' work and documents her significance within British art and design.

You may enjoy our latest collection of hand painted tiles by Claudia Rankin...

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