Saturday, 14 May 2011

Toys, Fairyland and the Peasant Imagination Part 1

Fairyland and toys played an important influence on the Peasant Arts movement and most of the key members were directly involved.

John Ruskin School advert

  • Godfrey Blount made ‘traditional and new’ toys that were sold by the ‘The John Ruskin School’, in St George’s Hall, Kings Road, and wrote about these in Toys True and False (Peasant Arts Guild Paper No. 28)
  • Ethel Blount wrote about the relationship between toys and the child’s imagination in Gifts of St Nicholas: A Study of Toys.
  • Greville MacDonald wrote numerous fairytale books such as Trystie’s Quest (1912) and Jack and Jill (1913), and wrote about the impact of fairy in various publications such as The Fairy Tale in Education (Peasant Arts Guild Paper No. 16).
  • Maude Egerton King was described as “writing children’s stories of valuable socialist intent” (La Chard, Therese, A Sailor Hat in the House of the Lord, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1967) although I have not found any of these stories so far.
Trystie's Quest by Greville MacDonald

Greville MacDonald (whose father’s influence as one of the most famous writer’s of fairy tales of all-time cannot be ignored) described his thoughts on ‘fairy’ in a chapter called ‘Fairy-Tale Influences’ of his memoirs (Reminiscences of a Specialist, London, George Allen and Unwin, 1932)  “I am increasingly sure that fairy-tale is a necessary corrective to the inevitably mechanical of much school education.  It is a wild flower for the child adventurer to clutch at and gather for his joy: from its free, untutored glory all literature has grown.  As the child is father of the man, so is fairy-tale greater than its intellectual offspring, more significant of the spiritual, passionate consanguinity of weed and rose, tiger and lamb, dragon and saint, that binds all creatures into a destined harmony.  

Similarly long ago it was the unschooled peasant folk and craftsmen – painters, masons, glass-stainers – who built their cathedrals, unmatchable in glory even now when millionaires’ superfluous money thinks to build better ones.  Nor were these simple men afraid of honestly carving cruelty on their gargoyles, or devils in cowls and cassocks, as if to declare the power of evil.  Correspondingly fairy-tale is always pointing the conflict between good and evil, and the stubborn facts of hard-heartedness and greed.” 

Similarly, on toys, Ethel Blount wrote “But the toys themselves – let us consider them a little.  To their creation the influence of poverty and tradition seem necessary, and it is the children of the poor who have the most real toys.  For the rich child there are changing fashions in them, clockwork acrobats today, phonograph dolls to-morrow, and nursery aeroplanes the days after; but the child of poverty clasps her rag doll to her heart while her brother plays with the almost elemental monkey-on-a-stick.” (Gifts of St Nicholas: A Study of Toys)

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