« Changing from the ghosts of faith to the spectres of reason is just changing cells. » — Fernando Pessoa
Today, let’s transport ourselves to the foggy, boggy British Isles, where every crumbling castle holds its lot of revenants and spectres within its mouldering walls.
The great cartoonist, tinkerer and beloved eccentric Frederick Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990) was evidently quite at ease within this spooky world, as you shall see. He first came to prominence as a prolific Punch cartoonist, beginning in the late 30s. In the 1950s, though at the height of his powers, he found himself struggling with waning eyesight (an exacting style was his!), so he brilliantly shifted his creative focus to building what he had hitherto been drawing. You may have encountered some of these creations in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Emett and Roald Dahl… fancy that!).
Scores of his cherished kinetic sculptures — trains (“Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway“), flying machines (“Featherstone-Kite Openwork Basketweave Mark Two Gentleman’s Flying Machine“), mechanical computers (“The Forget-Me-Not Computer“), musical hydraulic clocks (“Aqua Horological Tintinnabulator“), musical instruments and nonpareil assemblages… are scattered far and wide across the world’s museums, many of these works restored and in fine functioning order. For instance, Toronto’s Ontario Science Centre owns ten or so (see them in action here!), and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum possesses a choice few.
Obviously, there is much to discuss about this astonishing creative soul (watch him at work!). In the spirit of manageable narrow focus, I’ve kept it to three of his spookiest Punch cartoons from the late 40s-early 50s. Just consider it an amuse-gueule, an opening salvo. We shall return with a more panoramic view, you just wait.
« It is a well known fact that all inventors get their first ideas on the back of an envelope. I take slight exception to this, I use the front so that I can include the stamp and then the design is already half done. » — Rowland Emett