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All contents are Copyright © 2006-2013 John M Blundall and Stephen Foster or is part of The John M Blundall Collection unless stated otherwise.

Adam Kilian

The puppet theatre in Poland has proved to be a distinctive and exceptionally rich area for stage design, and has consequently grown into a flourishing art. The roots of Polish puppet theatre reach way back into the past - to the medieval "szopka" a church-like structure in which simple effigies and later puppets, performed the Christmas Nativity story.

Polish puppet theatre design has a very distinctive style, the result of experiments, which have dealt with artistic rather than technical problems. This has resulted in more interesting unified design styles which have established a unique and sophisticated form of modern creative puppet theatre dealing with complex and difficult conventions which children accept thus providing them with an aesthetic education which develops a great love for the theatre and the arts in general.

The puppet theatre is often referred to as the designer’s theatre, and nowhere has this been confirmed with greater certainty than Poland where puppet theatre performances are notable for the remarkable range of imaginative ideas produced by the designers.

For many years one man dominated the design scene in Poland, both in the puppet theatre and the theatre of drama, opera and dance -his name - Adam Kilian. It is impossible to do justice to this exceptionally talented man, in print. At first glance his work appears to be very simple, highly imaginative, colourful, and possessing the finest qualities usually associated with the work of children and folk artists. He could be described as a Peter Pan character, he never seems to grow old, he never changes, is always on the move, continuously excited by the child’s creative work and play, folk art, classical and modern art, and always fascinated by modern fashion which he calls modern folk art.

The work of Adam Kilian stands out against that of many other original and talented Polish designers. He has been connected with and surrounded by art and artists all his life. His mother, Janina Kilian-Stanislawska, was a leading art critic, director of the Krakow Children’s Puppet Theatre, and later, the renowned Lalka Theatre, Warsaw, one of the worlds most influential puppet theatres. His aunt, Zofia Stanislawska-Howurkowa was a fine sculptor, graphic artists and stage designer. So this was his early influence. Later he came to England, to Nottingham, to study art and architecture at the College of Art and Crafts there.

Before completing his studies he went back to Poland, drawn by the theatre there. His skill and talent was developed by being totally involved with the creative specialists involved in all aspects of theatre art. His design style is influenced and inspired by Polish folk art, and most of his work is confirmation of this. His remarkable ability to create inspired stage pictures using the symbolic elements found in folk art, this most powerful and imaginative form of human expression, is unique. He once described himself, not as a designer, but an arranger of images and ideas.

Some years ago we were fortunate enough to see his work as a stage designer in the production of Wyspianski's "Wesele", "Wedding", during one of sadly missed "World Theatre" seasons at the Aldwych Theatre. His setting for the play consisted of a giant size "szopka" which totally filled the stage. During Puppet Theatre '84, his first major work for the puppet theatre "Zwytala the Musician" was seen. The production was created in collaboration with the outstanding puppet theatre Director, actor, author, Jan Wilkowski - a partnership which turned out to be a major influence on the development of modern creative puppet theatre, and one which also led to a far greater acceptance and understanding of the importance of the puppet theatre as a major form of theatrical expression in its own right, and one which could become a major influence in other areas of theatre. This collaboration produced numerous outstanding productions including Wilkowski's "Guignol in Distress", in which he also played the part of Jean the puppet player, and for which Adam Kilian was awarded the Gold Medal for his designs, at the 1958 Bucharest International Puppet Festival.

Zwyrtala, created in 1958, was the only Polish production to be seen at the Paris Theatre des Nations in 1959, and was awarded the Grand Prix of the Critics Club. In 1960 the production won the first prize at the International Puppet Theatre Festival in Warsaw, and was subsequently seen in many countries, attracting rave reviews everywhere. The design style for the production was inspired by the glass painting of the Podhale region of Poland, an inspired idea which he used on other productions and for his illustrations for children’s books. Deep blue backgrounds decorated with large colourful stylised flowers, simple and intense colours with heavy black outlines. The performance, a totally Polish experience, is a daring experiment full of wit and sardonic humour, avoiding sentimentality.

In another production, "The Painted Tower", a sequence of folk poems recited by the actor Wojciech Siemion, Kilian designed a number of giant figures made out of straw, the actor "acted" with these figures, the protagonists in the poems, conducting a kind of dialogue with them. Plaited straw is frequently used by Polish peasants to create decorative objects, and at Easter time the peasants in the Krakow region make disguises of straw resembling Kilian's figures. In other productions Kilian has used the skills of Tillage basketmakers. He created puppets and costumes made of skeletal shapes decorated with the glass balls generally used to decorate the Christmas tree.

Besides his remarkable output he has produced distinguished work in other fields; fine posters, considerable numbers of imaginative postcards, many superb children’s books, more than two dozen puppet films, outstanding covers for the magazine "Poland", in some cases a combination of the drawings of his and his children’s drawings

Kilian is an exceptional talent, a painter influenced and inspired by children and peasants as artists. He has been awarded Gold Medals and numerous other State Prizes, also the unique Order of the Smile. His measure of a good days work is a waste paper basket overflowing with rejected drawings. He is a thoroughly Polish artist with a fascinating philosophy of life and work. This philosophy is summed up in an item published in the magazine "Poland", and carries the title “My Creed” and it with this that I would like to finish this introduction.


To me art is a game. My life's purpose is to save the land of childhood through the sets, puppets, costumes and illustrations I design. I have succeeded in taking a small nip of that unfathomed store of naive freshness of art and charm of the primitive.

The expression, the tragedy and the comedy of folk art is very dramatic material. That is why I do illustrations in order to transfer the experience of the theatre to that medium and conversely to take what I have learned in book illustration to the theatre.

The puppet and cartoon film offers a moving frame where one is condensed to complete freedom. Everything is permitted. One has unbounded freedom in the forms he wishes to adapt.

It was necessary to draw up several guiding rules.

I try to follow a few of the principles in working my "Gods Little Acre"

1. Be modern, that is try to introduce something new, no matter how insignificant in this field of       art.

2. Borrow from the national art values.

3. Play with form and context with the concentration of the child.

4. Work in various branches of art and with various materials to avoid getting into a rut.

5. Make use of the grotesque as an expression of humour and wit.

6. Exaggerate in the expression of the drama and the tragedy.

7. Master the magic gift of affecting an audience between the ages of 5 and 100, regardless        of their tastes.

8. Pay no regard to fashions.

9. Kindle the joy of life even in a stick.

10. Start life anew. Stay "back in the same grade for the next forty years and correct all your         past mistakes.

John Blundall