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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.

Harry W. Whanslaw

During dialogues with puppeteers it is often interesting to note how many are not familiar with the names of the personalities and founders of The Guild, let alone what they actually did. It is not just a question of talking history, it is important to understand their motivation and their passion for what they did in practical terms and why.

There are two key personalities that inspired the formation of The Guild, Harry W. Whanslaw, and Gerald Morice. Harry Whanslaw, more affectionately known as Whanny, was one of the most prolific illustrators of books, mostly of an educational nature, in the early twentieth century.

Ebay, recently offered four original pen an ink drawings, illustrations for ‘A History of The British Isles’, signed and dated 1914. Not only do they demonstrate his remarkable skills as an illustrator, they also show his ability to capture the movement of his subjects and the atmosphere of the settings that surround them, they also make you realise the volume of knowledge of historical accuracy in the detail.

Having a substantial volume of original drawings, illustrations and paintings, notebooks and a number of his research books, it is fascinating to recognise the level of  detailed research undertaken by him and other illustrators of the period. His skills were not only demonstrated in terms of visual imagery, but also in his writing; reading his books is still a joy, and they are as fresh and lively as ever. His numerous illustrated articles for ‘Chatterbox‘, are an inspiration.

Like so many talented artists, Whanny loved the popular arts which informed and inspired so many ideas, not the least the puppet theatre and the juvenile drama. Whanny was fortunate to see a number of the family travelling marionette theatres, and he regularly spent precious time and money in the great street markets of London, where he bought any item of curiosity. It was always a great joy to be left in his studio, a real ‘cabinet of curiosities’. to sort through the vast amounts of oddities that were everywhere. In the corner of his studio was the proscenium of ‘The Studio Theatre’ cut through the wall into a box room that housed the stage and hanging rails for the marionettes

Perhaps the most significant of his works was the ‘Chatterbox Annual’, published in 1923, that contained his illustrated items throughout it, with the  title ‘The Toy That Never Grows Old’. The popularity of this led to the publication of the book that inspired so many model theatre enthusiasts, including myself ’Everybody’s Theatre’.

Very little is known about Whanny’s early life, and I am always searching for material and anecdotes, and would be grateful for any items. It would be interesting to know more about which art school he attended in London, and  when and what he exhibited at The Royal Academy.

John M. Blundall

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