The British company Smallfilms captured the imaginations of generations of parents and children with such animated serial classics such as Bagpuss (1974), The Clangers (1969–74), Ivor the Engine (1975–77) and Noggin the Nog (1959–65). What is not widely known is that the production company that produced these iconic programs consisted of only two employees working in an abandoned barn outside Canterbury: Peter Firminpainted the backdrops and created the models, while Oliver Postgate wrote the scripts, did the stop-motion filming with a 16mm camera and recorded all the voices and narration. Their practice was a painstaking and intimate labor of love many worlds away from the conventionally outsourced and computerized animation techniques used by entertainment giants today.
Published by Four Corners Books, The Art of Smallfilms: The Work of Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin presents the company archive: all the puppets and cardboard cutouts from the shows (including some previously unseen characters) along with technical details and insights into how the shows came together. Appropriately, the archive is meticulously photographed and presented like “a collection of artifacts in an exhibition detailing some much-admired twentieth-century art movement, like Fluxus or Dada,” as British stand-up comedian Stewart Lee notes in his introduction. Just as Alexander Calderdemonstrated decades earlier, sometimes the most compelling art is made from wire, yarn, pipe cleaners and cotton balls.