in Cornwall before moving to London and subsequently touring widely, for
Mechanical Theatre provided a focus and an outlet for the 'Falmouth automata makers'. Sue Jackson describes the
history of 'CMT'
How did CMT begin?
CMT started life as a slightly
odd crafts shop called 'Cabaret' in Falmouth, Cornwall.
It was opened in 1979 by
myself and sold Peter Markey's simple wooden toys alongside knitwear and
ceramics. With the arrival of Paul Spooner, it wasn't long before the
mechanical pieces started displacing the other crafts. I began
collecting and the work I kept remained in the shop. I could see how
much pleasure they gave to customers - even though they were often told
that they could turn the handles but they couldn't buy!
When Paul Spooner made a large
coin-operated skeleton (The Last Judgment) for the shop window it was
clear that people would pay to bring automata to life and so in May
1983, still in Falmouth, Cabaret Mechanical Theatre began and the
customers now paid to turn handles and press buttons.
The Falmouth Shop
What did the collection
look like at that time? The photos (above) suggest it was a real
The collection was largely
made up of small hand-cranked pieces by Peter Markey and Paul Spooner.
For protection most of them were encased and motorised so that they
could be operated by push button.Icommissioned and
bought larger one-off machines like Spooner's 'The Dream'. I also added work
by Ron Fuller and Richard Windley.
Kissing Couple by Peter Markey
When did you move to London
and what happened then?
It was soon realised that in
order to continue expanding the exhibition it would have to move from
Cornwall. CMT opened in Covent Garden, London in 1985, with new work by
Tim Hunkin and a little later, Michael Howard.
Over the following decade the
world of Cabaret Mechanical Theatre has continued expanding. The shop
has a large range of handmade automata which cannot be bought anywhere
else, it also sells kits, card cut-outs and videos.
collection continues to grow organically without any preconceived idea
in mind, yet the pieces tend to share an eccentricity, a wry sense of humour and a slightly shrewd way of looking at the world. Perhaps what
ultimately unifies the collection are my own personal tastes and
I remember Gundestrup by Paul Spooner
During Summer 2000, the main collection was on display at The Kursaal,
Southend-on-Sea. Since then there have been exhibitions across the
world: including Korea, Thailand and the US. In 2007 Falmouth Art
Gallery mounted 'Peter Markey and friends' and there was a large and
well received exhibition at Kinetica: the new museum of interactive art
Cabaret continues to occupy
the strange, shifting ground between art, craft and business. CMT was
never conceived as a way of making money. For me it is always a labour
of love. It receives no subsidies or sponsorship, yet it helps to
support a number of crafts people. CMT endeavours to remain a haven of
wit, intelligence and individuality in an increasingly homogenous and