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Monday, 20 July 2009

Engines of Enchantment at Cartoon Museum

Rowland Emmett's Golf Machine

London's Cartoon Museum is to host an exhibition dedicated to the work of eccentric genius Rowland Emett this summer.

Described in TIME Magazine as "a nostalgic-romantic artist-humorist social commentator-engineer," this exhibition brings together, for the first time in Britain, the eccentric genius of Rowland Emett both as a cartoonist and as a maker of ‘Gothick Kinetic Things!’

The show includes five fantastic whirring, winking machines including three created for the classic children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 1968 as well as originals of many of his best cartoons, some on show for the first time.

The world created by Emett is uniquely British but with international appeal - his cartoons have been admired by many including Saul Steinberg and Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, who chose ‘The Cartoons of Rowland Emett’ as one of his top 100 things in the world.

In 1939 Emett first submitted a drawing to Punch. It was rejected but with the note: "Not quite... Very ingenious though. Try again." Try again he did and five of his drawings were accepted.

During the war he worked as a draughtsman at the air ministry but continued to supply drawings to Punch increasingly of romantic gothic trains, trams and boats which, together with their crew, appeared to be humorous relics of a bygone era.


In 1951, someone had the idea of turning Emett’s spidery railway cartoons into reality and he was invited by the Festival of Britain committee to construct three child-sized engines for the working Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway. He did. The railway was a huge success carried millions of visitors in the Festival’s Pleasure gardens and he and his machines never looked back. The exhibition includes the original model train, complete with driver, which he presented to the Festival committee.

The exhibition at the Cartoon Museum also includes the Exploratory Moon-Probe Lunacycle MAUD, (Manually Assisted Universal, Deviator), the Fairway-Birdie Mk. 1 - fully automated airborne self-golfing golf machine. Also on display will be the Little Dragon Carpet Cleaner and Visivision Machine all of which were created for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Emett constructed the machines out of antique doorknobs, umbrellas, lamp shades and any other bits and pieces he found around the house – much to the irritation of his wife! The result were cartoons come to life - working machines which whiz, whirr and whistle.

The cartoons are surreal confections filled with playful details. Amongst them is a drawing of a Rolls Royce fitted with roulette wheels and staircase created for the wedding of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace in 1956 which he actually attended.

Engines of Enchantment: The Machines and Cartoons of Rowland Emett opens on 29 July and runs until 1 November. More info: www.cartoonmuseum.org

Rowland Emmett: Art and Images

More about the Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway

More about the 1951 Festival of Britain

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