“I tell you, my friend, there’s divinity in a horse, and especially in a horse like this.” Michael Morpurgo’s words in his 1982 novel War Horse seem just as apt a description of the breathtaking puppets that would help turn his book into the most successful play in the history of the UK’s National Theatre a quarter of a century later.
Those puppets are now going under the hammer at a special auction at Bonhams on Tuesday September 13 – the only time that a full set will ever go on sale. (Eight were made in total, with three now in museums, three being preserved for future productions, and the other worn out after years of performances around the world.) As such, the sale offers what Giles Peppiatt, Bonhams director of modern African art, calls a “one-off opportunity to acquire a piece of theatrical legend”.
Made out of cane, leather, aluminium and Tyvek (a material used in book binding) by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, each of the items – which include star horses Joey (first and second pictures) and Topthorn (third picture), a pair of crows and (my personal favourite) a bobbing goose (fourth picture) that moves on a wheel – will be signed and numbered by Handspring’s master puppeteer Adrian Kohler.
All money raised will go to the Handspring Trust, a nonprofit organisation founded by Kohler’s fellow Handspring puppeteer Basil Jones that takes art and performance programmes into South African communities with the aim of inspiring the next generation of puppet-theatre creatives.