Saturday brings the 4th annual Vermont Crankie Fest to New England Youth Theater in Brattleboro. “Crankies are scrolling illustrations that accompany songs and stories,” organizers write. “Often lit from behind, they evoke the magic of shadow puppetry and are the perfect analog antidote to our digital age.”
They’re like handmade film strips, picture stories, cranked from one spool to another to be watched as images scroll across a “screen” in the middle. Often accompanied by live music, they’re a bit like DIY music videos. They’re one of the entertainments that pop up frequently in puppetry circles as well.
The technique goes back at least to the 19th century, in the form of “moving panoramas, often on historical themes. They’re a form of epic entertainment that can be seen as a precursor to the films—the moving pictures—that came to dominate modern society in the 20th century.
This year’s festival is scheduled to feature crankies by Sue Truman from Seattle, Ellen Gozion (her “Pretty Fair Miss” is pictured above) from Pittsburgh, Mary Lauren Fraser and Kiah Raymond from Western Massachusetts, Brendan Taaffe of Brattleboro, with a special guest appearance by Tony Barrand. See samples of their art below.
“The Black Cat Jig” by Sue Truman imagines a cat’s psychedelic dreams.
“Pretty Fair Miss Crankie” by Ellen Gozion is based on an old North Carolina ballad that tells of a couple long separated when the man goes off to war.
“When the World Comes to An End” by Brendan Taaffe and friends adapts a traditional camp meeting song about signs and wonders of the apocalypse.
“Barn Quilt Trail, My Cape Breton Home” by Sue Truman delights in the traditional patterns of quilting.
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