Monday, December 5, 2016

Crankie! Or, Why I've Been So Quiet

I've wanted to make a crankie for a long time, ever since seeing them demonstrated at the Augusta Heritage Workshop in Elkins, WV. So last month I cajoled my hubby into making the box for one. Then I found a song that would work with it, and finally last week I started my part of the crankie.

What is a crankie? It's basically a simple folk theatre, operated manually with a crank that turns the spools that the story is rolled on. It is usually, but not always, lit from behind with a lamp or other light. Larry remembers that his music teacher had one when he was in elementary school. He hadn't thought of it in years, but it came back to him when he watched the online videos for making one. They're older than that, though (even though he'll tell you he's as old as dirt).

According to the website of The Crankie Factory, the "moving panorama" became popular sometime in the 19th century. Some were quite small, possibly made for a child, and eventually there were some so large they could fill a stage. Some of the makers of crankies took their shows on the road. There are examples of crankies in several museums. Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who escaped by literally shipping himself to freedom in Philadelphia in a shipping box, created a moving panorama to tell the story of his escape and took it on the road until the looming battle over slavery made him leave the US for England. There is much more history of crankies at The Crankie Factoy's page.

So I suppose you could say that crankies were the forerunner of motion picture, in a way. I was enchanted with the ones made by Ellen Gozion, Elizabeth LaPrelle and Penny Anderson when they were demonstrated at Augusta. That was three or four years ago so you can see it took me a while to get around to making one myself.

I learned a lot of what not to do on this first attempt, but I am happy enough with the end results. I hope to use this one at some of the Christmas shows that Jeff Seager and I have coming up this month. And I think I'll make another one for this summer's library programs.

I will try to make a video soon of my crankie in action. Right now, I have to wash marker and pencil off my hands, and then practice, practice, practice. Just wanted to show this because I thought it was so cool.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

3 comments:

Michelle said...

Interesting! You have given me something to research/read about. I am not familiar with them, but I hope this works out for you.

Quinn said...

I don't recall ever seeing these, and look forward to your video!

Suzy said...


I misread your headline as "Cranky--Why I've been so quiet lately." I couldn't believe my eyes! Granny Sue is NEVER cranky! It was a huge relief when your post discussed another fun project. You have a lot of irons in the fire, Granny Sue.

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