Curious Trends


Carnival colours and retro fairground kitsch

Retro funfair paraphernalia and paintings have recently become much more sought after by collectors. The bold primary colours and influence of carnival themes has recently inspired fashion and interiors collections. However, the basic elements of old fashioned fairground rides and games, together with promotional paintings and posters are uniquely charming and collectable in their own right as heirlooms and works of design art.

Susan Hiller, whose work is currently being exhibited at the Tate Britain, was one of the first contemporary artists to be inspired by fairground style entertainment. A pioneer of new media, her 1990 video installation of Punch and Judy shows called ‘An entertainment’ was the first artwork to surround the viewer with walls of film. Hiller says that she “wanted to recapture for adults that absolute bewilderment of the child, so that they would feel small and surrounded by unknown happenings rather than being spectators.”

Now collectors are returning to the original items rather than contemporary reinterpreations by artists. The Peter Blake curated Exhibiton #3 at the Museum of Everything included many exhibits relating to the fairground. These ranged from small ephemera and photographs to ventriloquist dummies, Punch and Judy shows, model carousels and even life size hand painted pieces of original funfair rides. Time Out’s Gabriel said of the show: “Ultimately, the entire exhibition conveys a wondrous sense of the carnivalesque - not simply in terms of the objects' provenance, but as a spectacular celebration of the diversity and eccentricity of British visual culture.”

Gaudy kitsch retro ornamentation, use of primary colours and fairy lights are epitomized by Arthur Windley’s Miniature Fairground – said to be the only one of its kind in the world. At the age of 85, Windley a former chicken farmer and dabbling antiques dealer reluctantly sold the fairground he’d spent 40 years creating, when he and his wife moved to a smaller property.

His pride and joy included 30 miniature rides powered by motors from 1930s gramophones, including ‘diddy dodgems’ and a ‘pint-sized Punch and Judy.’

On parting with his prized creation, Arthur's only wish was that someone would get as much pleasure from the miniature fairground as he had. Thanks to Peter Blake, the working models, complete with decorative adornments including vintage LP covers, retro toys and games, were displayed at the Museum of Everything’s exhibition - and were greatly enjoyed by the many visitors to the show. Here’s the funfair in action:


By May Pritt on 16/11/2011 11:47:52

My husbands grandfather had a company in Audenshaw that made mechanical amusements for fair grounds during the period you asked about and the company was still there in the 1950's but sadly I cannot find anything about it although I did visit it during the 1950's it was off Guide Lane Audenshaw so if you know anything more about it I would be pleased to know, It was either called Mechanical Novelty or Mechanical Amusements and the owners name of course was T.H. Pritt

By Vanessa Burley on 25/09/2011 14:29:58

I recently bought a fairground sidestall/amusement, Circa 1930 - (could be earlier) which is powered by a crank, sending a current to a series of trains that rotate in a roulette fashion. It was a gambeling game, where tickets could be bought, predicting the appropriate station destinations. E.G - London, Birmingham etc. The crank rotates the train, which powers the lights on the board which highlights the stations as it goes round. Eventually the trains stops, highlighting a particular station. It has a name of the maker as Mechanical Novelty Co, Audenshaw, Manchester, on the top which lights up. Could anyone point me in the right direction to anyone who my be interested in buying it or valuing it for me.

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