Art/installation process: Mary Poppins and the Story Bank

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Image courtesy the Story Bank

A very exciting project I was involved with last year was the new Story Bank in Maryborough, Qld, the birthplace of P. L. Travers, who wrote (most famously) Mary Poppins. It’s a story museum, a P. L. Travers museum, a storytelling journey, and it’s been such fun to be on the edges of it — and I’m hoping to go up for the Mary Poppins festival later this year. Last time I was there the Story Bank was still being fitted out, and I could only peer piteously through the gates.

Great street crossing signs, though.

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Image courtesy the Story Bank

My involvement with the project was a collection of line drawings, and it’s the second time I’ve had the chance to play around the edges of a field largely defined by a Shepard. The lively original Mary Poppins illustrations were by Mary Shepard who, I only realised while doing this, had E. H. Shepard (of my favourite Wind in the Willows illustrations, and of course Winnie the Pooh fame) as a dad.

I posted a bit about illustrating The River Bank, and those lessons proved useful here: developing an approach to the illustrations that was faithful to the text, honoured the famous illustrators and their iconic images (which are so much a part of the history and experience of the books), but was also my own style.

Here are some of the development sketches. I was doing these at various people’s tables in Western Massachusetts.

First was the compass, which needed a treatment that could be read from any angle and also addressed some of the aspects of the original art that… perhaps didn’t age terribly well.

We went with B, which required a lot of animals — bison and all!

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The portrait represented its own set of difficulties. The format, first of all, and then how everyone should be have, and then the fact that Mary is described so exactly as Shepard drew her, like a Dutch doll, that it’s an effort to not look like a direct copy.

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Finally, as a nod to various vanishings into pottery in the books, a design for a plate.

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This developed into two designs, one for a plate, and one for a tureen, with an intermediate horizontal design that became a wall decal. Here are some concept sketches for the tureen while a suitable tureen was still being sought.

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From there, all was inked and assembled, tidied up digitally, and sent up to the Fraser Coast.

I’ll take photos when I get there again, but in the meantime, courtesy of the Story Bank, here are a couple of the pieces in place.

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Compass, photo courtesy of the Story Bank

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Kite-flying, photo courtesy of the Story Bank

 

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Plate, photo courtesy of the Story Bank

If you’re in or visiting Queensland, I do recommend checking out the Story Bank, and the activities they have there.