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Anthony Horowitz shares his love of Automata

Anthony Horowitz, author of Alex Rider and James Bond novels, is a huge fan of Automata. Below, he shares with us where this love of curious contraptions and mechanical masterpieces have come from:

You may not have heard of Paul Spooner, Tim Hunkin, Matt Smith, Peter Markey or Carlos Zapata but they’re some of the cleverest and most creative artists in the UK. What they make though is not exactly art. They create moving toys or automata; little wooden figures that come to life in unexpected ways when you turn a handle -or press a button if they’re plugged in.

Automata tell stories. They can be philosophical, satirical, biblical, allegorical – or just plain rude. They are beautifully handcrafted from wood and metal with cogs and wheels somehow coming together to make the magic happen (there’s a French toymaker, Pierre Mayer, who actually makes conjurors performing antique magic tricks!) Some of them come in limited editions. Others are one-offs.

I’ve been collecting automata for thirty years. I love the idea that in this increasingly utilitarian world, there are craftsmen and women who lend their skills to the creation of objects which are entirely useless, which exist only to amuse. I used to take my children, years ago, to Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden, London where dozens of toys and machines were on display and I still remember their sense of wonderment as we wandered round. There was even a wooden figure that stamped your ticket as you went in.

The child in me is still delighted by the ingenuity and originality of modern automata. I do hope you’ll discover the wonderful collection at Royal Cornwall Museum in Cornwall and, for a short while, put the cares of the world behind you.

‘Anthony Horowitz’s Whodunit Within the Whodunit’ – The New York Times – photo credit Anna Huix

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