For centuries they have delighted people of all ages with their movement and humour. Since the 1980s the town of Falmouth in Cornwall, UK has become a focal point for automata makers and collectors.
The first recorded automata were made in Egypt
Byzantine water clocks incorporate automata
Islamic artisans develop ever more elaborate water clocks
European ‘clockwork’ includes animated characters striking the chimes
Renaissance gardens come to life with hydraulic automata
Life-like mechanical creatures and toys become a craze with wealthy Europeans
Napoleonic prisoners of war in British captivity produce fine bone automata
Golden age of Victorian mechanical toy makers particularly in France and Germany
Clockwork and mechanical automata and toys in decline
Alexander Calder and Jean Tinguely explore kinetic and mechanical objects and Sam Smith begins to make painted wooden toys
Rodney Peppé has his first children’s book published, meets Sam Smith and is inspired
Sue Jackson opens Cabaret in Falmouth and recruits local makers Peter Markey, Paul Spooner and toy maker Ron Fuller.
Cabaret Mechanical Theatre moves to Covent Garden, London
Peter Markey gives one of his ‘wave machines’ to Falmouth Art Gallery 1998 All Hands on Deck! Automata on a maritime theme exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery
Falmouth Art Gallery collection now numbers almost 60 automata and includes work by Patrick Bond, Anthony Crosby, Susan Evans, Robert Hackney, Fi Henshall, Robert Jones, Peter Markey, Justin Mitchell, Keith Newstead, Matt Smith, Paul Spooner, Angela and Laurence St Ledger and Carlos Zapata. Many of these artists live and work in or near Falmouth.