An Elephant in the Garden


A large-scale project commissioned by Devon Arts in Schools Initiative (DAISI) in collaboration with the Northcott Theatre, Exeter, on the theme of Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel, An Elephant in the Garden. I spent two days with three classes of primary school children, in three Devon schools, creating moving panorama boxes (‘crankies’) based on a journey sequence within the Morpurgo story, set in Dresden at the start of World War II. I started by re-telling the tale with the class using a large scale ‘story map’ (see below) to introduce the class to the idea of translating the written word into visual imagery and symbolism. Soon the class began to tell the story for me…
Children then completed their own miniature story maps, focusing in on a dramatic journey taken by the protagonists as they flee war-torn Dresden. They added visual and verbal details, then used their maps to experiment with different methods of oral storytelling, ranging from epic tale to sleazy television reporter.
After a guided visualisation exercise based on the characters’ journey from burning, smouldering Dresden into deep forest, to the refuge of a relative’s abandoned farm, the children translated their story maps into a scroll landscape. They used the skeleton of the story as a basis, interpreting it in their own way. The children created their scrolls using pencil drawing, background watercolour washes, poster paints and fine liner pen detail.  On day two the pupils learnt how to transform a cereal box into a paper automata device using some mathematical measuring, cutting, crafting and lots of papier mache… Parallel dowel rods were fixed into the embellished and decorated boxes, and the scroll ends were attached to the rods, to create a hand-automated, moving image sequence.
The workshop finished with the students re-telling the tale of the journey, using their moving panorama boxes as a visual aid. The 81 completely unique moving panorama boxes, created by pupils of three different primary schools, were displayed at Exeter’s Northcott Theatre to coincide with a stage adaption of Morpurgo’s An Elephant in the Garden. (2014)


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