Sunday, January 14, 2007

Harmony Kingdom Pot Bellies Combine History and Whimsy

I first encountered Harmony Kingdom's Pot Belly Historicals on a visit to Victoria, British Columbia in 2004. I loved the combination of history with 3D political characture of these small English figurines.

"Harmony Kingdom's U.K. headquarters, Wimberley Mills, is privileged to be located in one of the most beautiful rural areas in England, the South Cotswolds. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Cotswolds is famous for its honey-coloured stone cottages, grand manor houses and impressive churches.

The name Cotswolds' refers to rolling hills and broad river valleys. These wooded hills and valleys are especially suitable for grazing, particularly for the native Cotswold sheep, which in medieval times were responsible for the growth of the wool trade. For centuries Cotswold wool was used in more than half of England's cloth and was exported to the continent, bringing great wealth to the wool merchants who donated large sums to the local churches and built themselves magnificent houses.

The river valleys form the setting for the towns and villages, which nestle snugly amongst the hills. The market town of Stroud is the central point where the five valleys meet. Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, was known during Roman times as Corinium Dubonnorum and was the second largest city in Roman Britain."- Harmony Kingdom website

I can attest to the beauty of the Cotswold area, having visited there this past Spring.

Harmony Kingdom was founded by Martin Perry:

"Martin is the founder and owner of Antiquark Ltd., the company responsible for manufacturing English-made Harmony Kingdom pieces. He is also the artistic director of Martin Perry Studios, a consortium of English carvers who sculpt the figurines. He and his wife Corinna live in the Cotswolds region of England near Wimberley Mills, which houses Antiquark Ltd., Martin Perry Studios, and Harmony International Ltd.

Martin Perry left school at the age of 14 and began his professional career in London as a gofer for his uncle, a film producer. At the age of 22, feeling disenchanted with the film industry, Martin moved to Snowdonia, a mountain region of North Wales. Here he adopted a puppy, the runt of a litter, which seemed to have a natural calling for sheep herding. Since Martin didn't have any idea what he wanted to do with his life, he followed the dog's lead. Martin found a romantic-looking mountain and offered his services as shepherd to the local farmer. Because Martin had no experience he offered to work for free, a proposition the farmer couldn't refuse.

For the next five years Martin and his dog tended sheep in the Welsh mountains, living a decidedly rustic life. Martin had human contact only once a week but kept occupied by walking an average of 20 miles a day. After meeting his future wife Corinna, he knew they could not continue to live such a secluded life, and they moved to the lowlands near Chalford, England, where Martin continued shepherding for a large farm. Martin did not like the rigidity and demands of business farming, yet he stayed with it for four years until he injured his back shearing sheep which ended his shepherding career forever.

While she was growing up, Corinna listened to her mother speak French, German, Italian, and Spanish around the house. Corinna, too, became quite a linguist and eventually a teacher of language. Her father was an illustrator of children's books, an animal lover, and an early conservationist, and her brother is a sculptor. At university Corinna studied art history and travelled extensively, spending a year in India. On a visit to her father in Wales, Corinna met Martin. During Martin's shepherding years near Chalford, Corinna taught English as a second language to corporate and military personnel. After their daughter and son were born, Corinna began working with the children of the village.

It was Corinna who introduced Martin to the owner of History Craft, a company that manufactured replicas for art museums around the world. No longer shepherding, Martin got a job in History Craft's packing department, sending out everything from large marble statues to tiny Roman coins. Sometimes items were needed that were not yet made so Martin would make the replicas himself. Martin says, I can still remember the satisfaction from making that first thing. I was so pleased with it. I've still got it - it was a rabbit, a replica of Japanese netsuke [the traditional, intricately carved ivory miniatures from Japan used primarily as toggles for kimonos].

For the next decade, Martin created replicas of museum artworks, including 18th and 19th century netsukes. He developed a special process that gave marble resin an antique, ivory look (later to be further refined and used in Harmony Kingdom box figurines). As he discovered and honed his artistic skills, he began to grow tired of copying other works. Eventually he left History Craft and began sculpting a Westerner's idea of a netsuke.

In 1989 Martin decided to form his own business, Antiquark Ltd., and developed the current finishing process. He cast his new pieces from netsuke and oriental ivory moulds, as well as crafting scrimshaw reproductions." - Harmony Kingdom website
Our local Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon has a small collection of netsuke pieces and I would venture to say Harmony Kingdom's pieces are as beautiful and intricate as they are.

Although my current collection is modest it presently embraces Henry VIII and his six wives, Queen Elizabeth I, William Shakespeare, Marie Antoinette, the Queen of Sheba, and Queen Victoria. Over the holidays, I found Mozart, George Washington, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan at a collectibles shop that was closing and managed to get them for half price ($6 each). I normally wouldn't bother with modern personages but at the price I couldn't pass them up.
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