Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The story behind the Storyteller Chair

Ahead of the opening of our Brambly Hedge exhibition this spring, we caught up with Jacqui Lyons, Partner of both Illustrationcupboard and RhubarbLondon, to find out the story behind the unique Brambly Hedge Storyteller Chair. Full of magical secrets and surprises, the chair will be on show for the first time at the launch of the Brambly Hedge exhibition opening on 10th May. In this exclusive blog post Jacqui tells us how Illustrationcupboard first began, about her involvement in the company and how collaboration and creativity led to one of the most unique chairs you will ever see.

Words by Jacqui Lyons:

In November, 1995, when I first met John Huddy, founder of the Illustrationcupboard gallery, he was holding an exhibition in a small gallery in Connaught Village, London. I was on my way to my local coffee shop, when I spotted a wonderful illustration by Graham Oakley in the window of what I thought was an abstract art gallery.  Curious, I went in and spoke to John, who explained that he was renting the gallery for two weeks.  I asked about the Graham Oakley piece which was from The Church Mice, and bought it for a client of mine.  When I called in the next day to pay for it, I took a closer look at all the wonderful illustrations John was selling, which immediately impressed me.  I also believed that there was a synergy between John’s Illustration Cupboard and my company, Marjacq Scripts Ltd, a successful literary agency I had founded with my late business partner, George Markstein in 1983, so I suggested that John and I formed Illustration Cupboard LLP, which led to the gallery in Bury Street. 

Illustration from the Church Mice Take a Break by Graham Oakley

I was right about the synergy: the Graham Oakley illustration I had bought which I gave to my client was a picture from his most favourite childhood book and he was absolutely thrilled.  Marjacq Scripts then went on to represent Graham Oakley and negotiated the re-publication of three of his famous Church Mice books.

Something similar happened to me in July, 2015 when I noticed the most unusual and, to me, surrealistic chair in the window of a shop in Central London.  I was immediately arrested by the chair because, although it was a typical small Victorian chair, it was upholstered in a tweed jacket, complete with leather elbow patches and pheasant feathers.  It was a piece of art or a character, rather than just a chair.  Once again, I was fascinated - I wanted to know more.

After weeks of research, I eventually tracked down Shaun Brownell, the creator of the chair and bought it.  When Shaun came to deliver the chair, I discovered that he had a website which was selling the chairs.  Personally, I felt that they demanded a wider audience – they were so unusual and so very beautifully made.  So, I suggested that Shaun and I form a new partnership to promote and market his wonderful pieces, which we called RhubarbLondon

Last year, John mentioned to me that he would be holding a major Brambly Hedge exhibition at the Illustrationcupboard gallery in the spring and showed me some of the Brambly Hedge books. I felt that the delightful illustrations would make a wonderful fabric for a very special chair – The Brambly Hedge Storyteller Chair.  Liz Barklem (Jill Barklem's daughter) kindly gave permission for this concept to be realised and it will be seen for the first time at Illustrationcupboard’s Brambly Hedge exhibition launch in May.



This magical Brambly Hedge Storyteller children’s chair is a handmade two-thirds sized version of an adult wing chair.   Whilst sitting in the chair, the child can either read, play or listen to the Brambly Hedge Audio CD via the self-contained, remotely controlled portable sound system through the stereo speakers colour coded and fitted to the back of the chair. 

The front arms and legs of the chair have been intricately hand carved from ancient oak to create the mystical tree trunk world of Brambly Hedge with subtle illumination glowing through the delicate windows and front door.  Aged Chestnut legs support the rear of the piece. Lovingly upholstered in the traditional Brambly Hedge Field specially printed fabric and accentuated with nut brown leather piped detail.


The chair is operated by a fully rechargeable 12v battery supply capable of powering the chair for at least 90 minutes on full charge.  The CD player, charging socket and On/Off switch are all neatly concealed behind a flap to side of the chair.

The Brambly Hedge Storyteller chair is the realisation of my enthusiasm and commitment to being a partner of Illustrationcupboard and RhubarbLondon.  If ever there was a synergy between two businesses, then this is the result. 

The Brambly Hedge exhibition opens at the Illustrationcupboard Gallery on 10th May and runs until 3rd June. This major solo exhibition will showcase a collection of Jill Barklem’s original artwork from the much-loved Brambly Hedge books that has never before been exhibited in the UK or made available for sale. Find out more at www.illustrationcupboard.com 






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