Poky Parlours and Creepy Corridors

The Masquerade girl very early 18th c. Private Collection in the U.K.

So now we know the how and we know the why….. it’s time to do a bit more what!

What through the history of the dummy board, have people done with them? What are they for?

We have just touched on the fact that, when they were first made they were purely visual jokes. In order to fool people into thinking they were real thing they had to be realistically painted, life sized or nearly life sized and they had to be put into the right light conditions.

This of course was easy in the infancy of the dummy board because houses were dark, poorly lit and were full of nooks and crannies. People were not used to ‘visual stuff’ crowding in on them as we are today. Possessions were fewer ( even in wealthier households ) and the science of photography had not sharpened the edges of perception. People were not used to suspending disbelief as we are in our own day and age.

It’s a fact that in the early days of the theatre, people who watched a ‘villain’ misbehaving on the stage would often throw catcalls and rubbish at the poor unfortunate. Not because there was nowhere to dispose of their rubbish ( though this is true too), but because they really believed he was really, truly a baddie and that this was real life. In the same vein, they would cry unreservedly at the supposed ‘demise’ of their hero and it was even known for the audience to invade the stage and try to intervene in the action if they were not happy with how things were going for their hero. ( Heroines, by default, were all male anyway!)

So it would have been easy to deceive the onlooker into thinking that the shadowy person lurking at the end of a dimly lit corridor was really watching them.

Imagine catching sight of the above Masquerade girl ( when she was new and much more sombre) in a dark lane, with nothing but her lantern, which would have been attached to an iron fixing held in her right hand. No street lighting…no car headlamps… and very little light spilling from the surrounding buildings. You might have been forgiven for thinking that you had seen a ghost!

So that was the dummy board’s earliest function. To make you jump, to make you shiver, or to make you smile. Once this illusion had been penetrated and the ‘trick’ revealed the viewer would realise he had been treated to a great joke and must go in awe of the perpetrator!

The above figure called by me, The Masquerade Girl, because she would have been used as an advert for a Masquerade ( a kind of fancy dress party ), is a very rare survivor. There would once have been hundreds of them. Like everything else ,in time, they fell out of fashion.

People often say to me that they don’t like dummy boards because they find them slightly disturbing and creepy.

Good – in the main..that is what many of them are meant to be. Like dear George, it’s good to see that they are still doing their job all this time later!

Even in miniature they can be quite effective – in the right spot.

They're watching you!

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