A few years ago I was living in an idyllic little town called Beaminster, in Dorset. If you ever have a chance it is well worth a visit. Dorset is cut from the past, a still bucolic county of rolling, sheep-dotted hills and ancient amber-stoned cottages. Every week or so I would jump in my little car and navigate the winding country back roads, down to the charming, seaside town of Bridport. My destination was often a small antique & junk shop located at the far end of the high street. That dusty, crowded shop was filled with possibilities and magical finds: always treasures waiting to be discovered. One day I came across an oily cardboard box, heavy with glass. Thinking it was leaded window pane I passed it by. As I was leaving, the owner pointed out that these were, in fact, lantern slides. I kick myself now that I didn’t buy the whole box. What became of them? I purchased about 20 for just a couple of pounds. Some of the broken ones I have used for Poultice.

Lantern Slide Projections were a direct ancestor of the motion picture projector. The first lantern slide projections in the 17th century were produced with the light from a candle or burning torch. An image, painted on glass, was ‘projected’ onto a wall. Later ‘Magic Lantern’ projectors made use of a mirror and light, projected through a lens, thus greatly magnifying the projected image.

This was magic. The slides were manipulated in such a way that they actually seemed to move! The resulting fantastical apparitions seemed alive..so much so that in the 17th Century, charlatans used them to ‘resurrect’ the dead for people desperate to contact their loved ones. Lantern productions were often shut down after audiences reacted with shock, horror, and bewilderment…thinking these ghostly visions were real. Their use as crowd entertainment is depicted in the delightful film ‘Sweetland’, (produced by a friend of mine – worth watching). In the film the audience is shown singing along, thus bringing the production to life !

I use lantern slide fragments in my work. And as anyone who has browsed through my Poultice website knows, I am rather obsessed with Mary & Percy Shelley and this literary group known as the Romantics. A couple of years ago I began creating pieces based on the link between Mary Shelley, her groundbreaking novel ‘Frankenstein’ and lantern slides. The connections are fascinating.

Phantasmagoria were imaginary or fantastic images that appeared in dreams or came from a fevered imagination.  Both Mary and Percy had experienced phantasmagoria. The term comes to us from the magic lantern slide entertainment developed in 1802 by J.B. Eyries. In 1812 (when Mary was 15 and had just met Percy) Eyries wrote a book of ghost stories called ‘Fantasmagoriana’. It was this very book that Lord Byron read aloud to Mary and Percy Shelley on the night of June 16, 1816…the night Mary was inspired to write Frankenstein.  

Numerous books at this time refer to Phantastmagoria or lantern slide projections. William Hazlitt…best friend to William Godwin (Mary’s father) often gave shows at the family house, along with some rather wild and horrifying demonstrations involving electricity.  As a girl, Mary would have witnessed these phantasmagorical scenes of light, shadow and electrical experimentation…and heard the ongoing philosophical debates. Mary herself wrote in her journal on 28 December, 1814   “Go to Garnerin’s Lecture of Electricity, the gasses, and the phantasmagoria”.  She was just 17. By this point she had already run off with Percy Shelley, become shockingly infamous, traipsed around Europe, and returned again to England. She and Percy (along with most of London) were fascinated with the notion of resurrection. Their group discussed scientific experimentation and electricity and debated the ethics of human dissection and grave robbing, prevalent at the time. Later Mary wrote of how these ‘marvelous philosopher’s’ ….’mock the invisible world with its own shadows’.  

The necklace shown here is ‘Creation – Monster’. The lantern fragment I have used is from a scientific slide (sadly used up now). The delicate painted image shows early under sea life forms…the forerunner to human life. ‘Creation-Monster’ refers to Mary Shelley’s  beloved and monstrous creature who was created and brought back to life by Dr. Frankenstein…only to be cast out by his ‘father’ and rejected by every human he came into contact with. The monster was human (created from humans), but his appearance was phantasmagorical…a monstrous reflection of humanity.  The fragment of scientific lantern slide refers to the scientific origins that spawned this sad and ‘unnatural’ monster…Mary’s creation who is doomed to live in the shadows.
To view past pieces that include lantern slide fragments, go to ‘Collections > Lantern Slides’. To view available lantern slide fragments, just waiting for inspiration to hit…go to ‘Commissions > Materials Available for Commission’. If any of these fragments or materials inspires you… I would love to discuss!