Rowland Emett, one of the greatest British cartoonists of the previous century yet mostly forgotten today, is finally getting his due. The Birmingham Museum in England will open “Marvellous Machines: The Wonderful World of Rowland Emett” on May 10. The exhibit is being billed as the largest-ever exhibition devoted to Emett, who was also an inventor of whimsical automata and moving sculptures.
“With this exhibition we aim to introduce Rowland Emett and his amazing machines to a new generation,” says Tim Griffiths, founder of the Rowland Emett Society. “He was a very familiar figure during the post-war decades but has been largely forgotten—until now. We will have twelve of the fifteen machines known to have survived in the UK on display alongside many of his distinctive original drawings.”
Emett never attained the same level of fame in the United States as his English contemporary Ronald Searle, but he did have fans on this side of the pond. One of his biggest admirers in the animation community was Disney director Ward Kimball, who clipped Emett’s work out of magazines and was influenced by it when he made shorts like Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom.
When Emett visited the United States for the first time in 1954, Ward gave him a personal tour of the Disney studio, and later hosted him overnight. Emett, who had invented a personal railroad universe in his cartoons for Punch magazine, insisted on spending the night in the train depot that was behind Ward’s house. Below is a photo of Ward pitching early storyboards for Sleeping Beauty to Emett and his wife Mary, followed by a pic of Emett sketching before bedtime in Ward’s depot: