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A quiet afternoon in the cloud cuckoo valley

Photos: Jason Hynes, Science Museum Group

In September of 2019, the Friends generously supported the acquisition of a large kinetic sculpture by engineer and cartoonist Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990), A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley. The sculpture tells the story of an eccentric railway line, where mermaids get caught in fishing nets and train drivers cook teacakes over the fire. This enchanting piece of art also acts as a clock, with each piece moving at quarter past the hour. The sculpture came up for auction and it was only through the rapid response by the FNRM agreeing to donate a substantial sum of cash that the sculpture could be bought, transported and erected. Although the NRM were able to buy the item, the additional costs would have been difficult to find quickly. An unusual addition to the National Collection, this ‘machine’ now performs its intricate and entertaining musical and moving display every hour at Locomotion, and following lockdown, has now proved itself to be a real ‘crowd-puller’ at Shildon.

The sculpture is currently on display at Locomotion and will move to York as part of Vision 2025. Early discussions are also underway about how the sculpture could tour to other museums within the group, ensuring we are able to share this unique piece of history with all our visitors.

Russ Rollings

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