Sweeney Todd–was he real or a myth?

When Salem Art Association had a call for art with a horror movie theme, I did a little research on Sweeney Todd. It was the first idea that came to mind to use the new techniques I learned in the Mixed Media online class through the Graphics Fairy with Heather Tracy of Thicketworks.  If you want to see what I made in the class, check it out here.

So, is he real?  Sweeney Todd is possibly one of the oldest urban myths.   Made popular in the mid 1800’s, as The String of Pearls, a Romance, published in a Penny Dreadful, a cheap publications with tales of horror. Credit for the tale about a demented barber who killed to steal from his victims is generally given to Thomas Prest.  Through the years, details were added.  Some by other authors stealing the story, each putting their own spin on it, which happened a lot at the time.   Eventually a more well rounded character of Todd emerged, also the addition of Mrs. Lovette and her pies, then making Lovette a love sick partner rather than a blackmailed accomplice.

But, was the story made up?  There is no account of an actual Sweeney Todd or a barber on directly on Fleet Street.    However, in the 1800’s, authors gleaned ideas from the gruesome true life accounts of crimes committed, which were then told and retold in the streets with details embellished, making fertile fodder for the popular genre. There was an actual case of a barber in 1784, near Fleet Street, who murdered someone in his chair.

Then a family was executed for robbing, murdering and consuming the flesh of their victims. In 1818, a scandal writer penned a tale about dead bodies being found at a butcher shop.  A butcher, who lived on the street mentioned in this particular article, brought the publisher to court for libel.  He won the case, but the bit of gossip was out there, circulating for creative writers to exploit.

There was an account by a Minister of Police in Paris of a barber in 1800, who killed his customers and the pastry chef next door used the victims to fill her meat pies.  Sound familiar?  Although it is not documented as a fact, it was printed in a London magazine in 1824 as a factual story.  But was it?  This could be the first documented printing of the legend Sweeney Todd was created from.

 

I had a great time creating this shadow box/cabinet of curiosities based on this tale of horror and woe.

 

Sources:

PBS: Penny Dreadful, From True Crime to Fiction

Sweeney Todd, Wikipedia

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In my last post, I promised to show you my completed opera house.  When I did this online course offered by Heather Tracey of Thicketworks through the Graphics Fairy, the course was to create an opera house out of a cigar box.  So naturally I had to go off on a tangent and create a Moulin Rouge type dance hall with mine.  It’s name is the ‘Rats De Cave’ meaning The Rat Cellar.

So here is the completed box setting on top of it’s new home, my Going to the Opera in the Year 2000 table.

 

Here is the back of the dance hall depicting the stage door area

The base is constructed of altered books.  Niches were created in the books to house drawers for little treasures.

And just a reminder of what the inside looks like.

Next post I will share with you how I used many of the techniques learned in this online course into a Sweeney Todd themed box.

I’m so excited to have this next piece of art completed!  My first work using paper maché as the primary medium!  The project was inspired by the swan decoys I kept seeing in examples of French Country home decor photos on Pinterest.  I wanted one but didn’t want to pay the high prices.

Then I got to thinking about the pair of nesting swans in the conservation area that is behind my house.  This area, Salem Woods, is such a gift for this city.  It is a slice of wilderness in the middle of an urban area and I get to enjoy it’s benefits every day.  I hike in these woods and go to the pond to watch the ducks, geese and swans.  The pond is a haven for so many types of wildlife.

Because of this, I wanted to pay tribute and make more people aware of this hidden gem through my art. So, I got to work and this is what I accomplished.

I also wanted to create some mixed media surprises in this sculpture so the wings open to expose a little world.

The little accordion books fit into the little spaces inside the wings.

Each book page has some of my favorite things about the woods created with various mixed media techniques.  90% of the entire piece is recycled materials-newspaper, cereal boxes, and even candy wrappers.

This artwork will be entered into the upcoming Salem Art Association show.  I’ll be happy to keep it if it comes back home!

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