Nestled in the lush English garden of his home in the town of Kenilworth, just a few miles from Coventry, is Cyril’s workshop — Little Wood Studio. In this tiny 10-by-12-foot shed, packed with chisels, carving tools, lathes, paints, and sketches, the 71-year-old grandfather of three has spent more than 20 years chipping away at lifeless blocks of wood to create vibrant toys — turning a lifelong passion for wooden folk art into a thriving business and making him gatekeeper to a tradition that spans centuries. Watching the kind-hearted craftsman on the special featurette included on the Pinocchio: 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition Blu-ray and DVD — is a warm reminder of this bygone era, one that Cyril has lovingly recreated.
“The first real toys were stones, feathers, and sticks,” Cyril, who has devoted a great deal of research to his authentic replicas of traditional toys, says with a warm smile. “You could warm a stone on the fire and keep it in your hands on a cold day, toss a feather in the air and watch it float down. And all the wooden toys we know today were developed from the stick.”
For centuries, parents have been filling their children’s toy chests with playthings designed to amuse, educate, and inspire. “Playing with toys is rehearsal for real life,” he says. “If you think back, boys were riding hobby horses and playing with toy weapons, and a young girl could learn to look after a baby with a doll. Toys were important because they helped children prepare for adulthood. A child today riding around in an electronic car, for example, is only imitating what he sees his mum or dad doing.”
It was in the 1940s when he recalls watching a certain Italian toy maker and a little wooden boy on the big screen for the first time. Walt Disney’s Pinocchio would inspire his youthful fascination, but little did he know then that his association with Pinocchio would last a lifetime. “It was the most amazing thing; I remember being enchanted,” Cyril says as he thinks back on his introduction to the film. “I could relate to it as a child, but I couldn’t fathom, not in a million years, that I’d be a toy maker back when I was watching Pinocchio!”
Whether or not he’s channeling Pinocchio‘s creator — the only things missing from this scene are Figaro, Cleo, and the wooden boy himself — he nevertheless gets a kick out of being associated with the world’s most famous toy maker. “So many people call me Geppetto,” he laughs. “It gives me a feeling of great pleasure and I know they’re not envious, but they wish they could do what I’ve done… leave a good-paying job to do something I love.”
Follow Cyril’s step-by-step instructions to make a marionette of your own. With the right tools, materials — and a little patience! — he estimates this project should take just a few hours.
2 blocks of wood, one for the head and one for the body; size will vary depending on how tall you decide to make the marionette
1 strip of wood to cut into small rectangles for the arms and legs
2 small rectangular pieces of wood about 2 inches long to shape into shoes
2 rectangular pieces of wood the size of popsicle sticks—one a little longer than the other—for the controls
A small hand-held drill
A wood saw
A vice or something to grip the wood tight
Wood glue or a latex glue
A ball of string
Approximately 16 small hooks and eyes
L-shaped cup-hook (or just a round-head screw)
Felt tip pens or acrylic paints to decorate
NOTE: Please use caution when using a wood saw. If you do not have a wood saw or do not want to cut the pieces from scratch, you may also use pre-cut pieces of wood found in your local craft store or online.
HOW TO ASSEMBLE THE MARIONETTE:
Cut a large block of wood and a slightly smaller one for the torso and head once again, size will depend on the height you have chosen for your marionette (between 12 and 24 inches is recommended).
Cut 4 pieces of wood for the arms so that they look like they are joined at the elbow, and then 4 slightly longer pieces for the legs so that they appear to be joined at the knee.
Sand all of your blocks of wood so that they are smooth to the touch and the edges are rounded.
Cut the 2 remaining rectangles to size and then, using sandpaper, shape them into shoes. If you are not able to shape the pieces into shoes, just use the wooden blocks.
How to make the controls for the marionette:
Drill holes at each end of the 2 popsicle-sized sticks of wood. In the center of the longer piece, screw in a large L-shaped cup-hook or a round-head screw. Now drill a large hole through the center of the shorter stick, allowing it to fit over the hook or the screw in the longer stick.
Cut 5 thin strings to your desired length. Tie the first string to the small brass eye fixed into the top of the head block, then tie the other to the center hook on the long stick; your figure can now be hung up to make attaching the rest of the strings easier. Tie the remaining strings from the ends of the long stick down to each arm at the wrist and then from the ends of the short stick down to just above the knee.
Start enjoying your marionette!