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Saved and displayed: The last beautiful automaton of Rowland Emett 1

a photo of a kinetic sculpture of a man on bicycle

A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley, a railway-themed automaton designed by Rowland Emett, 1984. Copyright Science Museum Group

A brilliant, large scale kinetic sculpture by Rowland Emett has been acquired by the Science Museum Group who have put it on display at Locomotion

Constructed in 1984, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley comprises eight separate machines that together tell the story of a journey aboard the imaginary ‘Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway’.

The creation of Rowland Emett (1906 – 1990), the cartoonist and maker of whimsical kinetic sculpture, it was the last large scale automata sculpture he made and was based on one of his earlier cartoons – a life size model of which, complete with three locomotives, was created for the 1951 Festival of Britain.

This railway-themed kinetic creation was however destined for a rather more modest location; a shopping centre in Basildon, but it was never installed there.

a photo of a large kinetic sculpture with a train, cows, and a man on a bicycle

Catherine Fairless, Collections Care Conservator, with the Work “A Quiet Afternoon in The Cloud Cuckoo Valley. By Rowland Emett, which is on display at Locomation, Shildon, County Durham Photo © Charlotte Graham

a kinetic sculpture of cows in a field with a cow hand

Copyright Science Museum Group

a photo of a ferris wheel part of a large automata

Picture Credit Charlotte Graham

Despite never entertaining the shoppers of Basildon, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley was publicly exhibited for a time at Spitalfields Market in London. In 1999 while being stored, it was stolen for scrap metal but later recovered.

It has since been refurbished and exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Compton Verney in Warwickshire.

The sculpture is now on display at the centre of Locomotion’s main building, alongside famous rail vehicles such as pioneering locomotive, Sans Pareil, which competed in the 1829 Rainhill Trials.

Born in London in 1906, Rowland Emett initially found fame producing whimsical cartoons for Punch magazine before creating a series of intricate mechanical sculptures based on his imaginative creations.

As well as numerous artworks and cartoons, he is also well known for the inventions of ‘Caractacus Potts’ which starred in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley was bought by the Science Museums Group after concerns it would be sold overseas and will now be going on a national tour of Science Museum Group museums.

However it is starting in the smallest museum, and outside London, at Locomotion in Shildon, County Durham, where it will come to life three times a day to treat visitors to a 15-minute, three-dimensional display which will see its automata wheels turn and colourful characters come to life.

a photo of a large automota sculpture with railway carriages animals and people

Picture Credit Charlotte Graham

a photo of an automata with a man on a steam engine

Kinetic sculpture, A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley, a railway-themed automaton designed by Rowland Emett, 1984.Copyright Science Museum Group

The final leg of its journey will see A Quiet Afternoon in the Cloud Cuckoo Valley travel to the National Railway Museum in York where it will go on display inside the new Central Hall – due to be completed in 2025.

The sculpture was acquired for a six-figure sum from a private seller, with the support of Art Fund, the Science Museum Foundation, the Friends of the National Railway Museum and private donors.

Find out more about Rowland Emett by visiting the website of the Rowland Emett Society at www.rowlandemett.com/



Shildon, Durham

At Locomotion you can see highlights of the national collection of railway vehicles in the world’s first railway town. The town of Shildon has had an exciting story to tell since the earliest days of the rail industry, making it the perfect place to explore the rich seam of local…

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