Sidmouth School of Art, working with Sidmouth Town Council, who own the telephone kiosks in the Market Square, have refurbished the town’s telephone boxes to create two new art spaces to be curated by Sidmouth School of Art as micro museums.  Each will house exhibitions that change several times a year through a variety of collaborations. The phone boxes have been restored, sanded and painted, with lighting and new signage added whilst retaining the old Telephone signs to create The Museum of Contemporary Art and The Museum of Antiquities.

The first exhibition in The Museum of Antiquities will open this week and is a collaboration with Sidmouth Toy and Model Museum.  This first exhibition From Wonky Donkeys to Pelham Puppets”, features a range of original handmade and hand-paintedd Pelham Puppets, which are part of the Sidmouth Toy and Model Museum collection in the Old Chapel, Chapel Street, Sidmouth. Originally created by Bob Pelham, known as the “Wonky Donkey Officer”,  for the toys he made during WWII.  The puppets were made in Marlborough, Wiltshire, where Bob first operated as Wonky Toys before establishing Pelham Puppets in 1947.  Made from the 50s through to the 80s, the puppets became world renowned, with many popular children’s TV characters having their own licenced Pelham Puppet version.

Sidmouth School of Art have been in contact with David Leech, the official biographer of Bob Pelham, who was delighted to hear about the exhibition.  David, who has provided images to help create the backdrop for the puppets said: “Although Pelham Puppets are no longer produced, Bob Pelham’s legacy lives on through the lives and work of many professional puppeteers today.”

Ian Gregory, of Sidmouth Toy and Model Museum, added: “It is perfect timing for this new exhibition of traditional toys that evoke so many memories, to open at the start of Sidmouth Folk Festival, as we are simultaneously partnering with the festival, Little Seeds Music and Sidmouth CofE Primary School to create a series of new songs inspired by toys of the past.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art will open on 7th August to coincide with a new artwork which will be displayed at Sidmouth Wallspace by Ham East carpark. The exhibition, Holiday Makers of Sidmouth will display the plasticine head sculptures created by Artist-sculpture Wilfrid Wood for his artwork on the billboard.

Sidmouth School of Art’s Artistic Director, Coco Hodgkinson said: “Working on the telephone boxes in the market square has generated a lot of interest with people wondering what they will be used for and expressing their delight that they are being cared for, smartened up and used in a creative way.  People have shared their memories of making calls from them, meeting people at them and yes seeing how many people can fit in them!”

The boxes themselves have also generated interest in their history with local people and visitors asking about which model they are.  Sidmouth’s telephone boxes are the K6 model, constructed in cast iron with a concrete base, they were commissioned by the General Post Office in 1935 to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of King George, they were designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.

Find out more about the project here More information about the puppets and their history can be found here.

sidmouth phone box exhibitions


Images from Sarah Hall.