This piece was written by Dejah
Like many here in the PacNW, I first saw a crankie at the Seattle Folk Festival when Anna & Elizabeth presented their beautiful work.
Shortly after their concert, a friend of mine from Québec mentioned that she had seen such things in the rural regions of her native country. She didn’t know what they were called in French, but she was sure that all the mechanisms were
the same. That was all I needed to hear to get me working on my first French-Canadian crankie.
I had a gig coming up in Canada
in just a few short weeks, so I decided to make the crankie a large part of my bilingual show for children. I had recently found an old song called “Où vas-tu mon p’tit garçon?” or “Where Are You Going, My Little
Boy?” which featured a dialogue between an older speaker and a 7-year-old boy. The song was picturesque enough that it was a perfect candidate for my first crankie. I chose papercutting as a medium for a few reasons, most of which are disappointingly
practical, namely: 1.) I can’t sew by hand; 2.) I needed it to be inexpensive; and 3.) I had exactly 14 days to complete two of these suckers before my concert.
My father-in-law, the thrifty and capable man he is, made a box frame out of an old bookcase. He used dowels and fashioned cranks from scrap wood; we made the dimensions perfect for an easel roll, which I could
buy at the local craft store. I found large sheets of black construction paper and tracing paper, an Xacto knife and extra blades, spray glue and a box of pencils. By laying the tracing paper over the construction paper I was able to draw and cut
without reversing the image (as I would have had to do had I drawn directly on to the black paper). I first story-boarded the song and tried timing it with the singing, finding that approximately two panels scrolling across the “screen” equaled
one half of one verse...usually. Matching the timing of a song to a scroll has continued to be a challenge.
I worked early
into the mornings for a week straight, starting after my children had gone to bed and working until I was too tired to hold the knife anymore. As soon as one panel was done, I would start the white-knuckle process of spraying the cutting and getting
several hands to help me carefully lay the sticky, fragile paper onto its background. Once it was laid down, I gently painted the entire surface with ModgePodge, a type of lacquer adhesive. It’s not a great method, honestly. I already
have panels that are starting to come apart.
I, along with many artists, have come to realize that deadlines make my creativity work
its hardest. By the time the two weeks were up, I had made two crankies for two different French-Canadian songs, and one crankie with puppets for an Appalachian ballad. Since I was performing for a bilingual audience, this approach was met with
plenty of success. Even for my only-francophone or only-anglophone audiences, the visual reality of a song coming to life is mesmerizing enough to capitulate the audience past any language boundaries. Despite my friend’s original statement, I have
not yet found a crankie tradition in Québec, and my research has led me to dead ends. I decided, then, to rename the crankie a “tournille” for my francophone audiences until someone tells me otherwise.
one of Dejah's crankies below. Another crankie is linked on the "Link 2 More Crankies" link on the left hand menu.