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Ken Barnard
Ken Barnard

Ken was born in Kings College Hospital, Camberwell in London. His father was a member of the famous Barnard Marionettes, and his mother was the manageress of the restaurant at the Kursall Concert Hall in Harrogate. Ken started experimenting with painting and drawing around the age of 7 years by way of inclination rather than through any formal training. He attended Lyndhurst Road School and Peckham Central School leaving at the age of 15 to join a small advertising agency in Bromley. He married Martha McKenzie “Matt” from Bridgeton in Glasgow at the end of the war. He was employed as a commercial artist and typographer before going freelance as an illustrator.


At the age of 40 Ken joined the British Puppet Guild and eventually became the editor of The Puppet Master and Vice-Chairman. Ken’s family had been involved in the puppet trade since the nineteenth century as the Barnard Mannequins and toured the world with their string figures before the First World War. His grandfather Richard was a master puppet maker, and his father and brothers travelled the world with the company. But he didn’t take up the strings until late into his thirties. The marionette became his chosen metier or trade.

He inherited two special palm-sized carving gouges from his grandfather – the old steel of which retained a nice sharp edge. Usually, he would carve the head first from lime always leaving a piece on top to clamp firmly into the vice. The hands would be carved to match the character and the soles of the feet were never flat but curved. Often, he used jelutong and sometimes pine for the chest, hips and limbs. He painted all his own faces with undercoat and while still wet put in details of cheeks and eyes using oil paint.

LKB with Trade Union Rep & Mme Buttefly

Similarly, he dressed and costumed all his own figures. By now Ken had become an established puppeteer and children’s entertainer but also a fine maker of carved marionettes and puppets. He was also teaching at the London College of Furniture for twenty years on the puppet module of a Toy Making Course. His output was prolific and although he would in old age complain that he had not done enough with his life, it’s fair to say that he would leave most of us in the shade.

He could carve a hand in 15 minutes using his grandfather Richards’s palm gouge and chisels, and some of his carved heads are amongst the best ever produced. In 1991 he walked into the Scottish Mask & Puppet Centre in Glasgow and began a lifelong friendship with Malcolm and Sarah Knight. For more than 10 years he ran a series of summer masterclasses in marionette carving and manipulation called Tricks of the Trade. He proved to be a patient, generous and humorous teacher and an inspiration to his many students – amongst whom were Anna Ingleby, Shane Connolly, Allie Cohen and Alice Peasgood.

Ken Portrait

In 2003 Ken was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Guild, which was presented to him by the then President, Peter Baldwin. This gave him great pleasure and always occupied pride of place on his windowsill. After the death of Matt, he lived independently for a while in the picturesque village of Kingscliffe near Peterborough. His 90th birthday celebration at Friary Court was a joyful one, surrounded by family and friends. Ken was a great puppet master and an accomplished visual artist whose kindness, warmth and sense of humour were quite unique. His life marked all whom he touched with love and affection.

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