In 2001 a team of artists from Strange Cargo travelled to Northern France and Belgium to research the ancient Geant tradition. Our intention was to track down some Geants, make contact with the Associations that look after them, and to learn from the artists who make them.
We were lucky enough to do all of these things. We met up with a number of very different Geants and the enthusiastic helpers that manage their social outings. We were made very welcome at the workshop of Stephane de Laurence, and his talented team of Geant makers in the French town of Loos. We were pleased to arrive at the time when they were busy replicating a 200-year-old giant, in order for the frail original to retire to a museum.
We closely studied and documented the techniques used to create these exquisite figures in order to devise a process that combined the traditional European crafts with our own contemporary skills in the UK. Techniques included basketry, clay moulding, carpentry, and papier mache. We also studied how the grotesques characters called Big Heads, that traditionally form part of the Geants entourage, were built. Each process was learned and reinterpreted.
Strange Cargo has since made and woken up ten Giants across the UK, in places as different as the small village of Averley in Thurrock, and the 2008 Capital of Culture City of Liverpool. Each Giant has been equally successful in capturing the essence and energy of its hometown, which is proudly displayed when the Giants accept invitations to social gatherings and festivals in the UK and across Europe.
The UK Giants are now well known in Giant circles and have become part of the extended family of thousands of Giants that exists across the world. Their success lies in their ability to hold a mirror to their home town, accurately reflecting the fundamental characteristics and traits of the places they belong to, but in a proud and larger than life way.