Brian Cox-The Incredible String Man
In 1995, I co-hosted a 39 episode television series called "World of Origami", which aired on a local community access
station. Although the show was devoted to the art of paper folding, I convinced the producers that a few minutes devoted
to the art of making string figures might also be of interest to our viewers. I used the opportunity to perform a "string
figure story" that my daughter Sara and I invented ten years ago for entertaining children at the annual Winnipeg Folk
Festival. I have performed it throughout North America and most recently in Germany.
What follows is a transcript of the story. The images are from a home video recording I made of the broadcast.
Instructions for making most of the string figures can be found in one of several currently available books (C.F. Jaynes
'String Figures and how to make them", or C. Gryski's "Cat's Cradles, Owl's Eyes", "Many Stars and more String Games",
"Super String Games"). A lot of times people ask me, "String Man, how do you remember all those string figures?" Well,
you've got to practise, practise, practise. Another way, is to get some music and match the figures to music -- it sort of
gives you a flow and is perfect for making string figures that form a sequence. Or, you can do like they did a long, long,
long time ago and use string figures to tell a story, as in folklore. Here's a story my daughter Sara and I made up called
A String Figure Story by Brian Cox and Sara Cox
Sara and I were sitting one day in an Apache Teepee (fig.1). It was getting a little warm inside, so we went over to the door. Now it only makes sense that if you have an Apache Teepee, you'll have also have an Apache Door (fig.2). We undid the catches [points to tight finger loops], and stepped out through the opening [dissolves the figure, peers through the loop, fig.3]. What a gorgeous day it was -- what should we do on such a fine day? Let's go fishing! So Sara went over to the rack and picked up a Fish Spear(fig.4), and off we went down the path to the meadow.
Now in the meadow, there were all sorts of neat things, like furry little animals and bees and flowers. Sara and I sat down to have a bit of a rest and a snack and along came a beautiful Navaho Butterfly (fig.5). This butterfly floated right past us, then went way up into a tree and sort of sat there. Sara said to me, "Dad, go up in the tree and try to catch that butterfly." So I tied my shoes really tight (you don't want to climb a tree with untied shoe laces), and started to Climb the Tree (fig.6). I climbed way up to where the branches begin [small triangle slides upward and shrinks], and disappeared inside the branches. I was just about to catch it when along came a big black Fly (fig.7). You know what flies are like, always bugging you. The next thing I knew, the butterfly had flown away, so I caught the fly instead! Now if you happen to catch a fly in your hands (fig.8), they'll walk around inside and when their feet tickle your palms you'll want to take a peek. But flies are pretty fast, and if you don't peek fast enough that fly will get away (fig.9) [figure disolves]. So I climbed back down the tree and told Sara about the butterfly and she said, "That's O.K. Dad, at least you tried. Let's get going, we're still going fishing and we're already late."
We decided to cut through the forest. Now when you go through the forest it's best to let the forest know that you are there, but don't make too much noise or you'll scare all the creatures away. We walked along the path. and over in the corner we spotted a shy little Rabbit (fig.10). This rabbit was so shy -- all you could see was his ears and his head sticking above a log. We watched the rabbit for a while, tip-toed around him so as not to disturb him, got back on the path, started toward the lake, and there sitting right in the middle of the lake was a Duck with Big Feet (fig.11). We watched the duck for a while, then headed to the other side of the lake where our favorite is. We started checking our gear, making sure the spear was sharp and the net wasn't torn, because you really can't catch fish if you have holes in your net! Everything looked pretty good. We approached the edge of the lake, and just there waiting for us were two of the biggest Fish (fig.12). Sara and I had ever seen! We got the net ready, and were just about ready to throw it when the fish swam away [hands seperate, fish swim apart].
Just when we thought all our fun was over, Sara reminded me that we brought some string with us. This reminded us of a story we learned from a litle girl called Fisherman's Nightmare. Now what she did was she wrapped it around her fingers like this, around her thumb like this, and gave it a good tug to make it secure [performer sets up a finger-cutting trick], then she blew on it (fig.13), and it came off just like that (fig.14). Wow! We were starting to get really excited and began to play some more.
We found out that string has all sorts of uses: you can use it as a back scratcher (fig.15); it can also teach you how to dance, sort of like drying your bum with a towel (fig.16). But how do you stop once you've started? You could just take your thumbs out, but that's too easy. You need more of a challenge. Try wrapping the string around your knees (fig.17), then blow on it with a magic breath. Remember, magic breath is different than bad breath -- bad breath will melt the string! So you blow on it with magic breath and step free (fig.18) [strings appear to pass through the knees].
Sara and I were having so much fun, we forgot how late it was getting. The reason we knew it was getting late is because the stars began to come out (fig.19). It was time to start heading home. We got back on the path, and as we started getting close to home we heard a familiar sound. What we heard was our pet dog Molly (fig.20) coming down the path. If you watch real close, you can actually see Molly coming down the path to meet us [figure slides to the performer's left]. That made us think of all the other neat things we did all day like going fishing, chasing butterflies and rabbits, and playing with string. And we learned that string has its own magic. Probably the best magic you can do with string is to take it out like this [extends loop on thumbs], stretch it out full, let it sag in the center, and then you can smile at your friends and yourself at the same time (fig.21)... Thank you very much, that's our string story.
The "Going Fishing" Story and I.S.F.A Logo were taken from the
"Bulletin of the International String Figure Association vol 4 1997 - Page 12"
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