A Very Creative Man
By Dominic Twose - Thursday, October 14, 2021
Eric Mason was perhaps the most creative person I’ve ever met.
He made a living from art. During the Second World War he was a War Artist. At the age of 24 he had a one-man show in Wigmore Street – the heart of fine art in London. For many years he earned his crust as the art director for an advertising agency. But he gave that up when he was fifty to focus on art for the sake of art. Oddly, many of his paintings were published in miniature form on matchbox covers. His paintings still sell for thousands and are well-worth a Google or two.
But he was also a wonderful close-up magician. An enthusiastic bear of a man, Eric used to share the spotlight with Fred Robinson at the Marlborough Arms pub on Torrington Place, near the Magic Circle, on Monday evenings. I’ve said before that it was here, sometimes called the Alternative Magic Circle, where I learned my chops. Eric was always ready to perform. Perhaps his favourite trick was his handling of Card On Ceiling: the ceiling of the Marlborough looked as though it had been pebbledashed with cards.
Given his background, unsurprisingly, Eric was a creative and talented illustrator of magic publications. He illustrated many classic magic books including The Thirteen Steps to Mentalismand Patrick Page's Big Book of Magic. He also illustrated the influential British magic magazine Pabular.
And thereby hangs a tale… Pabulum was a Latin word for Food for Thought. Pabula was the plural form. The brains behind the magazine, Fred Robinson and Nick Bolton, thought Pabula a fine title for a new magic magazine. Fred briefed Eric who went away and designed a cover for the first issue. It was only when he returned with the finished artwork, days before the first issue was due to be sent out, that the problem with verbal briefings was identified – Eric thought the word was Pabular. With no time to redesign, the magazine was retitled.
I’ve highlighted Eric’s creativity – he was also creative with his magic. Many of his original routines were published in Pabular. Eventually Martin Breese published a book of Eric’s material. Stuff is a beautifully designed book containing Eric’s original magic, as well as detailed descriptions of several of his marketed props and routines. These include the "Beta Wallet", the "Golden Retriever" and "Pandora". It also contains prints of some of his wonderful artwork. The book obtained a certain notoriety due to its final chapter, an article in favour of Socialism. I understand the chapter was removed from later editions, for fear of damaging US sales.
As for his marketed items, I’ll single out three:
"Pandora" was a startling way of producing a selected card. A card is selected, signed, and returned to the pack. A small circular box is shown, rather like a ladies’ powder compact or a hunter watch. It is placed on top of the deck and opened. Out pops a snake with the chosen card stuck to its nose. The second impact comes because the card is clearly bigger than the box that it is seen to come out of. Utterly bewildering.
"Pukka" was another card-to-impossible-location effect; in this case, a tiny leather wallet. The method was as stunning as the effect, and it is a pity it now seems largely forgotten – I can see no reference to it online.
In contrast, he also designed "Boon", which is still one of the best tools for the mentalist – (Eric described it as ‘The Greatest Little Gimmick in the World’) as well as writing, with Barrie Richardson, A Boon for All Seasons, a book of ingenious uses for Boon. Shiv Dougal was with them when they put together the book – if he reads this it would be great to get his reminiscences.
In an autobiographical summary in Stuff, Eric wrote he was "totally concerned with creation – works 13 hours a day and enjoys every minute of it." It is as a man who loved life that I’ll remember him, when I see him in my mind, it is with a big grin, a deck of cards in his hand, and bursting with life. He died in 1977.
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