Category Archives: puppetry

Happy St. Pat’s

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This weekend is a busy one for those in the Irish Music business. The Riley School kids performed yesterday at the Cincinnati Museum Center’s Celtic Lands Festival, and will do so again today. Many of the older kids, who generally take charge in these sorts of venues, were off playing their own professional gigs. This left the leadership position to my son Jack and his fiddling friend Robert. They carried themselves with grace and poise, developed a set list that enabled even the newest beginners to play, and answered questions from the audience after the performance. They represented themselves, and the Riley School like true professionals. I couldn’t help feeling a little bit proud. Meanwhile, advanced beginners like myself get to just hang out and session with other musicians at our display table as we show off what we do at the Riley School and why we love it. It’s like practice, only more public. The school as a whole will perform today at 1:45. I think this may be the first year I am not feeling any trepidation about going up on stage. Not that I feel so confident about my playing, I think it’s all the puppeteering I have been doing.

Speaking of puppets, I took a few hours away from the St. Pat’s music scene to attend Larry Smith Day. This was a commemoration event in honor of local puppet pioneer, childhood hero and broadcasting legend, Larry Smith. I did not spend my early childhood here but those who did remember Larry and his puppet friends with great fondness as a part of their after school television routine.

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The crowd was treated to shows from puppet greats Kevin Frisch and Wayne Martin, both of whom consider Larry a mentor. Cincinnati has a rich puppet history that continues to develop today through the efforts of the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild, of which Larry Smith was the founder and I personally am proud to be a member.

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Above is Kevin operating a marionette who is operating his own marionette. A good time was had by the entire “gang”.

My artist friend Dan Carlson sent me a scan of some recent dog sketches he has been working on. He considers them “just sketches” but to me they are lovely finished drawings that are full of personality and life. Dan’s drawings are often studies for paintings and illustrations he is working on or even potential 3-d figures. I am excited to see what he does with these little guys!

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My own dogs are lucky to get their daily walk in past weeks with my life in the world of my “real job”. I haven’t had as much time as I’d like recently to sit and draw. I am also not feeling like the best house-mom either. But I think the notion of feast or famine is a common theme in the life of an artist. The trick is maintaining some semblance of balance both in the busy times and later, when things inevitably stagnate a bit. Today I am off to soak up (and maybe play) some more Irish Music. The muddy paw prints on the floor and the ever looming dust bunnies in my house will have to wait a while longer. I’ll have the sketchbook with me as always if I ever sit still long enough to draw in it!

what’s cookin?

What’s cookin’ in studio? A lot! This week has seen the convergence of many of my part time jobs and I have been operating a regular 3-ring circus in my head, on the calendar and in the studio. Coming up on Saturday is this month’s Family Saturday at the Carnegie Center for Performing and Visual Arts. This month’s theme is “The Art of Food” so all of our projects will involve mostly edible materials. We’ll be making toaster art (click here to see some professional level toaster art. I mean, who knew?), egg-shell mosaics and decorated hollowed out eggs, “sweet” creatures using candy, icing, fluff, etc., and noodle jewelry. Lots of prep work goes into these Family Saturdays and they always wind up being great fun for everyone involved! (Below are the dyed noodles…)

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Meanwhile, it’s officially Tornado Season here in the mid-west and so my job as a puppeteer for the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross is in full swing. Jeni and I were up early this morning to entertain and meet some of the folks who donate money and resources to the Red Cross, furthering the important work done by this amazing organization. We also have a fairly full week of puppet shows in local schools to teach kids how to be prepared in case of a tornado. On top of all of our performance activities, we desperately need a new stage set up. With some design advice from Kevin, Jeni and I are building a brand new set for the “Wind Around the Toy Box” production which will be easier to transport and set up on site. The new design has the added bonus of allowing us puppeteers to stay on our feet, not on our poor knees!

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So at the end of this long day, in the middle of this long week, one might think that I would be ready for a good night’s sleep. This is not too far from the truth. However, last week, I challenged my sketchbook class at the Art Academy to go out this week and draw somewhere in public. Some place where someone might see them, and ask them what they are up to. I asked my students to step out of their comfort zone to work on their sketchbooks in a place they may have, in the past, been afraid to go. I can’t very well ask this of them, without taking part in some of this exercise myself. So tonight I am off to Havanna Martini Club for Salsa night. I don’t plan on dancing too much, but I do plan to sketch the people who are dancing. I have wanted to do this for awhile but have been putting it off, not wanting to be the oddball with a sketchbook at Salsa night. Hopefully some of my students are out there challenging their own boundaries this week too. We’ll see tomorrow night when we meet for class again.

Mad Wax

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Last night the kids and I attended the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild meeting which was held at the headquarters of Madcap Puppets. We were treated to a tour of the facilities and even got to play with and manipulate some of the incredible creations Madcap is famous for. In the photo above (taken on my cell phone, hence the quality), the “Hunchback” character is actually my daughter Maddie wearing a backpack puppet. She is showing signs of being a good puppeteer…

Also in that picture (next to Maddie holding the fish) is Kevin Frisch, the fearless leader/president of the Puppetry Guild. Kevin brought with him a handsome new marionette he just made for a car dealership commercial. This little guy can raise his eyebrows, move his eyes, sit down and cross his legs. He’s amazing! We were all enchanted, as usual, with Kevin’s latest creation.

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Recently Kevin has been working on a new and improved website for his Frisch Marionette Company. It’s a whole virtual world just waiting for exploration. Check it out!

After the guild meeting, I came home and stoked the fire in the studio and got to work with some wax. I LOVE to work at night and find it is when I am most creative and loose and playful with materials. The tough part about this night owl tendency is that I have my “real life” commitments as mom and worker to which I have to attend the next morning. I am a little sleepy today to say the least. But it’s worth it, I think. I am continuing to play with my new materials and exploring ways to make different things happen. Today I will just drink a lot of coffee and maybe fit in a 20 minute power nap…. so I can stay up late again tonight!!

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I embedded a mirror in the one above which is more successful in person than in this photograph. The mirror is so small that the viewer only sees a small portion of themselves when looking at the painting. In the other two works I used some fish vertebrae (above) and some small knotted bits of thread (below). There is a suture-like quality to this which I think plays well with the skin-ness of the wax. This will bear more experimentation…

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Yesterday a really cool video was sent to me by my friend Amy in Maine. This just goes to show that not a lot of money needs to go into a powerful bit of art work. Another wonderful video shown to us at the puppetry guild meeting is that of the work of Gaia Teatro out of Peru. With minimal props and merely the sensual use of their hands, these puppeteers create evocative characters that are simply magical. These are some things I am finding inspiring these days.

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The past few days I have been lucky enough to have my sister’s kids, Riley and Lincoln join our daily routine here while she and her husband went to Mexico. This was a work trip for him… technically, but since spouses were invited to come along, I am sure they are having at least a little bit of fun and soaking up a few sunrays so scarce here in Ohio.

I took the kids out to the local favorite ice-cream store, Graeter’s one day. Collectively, the best flavor seems to be black-raspberry chip (though Jack is partial to the mint chocolate chip). We also got to reap the benefits of Valentine’s Day together. A good time was had by all.

It is hard to say where my days go sometimes. Suddenly this week is gone and I did not blog or draw as much as I thought I might have. While the kids were at school I busied myself with gearing up for my spring time puppetry gig with the Cincinnati area chapter of the American Red Cross. As tornado season approaches, my friend Jeni and I will be spreading the word to young kids about how to be prepared and stay safe…. with the help of some puppet friends. More to come on that.

I have also been continuing to spend a bunch of time with my head buried in books with my new obsession regarding the concept of mapping. Many thanks to Fiona for suggesting Katherine Harmon’s You are Here – Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination. I have ordered this book online along with The Power of Maps by Denis Wood. Both look to be good reads.

The question of how to interpret all of this new artistic fodder has not escaped my thinking. I have also been scouring the local thrift, art and home stores for the gear and supplies needed to try my hand at an art process called encaustic. I have used beeswax for years in much of my sculpture. But to add pigment, and paint with it…. now I am into new territory, and terribly excited!

Puppets and such

Today was the monthly Family Saturday program at the Carnegie Center for Visual and Performing Arts. As usual, kids and their accompanying grown-ups had a blast creating one-of-a-kind works of art surrounding the loose theme of puppetry. We made felt monsters, sock and paper bag hand puppets, shadow puppets and some simple marionettes based on a design by puppet maker/performer extraordinaire, Kevin Frisch.

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I became interested in puppetry when I made a marionette of Alberto Giacometti for an art history project in art school. After that project I decided to learn more about the legacy and craft behind the art of puppetry and joined the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild. Through the connection with this wonderful group of talented people I am learning more all the time about puppets, puppet making, and puppet performing. I even got a job with the local chapter of the Red Cross performing a tornado safety puppet show during the spring season.

Another perk of being part of the Puppetry Guild is the sharing of cool stuff with other people interested in the art of puppetry. My friend Lisa sent out a link to an interesting blog called 3 Quarks Daily. In this particular entry, the author shows a video of a giant puppet show put on in London by the French puppet theater company called the Royal de Luxe. It is enchanting. The Little Girl Giant is so tremendously alive, in a way that is difficult to describe, but this blog does a good job of it.

Whether a puppet is a simple sock character or a giant engineering marvel, the magic lies in the coming alive of something inanimate. This magic is what draws me to puppetry as an artist. I am thrilled that I got to share a little bit of the magic of puppetry with the families who visit Carnegie’s Family Saturday. Hopefully they enjoyed it as much as I did!

an old marionette

Last night I attended the annual Christmas party and “white elephant” gift exchange at the Cincinnati Area Puppetry Guild, of which I am proud to be a member. This is always a fun gathering of old and new puppeteers and puppet builders, and a place where the sharing of ideas, inspiration and supplies is paramount. The gift exchange lets us all trade things that have been feeling stale in our own studios but might be just what someone else needs. The kids and I got some great fabrics along with a more fascinating gift.

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This very old marionette was given to me by one of the founding members of the guild who has had an illustrious career in puppetry. She wanted to give it to someone who would repair it and give it new life. He may be a tad politically in-correct (if I am reading his make up correctly) yet I believe he may be quite old, and that potential history, even if unknown to me, is important.

So over the coming weeks, I will be untangling this little guy, and repairing his broken nose. Getting him back to working order will be a good exercise for me and I will be honoring the wish of the guild member who gave him over to his new home.

Old Trout

What do you think of when you think of puppets? Sesame Street? The Muppet Show? Kids stuff? Much of mainstream puppetry is geared toward kids and the good work is really brilliant. But available to a less mainstream audience is the work of puppet theater companies such as The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, a group based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Groups such as this normally do shows that can be found most often in places such as New York, Washington DC, or Chicago. I had the pleasure of seeing Old Trout’s latest show, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, this past Friday at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.
I am a relative new comer to really good puppet theater and was so moved by this show. Puppet theater combines moving sculptures, human performance, illusionary stage manipulation and sound to create a magic that transcends all of the above. To put it simply, I was blown away by these guys, and incredibly inspired.
Below is a picture of our “host”, Nathaniel Tweak who provided one of the more touching death scenes himself. If you ever have the opportunity to see the work of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, do it. I made the 2 hour drive to Columbus and am so glad I did.

Although I was a little bleary eyed from the drive to see Old Trout, Saturday I worked at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts center in Covington, KY for my first Family Saturday. We had a wonderful group of artists comprised of kids and their accompanying grown-ups. Everyone seemed to enjoy making the available projects and I enjoyed getting to know some new people. Many folks said, “We’ll see you next month!” which I take to be a positive sign that a good time was had by all. So far, for December’s Family Saturday, we are thinking of projects that involve holiday gift giving with a less consumer based philosophy. I’ll keep you posted!