17 April 2014

Throwback Thursday: Marionette

Here's a thing you may not know about me: I love puppets. I grew up on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, and my fascination for how a skilled puppeteer can bring an inanimate object to life has never waned. One of my favourite toys as a child was a raccoon hand puppet that my dad brought back from a trip (I had a huge collection of stuffed animals, too). It was realistic enough that even my young self could make it look like I was holding a live animal in my arms.

Also, my paternal grandfather had puppets. I believe he made some of them himself. We grandchildren weren't allowed to play with the marionettes, but I remember when we visited I'd always try to sneak into the basement and just look at them. One in particular fascinated me: a papier mâché skeleton. Now that my grandfather is gone, I sometimes wish I had that puppet, so I could look at it, the way I did as a child.

Then, a few years ago (okay, more like ten or fifteen years ago), I decided I should try to make a marionette. So I did what I always do when I want to try something new: I went to the library and got out a stack of books, and I read them.

I was already making dolls. Not many, just the odd one as an idea came into my head. So I figured why not try a stuffed doll marionette first, to see if I could. So I did. Meet Iris.

Iris was inspired by the Greek goddess, messenger to the gods of Olympus, and spirit of rainbows. As I child, I also loved rainbows (unicorns, too). I used black cloth with white paint because I love the look of Greek white-on-black pottery, and I used ancient Greek art as a starting point to design the look of her face.

Her hair, hand-dyed yarn that I picked up on a whim, is much more rainbow than it looks in the photos -- the greens and blues and purples are at the back -- and it has little crystal beads tied into it, like the water drops that make a rainbow.

I don't think the Iris of Greek myth was depicted with wings on her feet (Edit: according to my notes, she did indeed sometimes have winged boots), but Mercury -- also a messenger to the other gods -- was, so I extrapolated. Except I gave her butterfly wings. If I were to do this same puppet again, I might go with dragonfly wings instead.

So why a sudden post about marionettes? I always meant to make more, after Iris, but I never did. Soon after I made her, I went to art school (she was in my application portfolio) and didn't have time for such whims. But a couple of weekends ago, my neighbour at the Halifax Crafters spring fair was Pam of Puppet Dudes. She makes Muppet-like hand puppets, but my puppet-love was roused again. And I've been watching Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge on TV (don't tell anyone, but I might have a slight celebrity crush on Brian Henson).

Now I want to make another marionette. I had an Idea. I bought some fabric: black cotton again. And then I haven't had time to work on it. Right now I'm in a slight pause between the two halves of a big bookbinding job while I wait for the artist to finish the rest of the pages. I should be catching up on my April book reviews. And I will. But since I haven't had time to play with my marionette Idea, I thought I'd write a quick something about it.

Edit: I remembered I have my NSCAD application sketchbook still. Here are a couple of the pages where I was working out Iris's design (one added above, one here):

When I get some free time, I'll make another cloth doll marionette. If it goes well, maybe I'll try a papier mâché skeleton.

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