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Making a puppet

Journal

News from Dowd House Studios: places to find our pottery, exhibitions, classes & workshops, new forms and exciting projects.

Making a puppet

Jenny Dowd

It can be difficult to share process photos and explain projects that are still mostly living in my head. However, I’m finding that this is a helpful part of my process, plus I’m excited to share this project.

Sam and I are currently working on a huge project - we are making a pole puppet! In June we had the opportunity to work with Eric and Ines Bass from Sandglass Theater in a collaboration with Dancers’ Workshop. This project will culminate with a parade and performance on August 16. (Stay tuned!) Our puppet is 1 of 5 beasts, each based on one of the Chinese Five Elements: Earth, Water, Metal, Wood, Fire. Our beast is Metal, and is loosely based on an armadillo.

The Chinese Five Elements contain a lot of interesting layers; Metal also refers to the emotion: sadness, color: white, and flavor: pungent.

We spent 4 days working on the body structure, the tail and head will be added later.

The base of the creature was made out of cardboard, with the double layers helping to keep the reed armature in place. After shaping the vertical hoops, I attached the horizontal reeds with tightly tied bike tubes. I really wanted the puppet body to articulate in two directions - up and down and side to side. However, after attaching a fabric hinge and trying to move the creature, I discovered that it was too bulky to have that much movement. Up and down was more important, so the hinges were remade to easily shift the mass up and down - as seen in the bottom right image.

Poles were installed under the base - they are fitted to the backpack worn by the puppeteer. A pole was inserted into the front half so the body will articulate up and down. Both me and Sam tried on the backpack to make these adjustments.

So, now that the structure is nearly complete, it’s time for the details! Although, these are still complicated and require a bit of engineering and careful thought. This is just the body of the puppet - the head and tail are still seperate at this point and will each have their own pole and puppeteer. Our beast will be operated by 3 people!

I’ve started covering the armature with fabric, including the soft underbelly of the beast, in silver and metallic blue. Next, the scaly armor will be attached, plus a neck, head, and tail.

Remember that the Chinese element Metal also includes the color white? My plan is for the colors to fade from deep metallic blue on the inside to silver and white as they progress from the body.

A few of the details here - Sam is gluing nostrils onto the head and I’ve started sewing the tip of the tail. I think we are over halfway finished, but there is still lots to be done.

Stay tuned for more updates and information on the performance and parade on August 16th in Jackson!