a guide to puppetry 1: the glove-puppet

Above: hand-felted glove-puppet by Mia Kanazawa

As a side-bar to the puppet challenge at the Artlog currently being curated by Peter Slight (see HERE) I’ve decided to make an introductory series of posts giving brief descriptions of different types of puppet, in the hope that Artloggers may find inspiration enough to pick up Peter’s challenge and join the fun.

Above: glove puppet by artist Sharon Dosey

Puppets can be marionettes of elaborate construction, or simple finger-puppets. The first puppet I owned was a snake made by my mother from an old knitted sock stitched with beady eyes and a red felt tongue. Of course Peter and I hope that the level of creativity at the Artlog will extend beyond the snake-made-from-a-sock, but the point illustrates that puppets can be many things, and not all types require specialist making skills.

Abve: Cyclops glove-puppet made by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Head and hands of gessoed papier mâché with painted canvas body. 2013.

Glove puppets have long been manufactured and sold relatively cheaply as children’s toys. Here are a couple of vintage puppets with vinyl heads and the simplest of bodies made from printed cotton.

The artist Paul Klee was strongly attracted to the art of the puppet, and made a puppet booth and puppets for his son Felix. Despite suffering from the rough and tumble of regular performances, many of the puppets made for Felix survived, and are held at the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern.

Above and below: glove puppets made by Paul Klee.

Old Maid, 1919.

Devil with Ringed Gloves, 1922.

Below: Paul Klee glove-puppets in a contemporary performance. The puppet in profile is a self-portrait of the artist.

Glove puppets can be entirely made from textile, like the one by Sharon Dosey (second illustration down in this post) or made with carved heads and hands, like these 19th century French Punch and Judy puppets.

Puppet maker and theatre designer Julian Crouch recently created a stage production titled The Devil and Mr Punch, and below he can be seen with his glove-puppet star.

Here to finish are some glove-puppets from my own collection. The four characters are Joey-the-Clown, Punch & Judy and Toby-the-Dog, and they’re from a Punch & Judy set produced by Pelham Puppets. The heads are made from a composition of pumice and glue that Pelham used for all its ‘moulded’ characters.

These were designed as children’s toys, and though carefully made, they’re relatively fragile and wouldn’t be up to the punishment that professional Punch & Judy puppets have to withstand.

I hope there are some inspirations here for puppet-making Artloggers. Some of you might take your lead from Paul Klee, who made his puppets quite roughly and didn’t become over-fussed with producing anything too elaborate. The figures were intended for knockabout performance. Klee worked fast and with whatever found materials were to hand. The puppets were a direct expression of his creativity, untroubled by the desire to make anything that might be considered craftsmanlike or beautiful. He was interested in the anarchic spirit of the puppet, and his toy figures are strange, magical, pathetic, occasionally quite frightening and always compelling.

Above: Felix Klee in old age with glove-puppets made by his father.

31 thoughts on “a guide to puppetry 1: the glove-puppet

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  8. In Lyon in August there were puppets everywhere and I bought you 2 postcards meaning to send while out there but having been taken ill I’m afraid plans got a little lost, with this wretched pneumonia has stopped me getting out and about to post anything but you shall have them, and another ‘thing’ I found that is very you but I’m saying no more you shall have them soon . I am improving daily now, and see the specialist again tomorrow hopefully with good news of xrays. So I intend to be up and at ’em before Christmas. In the meantime… planning puppetry.

    • Ah, I too wish that the puppets made when I was a boy had survived. Maybe they did, but I doubt it. So much went missing the time my family moved home when I was away at school in London. All of my old toys, gone.

  9. Ooh, I do like Paul Klee’s puppets. Thank you for sharing these images, very inspiring! I was thinking of making something rather flat and shadow puppet like but I’m very tempted by fabric now…

    • I look forward to hearing about what you plan, Zoe. Or will you keep it all a surprise? I wondered whether you’d make a human/animal hybrid goddess, recalling the paintings you made of Saint Fevronia, or maybe a half-human-half-skeleton Papa Legba, inspired by your wonderful maquette. Thrilling stuff.

  10. Lovely post. I’m a great admirer of Julian Crouch’s puppets. Once upon a time I won a Blue Peter badge by making a puppet out of one those mini breakfast cereal boxes. They never showed how to make a similar one on the programme though, to my lasting regret!

      • Thank you for those links. And no, my badge got lost during a childhood move, as did a photo of the Beatles signed to us because my father was in Hard Day’s Night! I think you can tell that both losses have affected me very deeply!

            • Of course!!! One of those actors who I’ve known all my life because he was in everything! (His filmography is most impressive.) A man, too, whose appearance made him quintessentially British, who wore a bowler-hat and a pin-stripe suit with grace and the sort of ‘dash’ that was so much of his time. He was in a film that I adored as a kid, Hammer’s The Tomb of Ligeia with Vincent Price. I loved it so much that I made marionettes of the main characters and learned the Edgar Allan Poe poem by heart!

              My dad’s close friend during the war was Tony Sharpe, another who like your father was so familiar through his appearances playing upper class gents in British films of the period. Those faces were always such a pleasure to see. I felt as though they were my friends!

            • Oh yes, Tony Sharpe. I feel the same about him and so many of his generation, as you do. Lovely actors. Every time one of them dies, it’s a link to my father lost as well as it somehow chipping away at my childhood. We watched Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy again last year – full of such – glorious.

              Thank you for the lovely things you say about Richard. I shall clasp them to my heart. How enchanting that you made marionettes of the main characters of The Tomb of Ligeia!

              I must stop now and finish my short post about Absinthe! Have a lovely evening and Sunday.

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