progress on the puppet challenge

It’s been a while since I posted about the Puppet Challenge and its contributors, so here’s a catch-up, reporting progress by some of the makers who’ve sent us news. I regularly check the websites and blogs of participants, but if any of you have made progress that you’ve not yet shared at your sites but would like us to post at the Artlog, please drop me or Peter Slight a line with some images.

Philippa Robbins

Philippa Robbins has made an entire cast of wonderfully characterful ‘blue-heads’, of which this is one. She’s still playing with ideas and isn’t yet a hundred percent certain whether they’re to be glove-puppets or some other type. But it’s interesting that as an artist, she’s found a way to make her puppets completely of her own creative universe, and in a room-full of puppets I would know them as hers. I’m sure that however she resolves them, they’re going to be appearing in her drawings and paintings before very long.

Jill Desborough

Artist Jill Desborough writes:

‘Attached are a couple of images of designs for two puppets I’ve started. The Spring one might be the 1st in a quartet of the Seasons. He is a a slavic god called Jarilo who comes from the underworld every spring bringing growth and fertility. I am making him androgynous in a flower and leaf strewn gown.’

‘The other is a bird-headed figure who I see as a guardian/watcher of borders- who will be all in black- a bit ambivalent …malevolent or protective I’m not sure. The image came into my mind on the train … he is I guess from my own mythological library rather than the historic canon.’

Liz King

Painter Liz King is underway not just with puppet designs, but for an entire story-boarded legend of the Loubérou or Lébérou, known in various rural areas of France. The story is of a man who turns into a goat after bathing in an enchanted fountain. You can read the full scenario at her blog, but here’s an extract from it:

‘He reads the watery words, stands up and with hands on hips, tosses his head in disdainful disbelief. But it feels top-heavy and cumbersome. He reaches up to feel two unfamiliar shapes protruding from it, hears the clop of hoof on horn. Lowering his hands he sees with horror two cloven hooves where hands should be. Slumping down onto all fours, he lets out a prolonged and enfeebled bleat. From the black waters of the fountain the reflection of a wild, long-haired goat stares out at him.’

I love Liz’s visualisation of the fountain-source as a giant bearded head, like a Roman river-god spewing words written in the black water.

Karen Godfrey

Artist Karen Godfrey writes:

‘I have decided after much deliberation to make a marionette of Frida Kahlo.  She is a favorite of mine and I thought I would be able to use her the most for occassions such as, Day of the Dead.  What also appealed to me were the endless amounts of outfits, accessories, jewelry, etc I could make for her. 

I made her head out of foam covered with polymer clay.  Then I painted her with acrylic paint.  The body, arms, and legs were made out of wood.  I haven’t made her feet yet.  I am using leather straps for the hinges at her elbows and knees.  I also will be adding hair to her.

‘This has been a lot of fun so far.’

Since writing the above, Karen has finished her Frida Kahlo puppet, and has sent us wonderful images of her standing on a specially made Day of the Dead stage, surrounded by coloured lights and sugar skulls. Marvellous!

Matt and Amanda Caines

Matt Caines is a sculptor, and Amanda Caines is an artist with a multi-discipline approach to her work. Matt has written of their work toward the Puppet Challenge:

‘We are currently engaging in the darker side of fairy stories and folklore and are producing a series of free standing pieces and some wall hangings. We are combining my interest in structure, assemblage and engraving on shed antler, with Amanda’s sense of colour and pattern in her stitch worked sections.
The horse is inspired by the legend of the Kelpie, a malevolent Scottish equestrian water spirit that lures lone travellers into rivers and lakes and gives them a dunking. Ireland has the Each-Uisage who inhabits seas and lochs. After carrying his victims into the water, the Each-Uisage devours them.’


‘The puppet and drawings that match are inspired by Sedna, the Inuit goddess of the sea and all its creatures. Poor Sedna was thrown out of a boat by her angry father, who to stop her holding on to the side, chopped off her fingers. As she sank into the murky depths, her fingers turned into seals, walruses, fish, whales and all the sea life.        
Now she lives at the bottom of the sea, angry at all men, sometimes bringing famine, sometimes plenty. Shamans swim down to appease her by combing her hair and begging for mercy. 
Amanda is creating a bound skirt for Sedna that will be patterned with a fragmented fish-tail pattern. Her face will be a mixture of shamanic mask imagery filtered though cubist fragmentation.’ 

Scott Garrett

Scott Garrett is rocking with the Puppet Challenge. This, the Whittlesea Straw Bear, is his second folk-tradition based glove-puppet, the first having been a magnificently realised Earl of Rone. (I’m saving images of that for the online exhibition, though if you can’t wait, you can see some at Scott’s Blog.)

Lynne Lamb

Lynne Lamb has already stormed ahead in the Puppet Challenge with her ‘bog-body’ reinvention of the Snow Queen and a splendid ship’s figurehead mermaid. Now she’s come up with this deceptively winsome multiple-headed wolf-in-grandma’s-clothes, that cleverly riffs on notions of multiple identities and the three-headed canine guardian of the Kingdom of the Dead, Cerberus.

Caroline McCatty

Caroline is making her own version of a novelty that delighted nineteenth century audiences. The ‘transformation puppet’ was the Victorian puppet showman’s coup de théâtre, his blink-and-you-miss-it sleight-of-hand that would leave viewers perplexed and delighted. A popular subject was ‘The Grand Turk’, a figure that dissolved in the blink of an eye into many smaller puppets scattering in all directions. For her Puppet Challenge subject Caroline decided on the story of an ogre who goes in disguise as a little girl, and if I’ve understood her correctly, her puppet is intended to transform from small child to to outsized monster in an instant. In the photograph of this puppet-in-progress we see the girl’s head lying atop the large head of the ogre. The latter is of a soft construction, and I believe is intended to pack into a small, hidden place, from which it then inflates to effect the trick. Although I don’t know the details of how she plans this, Caroline is certainly on the right track, as in the nineteenth century collapsible puppets pre-rigged ready to burst out were the basis of many transformation marionettes. You can see two nineteenth century transformation puppets HERE.

Nomi McLeod

Nomi’s puppet-in-progress stares out at us with troubled eyes. This hauntingly beautiful head is her starting point for the intriguingly titled ‘The Girl Without Hands’, a tale that it sound as though Shakespeare may have borrowed from for Titus Adronicus.

The Puppet Challenge becomes altogether more stimulating as a creative experience when contributors share ideas and progress with us. For those of you who’ve so far remained silent on the matter, get in touch and let us know what you’re up to. A thumbnail sketch, a reference image or just a few words by way of ideas you may have, will help enrich all who’ve signed to this project. We’d love to hear from you.

20 thoughts on “progress on the puppet challenge

  1. WOW, i don’t know how i missed this, but i’m glad i caught the link from phil’s blog–these are amazing, there’s so much here to think about and absorb, so many ideas …it’s overwhelming, but awesome! this trick of the ogre coming out of the girl is fascinating, and they’re both fabulously rendered… and phillipa’s head is really a character–love those perfect teeth 😀
    i am totally blown away by liz king’s idea–she is creating a whole world, and the images are really intriguing…the drawings of matt and amanda are wonderful– i love every step of that horse –*everything* here is wonderful, and everything is so different, there are so many directions to go, WOW.
    thanks for this awesome post!

  2. Pingback: Mr Lyon | hedgecrows

  3. What an interesting exhibition this is going to be! It’s both stimulating (and daunting!) to see the other exhibits-to-be. They ( the others) have conceived some wonderful artworks, and so varied! Gulp , yes, June looms rapidly!

  4. I’m enjoying these, very much! Absolutely love Nomi’s head, and indeed, there is such troublement (is that a word? Oh well.) in them eyes and the bleak expression worn. Phillipa’s is coming along charmingly, too – the photographs remind me of a German teacher I once had…

    Really cracking stuff all round! Very exciting.

    • When I last saw Nomi she was exceedingly pregnant, and I was a tad sceptical that she’d find any time for making a puppet for the Artlog Open Exhibition once the baby had come. But the January arrival of Minka Rose notwithstanding, Nomi has produced this extraordinary head, brimming with emotion, and I think in so doing she’s raised the Puppet Challenge benchmark very high. I know that any puppeteer would love having a puppet of such character in his or her hands.

      Steven, I’m so pleased that you’re enjoying the Puppet Challenge. It’s a bit of a niche interest to say the least, a bunch of enthusiasts getting together for an online exhibition of puppet-making… most of them with very little puppet-making experience… and so it’s heartening to know that you ‘get it’! Thank you for the encouraging words. I know everyone will appreciate them. (And Nomi in particular.)

        • Ha, it’s one of those words that sounds as if it should be. We shall coin it here! The rally begins. Destination: OED.

            • We have ‘merriment’, so I don’t see why we couldn’t have ‘troublement’. But then language never does play ball like that.

              I shall email Dictionary Corner and enquire if, and if not, why not. Susie Dent and I, we’re like that… *does that gesture I can’t remember what it really is, to signify a close bond*

              Thanks for linking to that blog, by the way. I don’t use Blogspot so nuggets like this evade my eyes. What a treasure trove! You’re spoiling me today, Clive.

            • Marly Youmans, who lives in Cooperstown, Otsego County, NY, is a novelist and poet. We’ve long been friends, and over the years I’ve produced cover artworks and illustrations for her books. Her most recent novel, Glimmerglass, will be out in September from Mercer University Press, with a cover and chapter-headings by me. Marly is an extraordinary wordsmith, and I turn to her writing when I need a ‘word fix’! (Reading a Marly manuscript prior to publication so that I can start planning the cover, is the biggest treat.)

      • Wow, well, kudos to Nomi all the more then. That’s persistence for you!

        I do quite enjoy puppets, but I’m sure I’d be engaged even if I didn’t. The niche and ‘novice’ nature of it makes it all the more exciting, and clearly it’s lead to a host of interesting and energetic pieces.

        I am on such a buzz! Seriously. I can’t remember the last time a blog post did that to me; I should thank you all for that. 🙂

          • Hmm, well, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tempting, but, casting back to various experiments with 3D design/modelling in the past, I think it would be in everyone’s best interests if I remained in the spectator chair. Trust me!

            • OK. But I’ll just add that the Puppet Challenge is a most democratic and inclusive online event, and while there are a lot of wonderful artists involved in it, there are equally a fair number of those for whom it’s a challenge in the real sense of the word, because they have never made three-dimensional works before, let alone puppets. And that’s what makes it so interesting, and so lively. Just sayin’!

              I shan’t push. But should you find your mind rambling around the idea, wondering about what might be possible… and what might be learned/gained/achieved by taking a detour round this little event… then just let us know (Peter Slight is my co-conspirator and the official Artlog ‘guest curator’ on this Challenge) and we’ll consider you in. Deal?

  5. All is going well with our puppet – a giant from a sussex folk story. A post will be appearing soon on our blog once the current mass of deadlines has become a little more manageable! So good to see others work, very inspiring.

  6. Wow, such an impressive selection of work being produced, it’s wonderful to see everyone’s plans/ puppets so far 🙂 I’m afraid my King Arthur has been slightly neglected whilst I’ve worked on my quilt but I’m planning to start work on him again soon 🙂

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