The Puppet Challenge Part 9: Shellie, Leonard and the unknown Claire

Shellie Byatt, Leonardo Greco and Claire Crystal

Shellie Byatt: The Wolf, the Egg-Thief and the Surprise in the Shrubbery

Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf

Above: Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

I wondered whether any Puppet Challenge participants would produce works in miniature, but the reality was that only two did. (And no-one elected to make their own version of a Juvenile Drama of the type produced by Benjamin Pollock, which came as a bit of a surprise.) Rachel Larkins and Shellie Byatt created small puppets of great charm and imagination. Rachel made her delightful Thumbelina-in-a-Tulip… seen in Puppet Challenge Post No 2, while Shellie let rip with an entire finger-puppet cast for Red-Riding-Hood, with extra characters thrown in for good measure. I love her Wolf beefed-up like a weight-lifter on steroids. Look at those shoulders!

The Wolf

The Wolf

In recent years Shellie, a painter, has been making ‘medallions’ that she has cast in bronze at a foundry, and so she’s regularly been working on three dimensional forms, though on a small-scale. I like the fact that with these puppets she’s continued at a scale comfortable to her, and yet has made the great leap of working in-the-round, and I long to see this fairy tale band of actors evolve into her easel work.

The Wolf in the woods

The Wolf in the Woods

The Woodcutter creeps up on The Wolf

The Woodcutter Creeps up on the Wolf

The Woodcutter

The Woodcutter



The Egg Thief

The Egg Thief

Surprise in the Shrubbery

Surprise in the Shrubbery!

Leonard Greco: The Hero-Twins

Leonard writes:

“As might be suspected, I am further exploring the exploits of the ‘Hero Twins’ in the underworld of Xlbalba. I made a cast of characters: the aforementioned twins, Hinahpu and Xbalanque, their unfortunate father the Maize God Hun Hunahpu, the God of Death Mictlanteluhtli and the World Tree, the Axix Mundi… more a prop than a puppet. I also painted a backdrop of the underworld, Xibalba.”

As a painter Leonard has been exploring the themes of Mesoamerican mythology with tireless curiosity. In so doing he has forged an extraordinarily vibrant and consistent visual style, that while drawing on European traditions of art, has retained a quality that is uniquely his own. (see below)

Below: the puppets

Above and below, The Hero Twins

Above and below: Mictlanteluhtli

Below: the Maize God, Hun Hunahpu

Below: creating worlds

When I was a boy I was never happier than when creating entire worlds. Toy theatres complete with full sets for various narratives crowded my bedroom shelves. There were the Norman castles and the Roman gladiatorial arenas, the haunted woods and the Carpathian ruins that fascinated me, the dinosaurs, mythic creatures and the gods and goddesses of ancient cultures all mixed up with elaborate dioramas of my favourite superheroes. I was never happier than when working with Plasticene, cardboard, Balsa wood, paint and wire. I see this same, ferocious ‘child-creator’ outpouring in Leonard, undilute and joyful, and I think it’s incredible he’s held onto it in a way that is entirely intact and untroubled by the later concerns… and influences.. of life. Most of us get all this stuff beaten out of us at some point, but Leonard has held fast to his ‘worlds’, and made them realities.

Claire Crystal: a late arrival

Claire Crystal

Rachel Larkins, who made the Thumbelina puppet in Post No 2,  wrote to me:

“I am sending you some images by one of the students of the Extended Diploma course of the university where I work part-time. Claire happened to be working on her own puppet project – an imaginary/mythical creature- during the summer term. This was her first foray into puppet-making, and she documented it brilliantly, and so I am sending an image of that too, just in case you’d like to include it.”

Claire’s puppet, with its green eyes and gentle expression, is beautiful, and I’m happy to include it here. I know nothing about Claire save what Rachel told me, and I fear Google hasn’t yielded any more information. Here’s the image Rachel included of Claire’s workbook.

Claire Crystal sketchbook

27 thoughts on “The Puppet Challenge Part 9: Shellie, Leonard and the unknown Claire

  1. Pingback: The Puppet Challenge Part 13: Judy, Jennifer, Michael & Benjamin, Penny, Charlotte and Liisa | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. It’s great to see all the encouraging comments about Claire’s work. I’m sorry I can’t expand more on her background -we are currently on holidays and I have no way of contacting her (this should be a nice surprise when she returns for her second year of study, ready to start applying for model making degree courses, I think). …Thank you lots for including us both.

  3. I really don’t what to say – I keep looking at these puppets again and again!
    Shellie’s puppets are simply amazing, and to be so small too!!!
    Leonard’s puppets come from a dark and mysterious place, and have such life.
    And Claire’s Gazelle – I think I want it.

  4. I am a little late to the party, but all the same I am delighted by these remarkable puppets!!

    Shellie’s puppets are really lovely. I love the faces and it is quite interesting how much like paintings the photographs appear. It is incredible to think that these are miniature! After seeing these I definitely want to see more, so I will be heading over to her site after this…

    Claire’s puppets are beautiful and intriguing. I would love to see a video of them so I could see them in action. Does Claire have any online place with her work? I’m sure we’d all love to know more!

    I have a special fondness for Leonard’s puppets, I must admit, and I have really enjoyed watching them come to life on his blog. Mictlanteluhtli fascinates me to no end and the twins and the Maize God and… really just all of it is overwhelmingly wonderful! I noticed up in the comments some mention of a potential future puppet film in black and white, and I can’t wait!

  5. Pingback: Puppet Challenge and mural restauration. | lizkingsangster

  6. what a fantastic red-riding-hood world! it’s an awesome transformation from wolf to grandma, you can juuuuust see him there, and i love the eyes of the woodcutter, especially as he’s coming up behind the wolf!! how heartening to think it’s possible to create the whole cast in such small form and still have them with so much character!

    i am, of course, a *huge* fan of leonard’s mythic characters, and am thrilled that he made a background and tree as well, i like the idea of staging very much, but especially when world-making is such a part of the job of gods…. mictlanteluhtli is one of my favorites of his, and i like the style of his paint on them, reminds me very strongly of the mexican dolls–though, as you say, totally his own 😀

    and what lovely creatures claire made! the colorings are perfect, and the antlers are so delicately, lovingly rendered! will i *ever* receive college credit for doing something so cool?? *sigh*

  7. Once again, more unique images and ideas, they never stop coming! What an exhibition! I wish I could see them all in the flesh, in a huge room so I could flit back and forth as there is so much to take in!

    Shellie’s are wonderful in their humour and originality, I love the surprise in the shrubbery, especially.

    I like the way Leonard has constructed the Hero twins. I love the maize god’s face too. The backdrops are beautifully painted and incredibly dramatic. Claire’s winsome and delicate puppet is beautifully constructed. It truly appears to be flying.

  8. I’m with Phil on Shellie’s work, seeing the translation from flat depiction to in the round is of great interest. The Egg Thief is particularly wonderful.
    The unknown Claire has fashioned a wonderful beastie and her sketchbook betrays a thoughtful artist.

    • Leonard, I love your hero-twins. They look like they could be a painting….a sort-of close up of two rather dubious chaps who are locked together and hoping to blame each other for any misdemeanors!

  9. I’ve long admired Shellie’s paintings and I love the way her own unique style shines through in the three dimensional work of these puppets, they have all the charm and delicacy of her paintings, so beautiful.

    Claire’s elegant deer are just gorgeous, I can see those in some of the shops in London selling for a good price, they look very ‘on-trend’ with the folk art aesthetic I see in a lot of gift shops at the moment.

    Ahh, Leonard’s Hero twins..*sigh*……I’m in love 🙂

  10. This entire series has been a delight. Interesting and inspiring!

    Leonard’s work is always intense, no matter what the medium. Love those Hero Twins!

        • You don’t balk at candid nudity, which is as it should be.

          My first dealer, Lizzie Organ, once surprised everyone at a lunch party by announcing, apropos of nothing at all, that she could always see penises in my work. This was met with a stunned silence. Her partner Eugene said rather meekly, “Do you mean, Lizzie, that Clive’s male nudes always have their penises?” To which Lizzie flashed back, “No Euge, I meant what I said. There are penises in all his paintings. In the landscapes, the still-life paintings, in everything he’s ever done. Penises in all of them!” She marched straight up to a rather pretty still-life of mine set against a bucolic landscape that she had on her wall. Emphatically stabbing a finger at a patch of what I’d always thought of as a cloud, she turned on us triumphantly and said “Look, a penis! And balls!!!!” And d’you know, Leonard, the cloud was undoubtedly a flying penis. She was right. We’ve found since that there are always penises present if you look hard enough, though until Lizzie pointed it out I’d never noticed. She sat down to resume her lunch. “I like it”, she said. “I always look for them, and he never disappoints.” To which there seemed no adequate reply.

          With Peter it’s now become a kind of game. “Oh look’ he’ll say at any new work, ‘there’s one of Lizzie’s penises!”

          • I was tickled by your comment, delighted by it; my reaction was mock incredulity. That said I love that story, and I too find the little phallic images here and there myself – although your work is immensely more discreet and far more tasteful than my own.

            In my own work, I think the cute little naked fellows are a bit of a middle aged crises, having spent all of my life painting nondescript, censored decorative work, I have let loose. Sometimes – most times – with puerile enthusiasm. I don’t fret much about it but it does make some folks squirm. I need to search out more Lizzies! Because thus far only my prints have sold 🙂

            Thank you for your kind words, words that looked beyond the naughtiness, that’s only a part of the little world I’m creating. Having you actually LOOK, validates the love and the labor.

          • Oh, this story DID make me laugh. I have noticed them as well in your work Clive, but hadn’t mentioned it. A very funny story. Leonard, your puppets are just fantastic. I particularly love the rich, explosive colour and those wonderful painted backgrounds! The Mictlanteluhtli head close-up is spectacular.

  11. Another grouping of fabulous work. I have enjoyed all the puppetry so far but I absolutely love the delicacy of Claire’s deer. I hope she goes from strength to strength and we see more of her work.

  12. All really great puppets! As all of them have been. I’ve been absent in the comments for a number of reasons, but hopefully I will keep up better now. Comments really are the lifeblood of a good blog and I feel I’ve been letting the side down. Look forward to all the rest. Great work Clive!… and all the rest of the makers!

  13. Shellie has made a lovely medley of puppets! It would be a fun afternoon playing with all of them. The egg thief has to be my favourite, with his bunny eared hat, but I really like that wolf too, he looks very cuddly – sorry wolfie but you do! 🙂

    Leonard’s offerings show an abundance of creativity – loving that firey backdrop too! His puppets make me think of Georges Melies other wordly creations, only a lot more colourful! The Maize God is my favourite, with his scary tree body. Does his head actually pop out the top of the tree trunk? 🙂

    Love Claire’s charismatic gazelle-like creature. From the hand in the top of the picture, it looks as though the puppet is pretty sizable?! Would love to see how it operates with those legs, as I can only see two strings in the picture.

    The puppet challenge has just produced surprise after surprise after surprise…..

    • thank you for mentioning Melies, a direct inspiration. I initially meant to paint everything in black and white but the siren call of color always gets me. Looking to filming them in b&w instead, which is true to Melies. And yes, the Maize God’s head ascends, the simplest of marionettes, one string 🙂 Happy you like him because I have misgivings about his success, appreciate the feedback. Lg

    • Yes, I agree the wolf is wonderfully cuddly. I love him with his huge, hairy shoulders. I love the Egg Thief and the slapstick scene of woodcutter creeping up on the wolf, or perhaps asking him to dance? Fantastic work Shellie!

  14. Shellie’s puppets have all the presence of much larger puppets, so full of character.

    Leonard’s puppets are full of the life breathed into them by his dedication to his created world.

    Claire’s puppet is lovely, and in movement would look very majestic …. another post of really exciting puppets.

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