The Puppet Challenge Part 10: Phil, Stephanie, Anna, Charlotte and Janet

Phil Cooper, Stephanie Redfern, Chloe Redfern, Anna Clucas, Charlotte Hill and Janet Kershaw: the paper puppets

Late in the day I’ve decided to dedicate a post to the paper puppets. These are not puppets modelled in papier mache, but those that can best be described as 2D. There was another maker whose work I showed in an earlier post who fell neatly into this category, though at the time I wrote about him I hadn’t taken delivery of all the work due in, and so hadn’t realised I might make a specific post about 2D puppets.

Phil Cooper: The Animal Groom

To begin with Phil had intended to make a puppet based on the rather creepy folkloric tale of The Werewolf of Dogdyke, for which this was the concept artwork, atmospherically conjured as a collage:

Later he ditched the idea… which I think he should look at again when the time is right… and made a fresh start on the fairy tale tradition of the ‘Animal Groom’ personified in the character of the ‘Beast’ in La Belle et la Bete. But after having made a really striking maquette, he ditched that too, and went on to a third puppet, a ‘Woodwose’, made in the same way, though operated with rods.

Of the two completed ‘puppets, I think his ‘Animal Groom’, inspired by Angela Carter’s anthology The Bloody Chamber, is by far the strongest piece, and so I hope he’ll forgive me for changing his Puppet Challenge offering to the one I most wanted to write about.

Phil’s technique of painting sheets of paper in a great diversity of marks, and then cutting them up to make the components of collage, have served him well in this figure, elegant in frock-coat and yet animal in its crouched trajectory. You have to look quite hard to find the creature’s face, which I think works to the puppet’s advantage. There is an unreadable, mask-like quality to the beast that I like a lot. It suggests the fraught task of ever being able to reliably ‘read’ a wild animal. (or read a mask, for that matter.)

There is no discernible tenderness or connection in the face, which adds a layer of terror into the mix. Carter included two quite different versions of La Belle et la Bete in The Bloody Chamber: The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. I know that Phil was greatly drawn to these stories, and I wonder whether, as with the Dogdyke Werewolf, he’d intended to use his animal groom maquette as a puppet to be operated on a horizontal screen for the purposes of filming. In the event we have only these posed photographs. Given that Phil’s leonine beast has not yet been animated either in real-time or stop-motion, it is in effect a maquette rather than a puppet. But I do hope that at some point he will take it down and dust it off, and think again whether he might work further with it, or even use it as the basic design for a marionette, rod or table-top puppet.

Stephanie Redfern: spirit puppets

Stephanie, a print-maker and textile artist, made my job easy by providing an eloquent and funny description of how her ‘paper puppets’ came about. She writes:

“The puppets are basically my inventions. When I was searching the internet for inspiration I came across some mummers wearing animal masks, which interested me, as I rarely work with the human form, preferring animals, but here was a way to combine both the human and animal worlds. The puppets moved from being dressed up humans to become entities unrelated to us, in the vein of spirits or daemons.

Using elements from my collage scraps box, I assembled the puppets quite quickly; they seem to have been waiting in the box, ready to emerge, given a helping hand with scissors, glue and brads.”

The Spirit of the Air (above) is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, old coins, jewellery and a fish embroidery made by a friend many years ago. Her head is a print from one of my pieces of textile work, as is one of her feet and her bullfinches. Her other foot is a photograph of a tiny bird skull in my collection.

Whilst not being the most beautiful of the spirits, she is not all bad; in fact like life she is completely contradictory, and is the Spirit of the Uncertain. She is also the Keeper of Lists, and the Observer of the Balance Sheet, dealing with payments with money, and otherwise.

She is also critical and judgmental, but on the plus side tries to protect eggs, nests, feathery beasts, pterosaurs, and is also a very good listener, dealing particularly well with fragility and loss.”

The Spirit of the Moon (above) is in control, or at least does her best to be, of balance, honesty, timeliness, good order and personal hygiene. She is the Spirit of Instinctive Survival and despairs at the poor decisions we so often make as humans.

She protects all furry things, including us and bats, and has her attendant moths with her at all times, keeping their antennae abroad to inform her of any catastrophic events. We may think she is poor at her job but then we know so little of what terrors are avoided.

She is also the Spirit of Travel, with or without your satnav, and as you can see, of Secrets. She has no keys, however, so nothing will ever be revealed.”

She is made from a laminated map, laminated and printed images of my own work, and some embroidered moths from a previous piece of work printed onto acetate, with other mixed media additions.”

The Spirit of the Waters isn’t a good listener at all, but that is because she has to deal with extremes: the shallows and the depths, detritus and debris, beauty and its destruction, let alone plate tectonics and the flowing of real and imagined currents. Her work is not always easy for humanity to recognize, as there is a certain aloofness to her, possibly due to having a fish head, so all her tasks are not yet documented. But she is the Spirit of Blame, and takes it willingly upon her sloping shoulders.

She is made from printed and dyed Khadi paper, pebbles and other mixed media.”

I need add nothing more to these descriptions, which conjure an entirely plausible spirit universe. Needless to say, I love the puppets!

Chloe Redfern: King Arthur and Llamrei

Chloe Redfern works through the medium of paint and stitching, and over the years I’ve purchased from her Etsy shop an array of beautifully made painted and stitch-embelished Christmas tree hangings: birds, horses, rabbits, hares and camels! Christmas is not Christmas in our house without a cache of tissue-wrapped treats acquired from Chloe. (In the tradition of such things, I try to get a few new decorations for the tree every year, to make up for the turn-over of dropped and shattered glass baubles!) Work commitments meant that she had to keep her puppet simple, and her delightful King Arthur is a variation on the old tradition of the card ‘Jumping-Jacks’ that were once to be found in every well-mannered Victorian nursery.

Llamrei at the gallop

After she produced the puppet, Chloe went on to use an image of King Arthur’s steed on this delightful painted and embroidered hanging-quilt. He’s such a pretty creature that it’s good to see him in more detail here, as I fear the images I had to work with of the Jumping-Jack were quite small. Re the quilt, I’m afraid I don’t know where King Arthur has gone. I hope he hasn’t fallen off!

Anna Clucas: Manannan mac Lir

Manannan mac Lir

I have just the one image Anna Clucas has sent to me as her response to the Puppet Challenge (see above) plus a link to the film that she produced. She writes:

“Manannan mac LIr has been portrayed by a lot of Manx folk as a big brooding guy with a beard and wearing a cloak. I wanted to portray him as an entity that has no physical attributes, but as a God with an overwhelming power to exist in an unknown form. A bit improvised and abstract. Just to be different.”

Anna’s film isn’t really about puppetry or puppets, but might more rightfully be placed in the the realms of animation/performance art. Today in the arts all the descriptives and boundaries of the past have become infinitely fluid, and that’s a trend I largely approve of.

You can see what Anna has made, HERE. I warn you that the music she’s chosen can be startlingly loud if your volume setting is a tad high!

Charlotte Hill: Flower Face

Charlotte Hill was working on articulated paper puppets for a planned animation of the story of Blodeuwedd, the maid conjured by magicians from flowers in the Welsh cycle of tales The Mabinogion. That project was set aside for technical reasons, and Charlotte thereafter made a beautiful marionette that will be seen here shortly. But I loved her delicately constructed maquette of the owl that Blodeuwedd is transformed into as a punishment at the end of the story, and have briefly included it here as a ‘paper puppet’.

Janet Kershaw: Puppet on a Stick

Janet Kershaw’s figures are as about as simple as a puppet can be. They have no moving parts, and are pretty much limited to being jiggled on their sticks. But I know her work of old, and her approach to her art is unfailingly thoughtful. So one should look at them closely because she is meticulous in her draughtsmanship and these are none the less interesting for being miniaturist. The first puppet made by a child might well be a paper thing on a stick, steeped in personal iconography and meaning more to the maker than it ever would to an onlooker. I once taught Janet in a weekend course on maquette-making. I know the complex worlds out of which she conjures her art, and I can sense them underlying this fragile cast of characters. Not to get too fanciful, but in a simple, cut-out sort-of-a-way, these remind me of the glove puppets of the great Paul Klee.

18 thoughts on “The Puppet Challenge Part 10: Phil, Stephanie, Anna, Charlotte and Janet

  1. Just going back over the puppet challenge posts, having skipped a few as they came out. All here rich, strange, charming and moving, from familiar and unfamiliar artists alike, but I did want to say that Stephanie’s lines ”She is also critical and judgmental, but on the plus side tries to protect eggs, nests, feathery beasts, pterosaurs, and is also a very good listener, dealing particularly well with fragility and loss”, made me say a loud ‘Oh!’

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  3. i am SMITTEN with phil’s animal groom, i have been really excited by the way he transfers the collage effects onto maquette/puppet creatures. this guy is fabulous, though, *so much* character with all that chance detail…awesome!!

    i am very intrigued by stephanie’s spirit puppets, i like that she created her own mythologies, that first bird’s-head is really really powerful especially.

    chloe’s horses are always so lovely–the blues here are spectacular!
    owls are so fascinating–does this one move? it would be great to see the feathers fan, for instance? i look forward to her marionette!

    the stick puppets are a completely new concept to me, and i love that top lady, what a cool style!

  4. I love these interpretations. As a painter, these speak to my soul.

    Phil’s Animal Groom is a beast to be reckoned with, and each limb and part to his face could be a painting itself. But the Werewolf Bones – that’s a keeper.

    Stephanie’s Spirit Puppets are unique and otherworldly – remind me of kimonos of Japan. They are lovely but have such an “other” presence. Just like the gods and goddesses.

    Chloe – a quilt??? I am stunned and amazed. So beautiful.

    I have a fondness for owls – always and forever love them. And this one is sweet.

    And what could be better than a puppet on a stick!!! Way to go JAnet!

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  6. I can’t really add anything insightful on top of what’s already been chipped in, so I should want to just reverberate a hearty ‘bravo’ to all those that have partaken in this Challenge (not to mention those who masterminded it). I was expecting to be touched in new places, but you chaps have just totally blown it out of the water. Quite stunning.

    On that vein, I love all of what I see here, and await sight of the owl marionette with great impatience.

    Every post a paper bag of treats.

    Bravo! I said it again. I want some of whatever it is you are all smoking.

  7. Thank you Clive for such an accolade. I have enjoyed the variation of work produced by such talented people and it is good to be in the same company as them. The comments as always are heartening, heartfelt and encouraging, thank you all.

  8. These are just great, an interesting mix of “flat” puppets vibrant in different ways.
    Stephanie is after my own heart in creating these elaborate mythologies around her creations, I’m delighted by them.
    I’ve seen Chloe’s work before and her attention to detail is quite loving and the result is a tender charm.
    I want to see more from Charlotte, her little owl is quite the gem.
    Anna’s work challenged my notion of puppetry, not convinced it is such, but is an expressive bit of animation resulting in an elegant image ( I confess ,old fart that I am , that I muted the soundtrack when it became to raucous for me 🙂 ).
    I really love stick puppets for the very reason of their immediacy, Janet’s are particularly delightful and odd, I like them a lot.

    I am fond of Phil on a personal level, and have delighted in his artistic expressions. As you mentioned, I too really admire how he makes these marks, cuts them up seemingly at random and then reconfigures them with the skill of an alchemist. The skeletal collage composition at the top of this post is stellar, really powerful.
    I’m happy you chose this figure,the Animalgroom and that you made the Solomonic decision over Woodrose . To be honest I wouldn’t have the heart to do that, which can be unhelpful to the artist. I like Woodrose quite a bit, I’ve posted such but seeing Animal Groom it is hard to argue that it isn’t the stronger of the two.

  9. I love Phil Cooper’s work, and his 2D puppet does not disappoint, I cannot add much to what you said, Clive, except I love the painted textures and the squareness of his puppet. The Werewolf of Dogdyke, wow that is beautifully spooky!
    Stephanie’s spirit puppets are uniquely inspiring, her handling of colour and composition are excellent, and they are so characterful.

    Chloë’s works are gorgeous, and there speaks the proud owner of some of her Christmas decorations, (which are very dear to me). The quilt is utterly delightful, again the colours are so well handled.

    Anna’s stunning image is superbly evocative of the description she gives. I also see a clear blue primeval soup, I could not access the video, so I cannot comment on that.

    Charlotte’s owl is captivating. I very much look forward to seeing the marionette.
    Janet’s simple puppets are wonderful, proof that less is more. They are all so clever.

  10. The variety of form that can be wrought from paper is wonderful. I love the way the animal groom ‘unfolds’ himself visually. I also spent time travelling over the surfaces of the spirit puppets. They have textures that draw the eye again and again. To be part ot this company of makers is rather special.

    Chloe’s colourwork is superb, which adds to the form. I wanted to be on that horse, in that picture. Janet’s unsettling figures inhabit the world that lives just at the corner of your eye. Another fantastic take up of the challenge.

  11. A wonderful, rich selection! What a delight to scroll through them.

    So great to see some of your work Phil, as I’ve seen your face and heartfelt words on here so often. Beautiful stuff. I’m a fan of Angela Carter’s stories, The Courtship of Mr Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride. So it is wonderful to see Mr Lyon in this form.The Dogdyke bones are also a really beautiful piece of art.

    Stephanie, your words and puppets are beautiful and I love their femaleness. The colour palette and birdies of the Spirit of the Air does it for me! I could have that on my wall and it would bring a smile to my face every day.

    Chloe, your work is completely charming. I will have to show it to my son Arthur, and I will be visiting your Etsy shop 🙂 Lovely!

    Anna, well done on your expressive performance with paint. I particularly liked some of the light and dark shapes and layers that emerged about half way through the performance, with some hints of fish.

    Charlotte, your owl is very beautiful. I’d love to see a larger picture of it and I’ll look forward to seeing your marionette.

    Janet, I love your sophisticated stick puppets, and especially against those lovely painted backgrounds. I toyed with the idea of a puppet on a stick too, when my son (grade 3) came home from school with one he’d made without a care in the world. It was fabulous, and made me ashamed of my own confusion over choosing a medium and topic. But yours are not a quick solution, but beautifully thought out and complete. Even the shadows cast by them against their backdrops work so well with their blocky shapes and make me think of cubism.

  12. Spot on a Clive, thanks for choosing the beast maquette. You’re right, he’s the strongest of the fits and starts I made for the puppet challenge. This post works so well with the collection of more 2-D work. It has a flavour all its own, and it feels good to see my work in such terrific company.

  13. I utterly adore Phil’s collage of the werewolf….those bones make me tremble! And the paper puppet Animal Groom seems to carry the same eerie feeling – I’d love to see it animated. I’m very taken with Stephanie’s idea of puppets being ‘entities unrelated to us’….yes, their world is their own. Her commentary complements her puppets perfectly! Chloe’s jumpin jack is delightful…not only at Christmas. I’m looking forward to seeing Charlotte’s marionette….I think owls are a mesmerising subject. I enjoyed Janet’s puppet-on-a-stick idea…surely the most basic of puppet ideas that must be fundamental to human experience. Almost totems. Icons, maybe. Very powerful….I’d love to see lots of them standing next to each other in sort-of mute surveillance of the human world.

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