On April 13th, 2006, The Guilford Courier ran a piece on Art In Motion: Invitational Exhibition of Puppets, and covered an installation of my puppets and set pieces from Growing Up Linda – Birthday Trauma. In the article, “Imagination and Skilled Hands Combine in Puppet Exhibition at GAC”, Leah Lopez Schmalz characterized my instalation as an “eye catching”.
More from “Imagination and Skilled Hands Combine in Puppet Exhibition at GAC” by Leah Lopez Schmalz:
If you’ve been looking for something unique, just a bit off the wal perhaps, look no further. Art in Motion: Invitational Exhibition of Puppets is just what it says: an entire show dedicated to the puppetry arts.
The Guilford Art Center (GAC) invited 17 puppeteers from across the Northeast to submit work in five major styles. The results include approximately 30 examples of shadow, rod, hand, mask and string (marionette) puppets.
Before attending the show, I was a tad concerned this would be the “Muppets Take Guilford” and not an “art” exhibit (though really what is the definition of an art exhibit anymore?) . Don’t get me wrong, there were Muppet-like critters-well, more like Fraggle Rock creatures – but there were also a number of intriguing shadow puppets, wooden carved marionettes, and papier-mâché-like rod puppets. Some told a story without a stitch of movement; others required the expert handling of a puppet master to thrill audiences.
Whether the goal is to tell a well-worn tale, to elicit giggles from prreschoolers or to act as a buffer/deflector for the puppet master, puppets are meant to engage the masses.
In a room full of puppets calling back to your childhood, where does one begin? Not at the numbered beginning – that would be too logical. So the first two I coused on upon entrance were the two that remended me of my younger years. In Frauline and Herr by Michael Graham, a mix of the traditional German rod puppets I had as a child and Mr. Rogers’ trolley visits to a fantasyland called Make-Believe collide. With their rosy cheeks and cloth hands, it’s easy to see them clapping a tune as they walk along the German countryside.
While the show is generally comprised of single pedestals of marionette samples, shaggy hand puppets, or the simpler shadow puppets, one installation certainly is an eye catcher. In Linda Carvel, Heir to the Thrown of the [Carvel Ice Cream Empire] by Marsian De Lellis of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, a pretty in pink Linda presides over a handfull of her relatives and a corner full of presents. According to the artist, the group appears in grey-scale to symbolize a horrible flashback to the heiress’s fifth birthday party where those supposed loving relatives said vile and nasty things to her. The creepy grouping has big life-like eyes that sit atop their skeletal, zombie bodies. If Johnny Depp were there, the stage would be set for a Tim Burton movie.
While I have the utmost respect for the level of detail, and the painstaking craftsmandship that goes into the more complicated puppets like the marionettes, at the end of the day it is the shadow puppets that rule. There is something magical about the simplicity of a two dimensional cutout creating images before you – it is not the physical “puppet” that the audience views, but a mix of light transparency, screen, and movement that creates a micro-cosmos.
Jim Napalitano of North Haven graduated from the University of Connecticut’s Puppet Arts Program and is a master at this particular technique. A true imagination captivator, he blends artful story telling with his creative masterpieces. Napalitano has performed around the world and his resume includes extension television credits – his most recent work can be seen on the PBS show, Between the Lions. Similar in technique to the image Lampshade 1, Drummer Hoff is a shadow puppet interpretation of a main character from Barbra Emberly’s book by the same name. Both are adaptations of a folk song about these soldiers and their cannon. The series of figures in Drummer Hoff are back lit by spot lights and fixed to a large (about 3’x2′) frame that is set at 45 degrees to the ground – a perfect angle to sit below, legs crossed and watch the story unfold.
Napoltano also works in three-dimensional forms; for example, 3 Strong Women is a cluster of four cloth-sculpted puppets based on the Japanese tale of ge.. strength and power. The book.. nearby for the bulic to peruse.
Overall the show is quite diverse – entertaining, imaginative, theatrical, and spooky at once. It’s a demented combination of Sesame Street, Where the Wild Things Are, and Pinocchio with a touch of voodoo thrown in for good measure. It’s well worth a visit to see what can happen when storytellers combine imagination with skilled hands. One is never too old to journey into Make-Believe.