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B. S., New Haven State Teachers College, 19^3 


submitted In partial fulfillment of the 

requirements for the degree 


Department of Art 
(Home Economics) 

Manhattan, Kansas 


Approved by: 

Major T^of ess or 

LO li 













This study is an attempt to point out the fact that the 
puppeteer, the same as any creator of art, should consider the 
potentialities of his medium if it is to achieve an organic 
quality. He must, therefore, look directly to the powers of 
expression that are uniquely inherent in his art, and, thereby, 
look beyond mere operating technique. The serious puppeteer 
would have very little difficulty assembling a sizable library 
of construction manuals and "how-to" guides on every phase of 
puppet mechanics. This is evident in the ready availability in 
many a super-market of such excellent paperbacks as the Sheri 
Lewis volumes for young children as well as a considerable bib- 
liography of advanced texts available from the New York Drama 
Bookshop or other similar sourees. There is, however, a minimum 
of published material devoted specifically to puppetry as an art 
form. Because the practicing puppeteer Is often unaware of the 
artistic potential of his medium, it was felt that a brief study 
of its justification as an art form was a worthwhile undertaking. 

Two popular misconceptions, particularly in the United 
States, are that puppetry Is primarily for the light, even triv- 
ial, entertainment of children; and that, for the most part, it 
is an imitative art with very little artistic identity of its 
own. Unfortunately, many of its current uses tend to encourage 
these misconceptions. 

A review of the long rich heritage of the puppet disproves 

these erroneous ideas. High moments in its history confirm the 
fact that the puppet can be used as a significant instrument of 
adult entertainment, at the same time maintaining its independ- 
ent artistic identity. 

Puppet theatre today is enjoying increased popularity 
mainly through the mass medium of television, but it is failing 
to reach its potential as a recognized art form. The average 
spectator continues to identify the puppet with innocuous cute- 
ness and the puppeteer with a juggler or magician — the more 
strings and gadgets he can operate to produce lifelikeness, the 
better. New uses, to be sure, have been found for the medium 
beyond entertainment and mere amusement. As a recreational out- 
let and as an advertising gimmick, this ancient art has been re- 
discovered by contemporary society. Education applauds its 
merits in meaningful correlation, in arts and crafts, and in 
communication. Physio- and psychotherapists each find ways in 
the puppet to stimulate individual effort or to project and 
identify behavior problems. 

However, puppetry can and does go beyond mere "use" and, 
in an aesthetic sense, like all great art, can "stretch the 
mind some distance beyond the limits of the understanding" as 
Herbert Bead so aptly puts it, "whether that 'distance beyond* 
... be spiritual or transcendental, or . . . even fantasti- 
cal." The difficulty remains, none the less, that the modern 

1 2h£L Meaning p£ &&, p. 70. 

puppeteer continues to foster the misconceptions through failure 
to recognize those factors which make puppets a distinctive form 
of dramatic expression. With one of the most integral design- 
motion arts through which to express himself, he becomes stulti- 
fied by mimicking historically traditional routines without add- 
ing any genuinely artistie interpretations of his own; he makes 
a fetish of manipulative virtuosity; he disregards independent 
experimentation and looks to other puppeteers for stimulation 
thereby perpetuating a limited status quo. All of this reflects 
the puppeteer 1 s neglect of the rich sources of inspiration pos- 
sible from other art forms — modern dance, contemporary theatre 
including "the absurd," painting and sculpture, and in natural 


Background material for this study has been obtained 
through the four major sources described below x library collec- 
tions, viewing of professional performances, association with a 
national puppeteer's organization, and personal experience. 

Library materials, primarily books and periodicals, have 
come from two main sources — the New Xork Public Library and its 
Theatre Collection, and the private collection of Mrs, Marjorie 
Batchelder McPharlin, one of the founders of the Puppeteers of 
America and presently Vice President of UNIMA (Union Inter- 
nationale Des Marionnettes ) • 

Since puppetry, like all of the theatre arts, Is transitory, 
a time art, its critical literature must of necessity record 
only the writer's remir iscences of past performances. There- 
fore, in order that this lively art may be directly evaluated, 
actual attendance at public performances has been mandatory. 
This has been accomplished at such diverse types of puppet 
theatres as The Turnabout in Los Angeles; Tantamount Theatre of 
Carmel Valley, California; Rungsholm Miniature Grand Opera 
Theatre, Chicago; Les Poupees de Paris of New York City; Llords 
International now on world tour; and The Stony Creek Showcase in 
Connecticut* As a substitute for live performance, significant 
productions on television have been watched (including such out- 
standing artists as Sergei Obraztsov of Russia), 

Membership in the Puppeteers of America, a national organi- 
zation of professionals and amateurs whose object is the improve- 
ment of the art of puppetry, and receipt of its quarterly, The 
Puppetry Journal t has offered an excellent introduction into the 
many phases of the art. Furthermore, participation in six of 
the organization's week- long Festivals and V/orkshops, has pro- 
vided exceptional opportunities to witness wide varieties of 
puppet performances; to meet professional puppeteers from vari- 
ous parts of the United States, Mexico, and Canada, as well as 
therapists, educators, religious workers, and recreation leaders 
who find contemporary uses for the art form; to share experiences 
and ideas with enthusiastic amateurs and hobbyists; to study (at 
the Festival Exhibits) collections of domestic and international, 

historical and contemporary puppets; and to ben«fit fro^i the 
many panel discussions, resumes, critiques, and general explor- 
ations made by experts in the field. 

Actual experience in the art of puppetry has been gained 
through the personal operation of a fist nuppet theatre, giving 
performances before church, school, and professional organiza- 
tions in the surrounding community, and through assisting Girl 
Scout troops and elementary school classes in their puppetry 


Tony Sarg, one of the leaders of the puppet revival in 
America during the first part of the 20th century, was dismayed 
at the lack of puppet literature not only from the historical 
and critical viewpoint but from the technical. Few people were 
even familiar with the word "marionette. ■ A bewildered lady at 
one of Sarg's first performances in 1916, for instance, referred 
to the puppets as "Marie Antoinettes." 

Outside of the 1828 publication in *tagland of a somewhat 
modified version of Punch and Judy as played for a half -century 
by the wayfaring puppet-showman, Piccini, and immortalized by 
George Cruikshank's drawings,-^ virtually no puppet literature 

2 "The Revival of Puppet- Play in America," Theatre Arts * 
July 1928, 12 x if 68. 

3 Edited with an introduction by Payne Collier, who some- 
what rearranged the old performing text. 

existed in the ^glish language at the time Sarg was writing. 
Some few references considered the historical puppet. Black - 
wood's Magazine in April 18 5*+ contained a translation from 
Charles Magnin's His to Ire des Marlonn^ttes en ^lrone depuls 
l'Antlauite .iusau'a Kos Jours of 1852, which, drawing heavily 
on a previous dissertation of ; ? ath«r ^ariantonio Lupi, trans- 
lated into French in 1757, traced the general outlines of the 
development of the puppet from that of the divine image. Some 
articles on actual performances in different parts of the world 
could be found, such as one in The Atlantic Month! v T June 189 1 *, 
describing a Sicilian puppet show in Palermo. Much of the 
writing, however, prior to the 20th century, such as " Puppets, 
Ancient and Modern," by a Francis J. Ziegler, in Harper ' s Maga- 
zine . 1897, viewed the puppet in the light of a picturesque old- 
world art, one that had died out completely and was never to 

There were also references among the works of many renowned 
writers who, for various reasons, had given the puppet their 
attention, among them Goethe, George Sand, Charles Dickens, and 
Gporge Bernard Shaw. Their references, in the context of this 
study, are of differing value, because they did not consistently 
recognize the unique artistic qualities of puppet theatre. 
Goethe and George Sand, undeniably enamoured of the puppet, none 

h "The Puppets of All Nations," 75: 392->+13. 

5 B. Cavazza, "At the Opra di li Pupi," 73*797-802. 

6 December, 96:85-91. 

the less thought of it mainly as miniature theatre, obeying the 
samo fundamental laws as those governing the human stage.' That 
the puppet, on the other hand, could be a legitimate member with- 
in the sphere of the fine arts was memorably stated by Shaw in 
his letter to the Italian puppet showman Vittorio Podrecca: 

What really affects us in the theatre is not the mus- 
cular activities of the performers, but the feelings they 
awaken in us by their aspect? for the imagination of the 
spectator plays a far greater part there than the exer- 
tions of the actors. The puppet is the actor in his pri- 
mitive form. Its symbolic costume, from which all real- 
istic and historically correct impertinences are banished, 
its unchanging star, petrified (or rather lignifi*d) in a 
grimace expressive to the highest degree attainable by the 
carver's art, the mimicry by which it suggests human ges- 
ture in unearthly caricature— these give to its performance 
an intensity to which few actors can pretend, an intensity 
which imposes on our imagination like those images in im- 
movable hieratic attitudes on the stained glass of Chartres 
Cathedral, in which the gaping tourists seem like little 
lifeless dolls moving jerkily in the draughts from the 
doors, reduced to sawdusty insignificance by the contrast 
with the gigantic vitality in the windows overhead. 8 

Other references could be found in writers such as Arthur 
Symons, British poet and critic active in the Symbolist Movement 
in literature, who asserted in his "An Apology for Puppets" that 
puppets were actors, not mechanisms imitating actors, and that 
gesture on the stage could be compared with rhythm in verse. 

It was not, however, until 1908 that the puppet revival 
was heralded by its foremost inspiration of the 20th century, 
Gordon Craig, and his provocative essay "The Actor and the 

7 Paul McPharlin, "The Apsthetic of the Puppet Revival," 
unpublished Master's Thesis, Wayne University, 1938, pp. 13-1 1 *-. 

8 Max von Boehn, Dolls and Puppets T p. 5- 

9 In PlaZS., ftcUnKt IB& Music, pp. 193-196. 

tiber-Marionette." Artist, designer, and theatrical critic, 
Craig argued against naturalism in th« theatre and for an in- 
terpretative, depersonalized art of acting. This timeless 
advice has often been misapplied, although Craig's theories 
remain an inspiration to th<? puppeteer. As the* main power be- 
hind the publication of the slim, limited editions of The Mask 
and the diminutive periodical called The Marlonnette . Craig 
brought to light more of the writers, artists, and poets who 
also had spoken theoretically of the puppet, Anatole France, 
one of Craig's "discoveries," wrote in his La. Vie Lltteraire of 

some of the most renowned r>uppets of 19th century Paris, the 


Petit Theatre under Henri Signoret. 

Valuable also in Craig's volumes were the ^glish trans- 
lations of such significant investigations in punp^try as 
portions of Father Mariantonio Lupi's dissertation on the 
marionettes of the ancients and the researches of P. C. Fer- 
rigni (otherwise known as "Yorick"), involving ancient puppets 
in Greek and Egyptian temples, and of historical puppets in 

10 At Ma^k, April 1908, 1:3-15. 

11 While residing in Florence, Italy, Craig edited and pub- 
lished 15 volumes of The Mask , in conventional quarterly format, 
between 1908 and 1915. Only twelve* issues of his second peri- 
odical, the full title of which is The. Marionette Tonight ajfc. 
12;"30 r appeared in 1918, It is a small pocket-sized pamphlet, 
devoted entirely to the art of puppetry, and is now extremely 

12 "Lfts Marionnettes de M. Signoret," Vol. II, pp. 11+5-150; 
"Hrotswitha aux Marionnettes," Vol. Ill, pp. 10-19. 

13 Craig's translation is taken from Vol. I of Lupi's 
Storia Litteraria della 5icllia f and appeared in ffrie Marion- 
nette T June W t 1918, 1:155-162. 

Greek and Egyptian temples, and of historical puppets in Italy, 
Spain, "England, and France. Drawing heavily upon Magnin (see 
p. 6) who in turn had drawn upon Father Lupi, "Yorick" do«s en- 
large, however, upon the study of the Italian puppet theatre. 

As the early 20th century revivalists became eager to in- 
vestigate and reapply the ancient art, the puppot became a source 
of literar/ inspiration. A popular volume, & Book of Marionettes , 
with representative illustrations of all the periods treated, was 
written by Helen Hairaan Joseph in 1920. This was the main source 
of puppet history in TSnglish. The Heroes of the Puppet Stage , a 
discussion of leading puppet characters throughout history by 
Madge Anderson, appeared in 1923. 

One entire issue of Theatre Arts . July 1928, was devoted to 
this rediscovered medium and included accounts of the puppetry 
experiments of such 20th century European artists as Alexandra 
^xter, the Russian cubist, and important essays such as one by 
the 19th century German dramatist, Heinrich von Kleist. Con- 
sidering only the marionette, K3©ist expressed a mechanical aes- 
thetic in maintaining that the center of the puppet was the only 
point under the control of the puppeteer, the remaining limbs 

Ih The anonymous translator in various issues of The M ask 
notes that Ferrigni planned a long series of volumes on the his- 
tory of the Italian theatre. At least one is known to have been 
published, entitled Storia dei Burattini (The History of Marion- 
ettes), from which several essays were taken for inclusion in 
various issues of The Mask (see bibliography). 

15 Louis Lozowick, "Alexander Sxt^r's Marionettes," Theatre 
Arts T July 1928, 12:515-518. 


being merely pendulums. Thus, with the further advantage of de- 
fying gravity, as well as obeying it, he believed it was obvi- 
ously impossible for a human being even to equal the performance 
of a marionette. (Charles Dickens sensed this innate kinetic 
quality of the puppet a century after von Kleist when he wrote 
the following report of a performance in Genoa; 

In the ballet, an Enchanter runs away with the bride, 
in the very hour of her nuptials. He brings her to his 
cave, and tries to soothe her. They sit down on a sofa 
. . . and a procession of musicians enter; one creature 
playing a drum, and knocking himself off his legs at every 
blow. These failing to delight her, dancers appear. Four 
first; then two: the two; the flesh-coloured two. The way 
in which they dance; the height to which the-/- spring; the 
impossible and inhuman extent to which they pirouette; the 
revelation of their preposterous legs; the coming down 
with a pause, on the very tins of their toes, when the 
music requires it; the gentleman's retiring up, wh?.r\ it is 
the lady's turn; and the lady f s retiring up, when it is 
the gentleman's turn; the final passion of a pas de deux: 
and going off with a bound. I shall never see a real 
ballet, with a composed countenance again. ±7) 

Other important published material of this revival can be 
found in the many French, German, Russian, and Chinese plays 
written especially for the puppet, and translated by the founder 
of the Puppeteers of America, Paul McPharlin, in his 1929 book, 
A Repertory of Marionette Plays . Through his enthusiastic re- 
search a wealth of literature was accumulated, including the 
limited editions of Puppetry , a yearbook which he edited and 
published himself from 1930 to 19*+7. Wow extremely rare, th«se 
are compendiums of puppet lore — historical sketches, technical 

16 "A Marionette Theatre," translated by Jorothea B. McCol- 
lester, Theatre Arts , July 1928, 12:h76-hZh. 

17 Cruisings ajjd Adventures i& Italy and, Africa ,, pp. 1*6-1*7. 


articles, photographs, lists of producers, book reviews, and in- 
ternational news notes. Secrets of puppet manipulation and 
structural techniques, long held jealously by puppeteer families, 
were fully revealed. Th<»se volumes contain everything from the 
diagram of a ningyo from the Japanese Bunraku-za to a formula 
for a smoke cartridge; from "How to Make a Punch's Whistle" to, 
further on, "What to Do in Case Xou Swallow One. " 

Graduate research has produced Master's theses reflecting 
the widening scope of the puppet. Significant ones were written 
by Raymond R. Jones, State University of Iowa, 1931> "A Manual 
of Puppetry"; and Paul McPharlln, "The Aesthetic of the Puppet 
Revival," Wayne University, 193^. A more recent investigation 
was conducted in France, in 1958, by Nancy Cole, Stanford Uni- 
versity, "A Study of Guignol, of Lyons." 

Professional puppeteers wrote plays, shared their techniques, 
and searched for interpretive possibilities. Outstanding in this 
group were Forman Brown, The Pie-^ved Piper and Other Impertinent 
Puppet Plays (1933); Marjorie Batchelder, The Puppet Theatre 
Handbook (19*+7) 5 and Nina fJTimova, Adventures of a, Russian Pup - 
pet Theatre (1935) • Specific types of puppets were investigated, 
their national characteristics sought, and historical periods 
were explored. Marjorie Batchelder, continuing her interest, in- 
vestigated "Rod Puppets and the Human Theatre" at Ohio State 
University in 19h7* Likewise, Paul McPharlin, compiling from 
original sources, issued a basic history, The Puppet Theatre in 
America , 152^-19^-8 (19^9); and George Speaight brought out his 


equally important &UL tUstory fl£ Ins. ^ftUstl *u.pp»t T^atfe. 
(1955)* Frank W. Lindsay probed the nost popular age in the 
puppet's history with his JfrarflaUC Paro4y -^- llflMtlfril in l 8 tft 
Century Paris (19^6). Puppeteers wrote their memoirs; many of 
these combined autobiography with travelogue and, in warm human 
terms, reflected the universality of the art. One of the most 
famous is Jan Bussell's The Puppets and I, published in London 
in 1950. 

New uses found for the medium (in education, recreation, 
therapy, rehabilitation, advertising, cinema, and television) 
gave impetus to an increased exploration and recording of these 
findings. Articles on puppetry, popularized in a wide variety 
of periodicals, ranged in appeal from the purely popular to the 
highly esoteric. Typical examples from the magazines of popular 
appeal within the last fifteen years are: "Puppet Theatre," by 
H. J. Kennard, a diagram for a simnle fist-pupp«t stage designed 
to keeD the kids out of mischief in the summertime, appearing in 
Popular Mechanics Magazine in May 1961; "Shadow Theatre Pre- 
sented by the Children for Christmas," by Margo Hoff and Phelan 
Kappo, a painter and a poet, who urged new techniques for the 
ancient art of the shadow theatre in House Beautiful . December 
I960; "Antwerp's Puppets Play to a Different Audience, but the 
3how Bill Is the Same as a Century Ago," by H. Kiek, in Holiday 
of March 19^9, describing a third-generation puppeteer performing 
in a Belgian wine cellar. 

The magazines of special interest are represented by "Tex- 


ture on a Stick," by Elizabeth Sasser, an architecture and allied 
arts professor, who applauds, in School Arts of March 1957, the 
possibilities of collages that come to life; "Puppets in Adver- 
tising," in which Cyril Beaumont, the ballet historian, writing 
in Granhis r May I960, notes the universal symbolic possibilities 
which can make text seem irrelevant; "Puppetry for Librarians," 
by L. Hunt and L. Hatch, in Library Journal t September 15, 1961, 
which tells how puppets can be more effective than dust- jacket 
exhibits to stimulate reading; and Lawry Hawkey's "The Use of 
Puppets in Child Psychotherapy," British Journal of Medical Psv- 
chplogy T 1951» illustrating through case histories the effective 
use of puppetry in helping children "act out" their phantasies. 
Finally, in this area of special interest, is the bi-monthly 
Puppetry Journal , the official publication of the Puppeteers of 
America. Now in its fifteenth year, it provides a primary source 
of contemporary criticism, general information, and photographed 
illustration of domestic and world puppetry while providing a 
means by which both amateur and professional puppeteers may com- 
municate and share their views. 

Strictly factual or reportorial periodicals such as Newsweek . 
in an article entitled "Opera in Miniature,'* July 13, 19^2, re- 
ports on a Danish restauranteur, F. A. Chramer of Chicago, whose 
Kungsholm puppet oppra rivals the attraction of his smorgasbord; 
and "Puppets Puncture Pomposity," about a top puppet team in 
America, Bil and Cora Baird, out to interest adults in puppets 
as reported in Life of February 1, 1963. 


Today, in large libraries, there is a great quantity of 
literature pertaining to the puppet. For instance, the T T ew £ork 
Public Library and its Theatre Collection contains in its card 
catalogue more than two full drawers of puppet holdings. Many 
valuable references, however, are still not in ^glish trans- 
lation. Much of the existent literature disregards the unique 
capability, the magic that is the puppets potential life, the 
same magic that such theorists as Arthur Symons, Gordon Craig, 
Heinrich von Kleist, and G. B. Shaw recognized. The revivalists 
themselves would agree that the "secrets" do not constitute the 
whole art of puppetry for the simple reason that, as artists in 
any medium are aware, intuition begins where purely objective 
knowledge ends. The following excellent references are by those 
who have recognized this important fact. Basil Milovsoroff , at 
one time active in the Puppeteers of America, indicated some of 

the possibilities of inanimate theatre in his "Reality, with 

1 8 

Strings Attached," July 1953» Sergei Obraztsov of Russia has 

written of his own background as professional artist and actor 
in JJy. Profession (1950), a book which investigates the puppet's 
distinctive form of dramatic expression. An undated manuscript 
(about I960) by Henryk Jurkowski of the Ministry of Culture in 
Poland, is an attempt tc clarify the puppet as an artistic medium 
in its own right. A final example is J'aime les Marionnettes by 
Paul-Louis Mignon (1962), a historical and critical review of 

18 Theatre £rj£, 37:71-73. 


European puppetry profusely illustrated with action photograohs 
of puppet performances. 

The most valuable literature for this particular study has 
therefor* been these few representative investigations into the 
puppet's unique artistic qualities rather than th» surely me- 
chanical aspects of construction and manipulation, 



Puppetry Defined 

Webster^ Third New International Dictionary defines the 
puppet as "a small-scale figure of a human or other living being 
often constructed with jointed limbs, appropriately painted and 
costumed, and moved usually on a small stage by a rod or by hand 
from below or by strings or wires from above. ■ The derivation 
of th» word itself is assumed by Webster to have come from Middle 
English and French, from the Latin for "doll." Most people, even 
many puppeteers themselves, because of the general assumption 
that the words "puppet" and "doll" are therefore synonymous, 
would unquestioningly accept this definition as accurate and com- 
plete. Puppetry, however, is not merely manipulating dolls in a 
realistic manner as so many members of an audience would assume. 
The basic intent of a doll is to reproduce a three-dimensional 
image of the human form, often complete with specific human 


functions. The puppet Is not confined to this restricticr 

would be assumed by the concept set forth in Webster's definition. 

No such limitations can be imposed within the spher« of the fine 

arts, of which the puppet theatre is a legitimate member. Max 

von Boehn, in his comprehensive historical survey, Jolls and 

Puppets , makes this clarifying statement on page 2*+: 

The creations of art have to take the spectator's im- 
agination into account; the doll does not allow the slight- 
est scope for the play of the imagination. . . . The doll 
• . . has forced into its service all the refinements of a 
progressive technique, not striving toward an aesthetic 
impression, but aiming at ever completer illusion. It can 
come surprisingly close to nature, but the nearer it ap- 
proaches its goal the farther it is removed from art; . . • 

Clearly, a more estimable definition of a puppet must be 
considered before there can be any justification of the medium 
as an art form. Paul McPharlin, expressing the attitude of many 
of the Revival enthusiasts, brought the potentials of the medium 
into sharp relief when he defined a puppet as a theatrical figure 
animated by a human being. " Fundamentally, then, the puppet be- 
comes an instrument of artistic expression. It has no limita- 
tion in form because, by its very nature, it can be the ultimate 
in make-believe. One of the best descriptions of the true po- 
tential and function of the puppet in McPharlin 1 s terms is con- 
tained in Basil Milovsoroff *s succinct definition which effec- 
tively rectifies the misconception of Webster* s stereotype: "A 


puppet may be man, animal, insect, a teakettle, or tomorrow." 

(Plate I). 

19 "The Aesthetic of the Puppet Revival," p. 1. 

20 Milovsoroff, op., cit. , p. 72. 


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The Lively Arts and the Imagination 

The expanded concepts of McPharlin and Milovsoroff do not 
therefore limit the puppet to a human or animal module. On the 
contrary, the puppet may assume any form and maintain an exis- 
tence within that form, A simple cube lying on a shelf is 
merely a cube. But a cube given controlled motion becomes a 
puppet that is at one and the same time still a cube. On the 
other hand, a human being who walks onto the stage dressed in a 
cardboard box is still a human being dressed in a cardboard box. 
His insistence that he is a cube is totally unconvincing and 
severely taxes the audience's ability to suspeni its disbelief. 
In this more expanded concept of the puppet, therefore, any 
limitation in form is imposed upon it only by the limitations of 
the puppeteer's own imagination. Other contemporary time arts 
such as live theatre and the dance are of necessity confined 
within the limits imposed by the human module. Unfortunately 
puppet tradition has too often followed this limitation by the 
imposition upon it of anatomical constructions and "life-like" 

Contemporary painting and sculpture have long since gone be- 
yond the literal and in its stead have made use cf an abstract 
metaphoric language. Only recently theatre and dance, becoming 
increasingly dissatisfied with previously accepted conventions 
of portraying man's relationships, have also attempted in certain 
"avant garde" forms to eliminate that audience identification 
with reality which destroys the abstractive quality of an art 


experience. Alwin Nikolais, dance choreographer, directs the 
attention of the spectator to "the motion, the shapes and to the 
time and space ir which these occur. " In his attempt to dehu- 
manize the human dancer, he makes elaborate use of costumes and 
props to get away from identification. Arms and lers are ex- 
tended; much use is made of elastic, of material that can be 
draped, stretched, and moved. In a dance called "Noumenon" 

free-formed sculptural shapes were brought to life without re- 

vealing the dancer's own actual body. x 

Contemporary theatre has also attempted a dehumanization 
process. Ionesco, an "absurd" writer, admits that he found in- 
spiration in the simple caricatured truths of Punch and Judy. In 
his attempts to revitalize contemporary theatre beyond a degen- 
erate state of what he felt was neither theatre nor literature, 
and disturbed by the incongruous combination (as was Gordon 
Craig) of the flesh-and-blood actor with the stagey artificial 
qualities of theatre, Ionesco has dehumanized his actors into a 
puppet-like existence reflecting the basic absurdity of the con- 
dition of the human being— unable to understand either himself 
or his neighbor, unable to communicate his few thoughts. There 
is an analogy in these "absurd" experiences with the different 
motifs in an abstract painting. The plays do not follow the con- 
ventions of traditional theatre with plots that can be summarized 

21 Alwin Nikolais, "Growth of a Theme,'' Dance Magazine , 
February 1961, 35*30-3^. 


in narrative form, Rather, there is an interaction of the "char- 
acter" and dialogue which are meaningful only in their interpre- 
tation and totality. The characters are not developed as in 
traditional theatre, but represent basic human attitudes. Events 
have no definite beginnings and on dings in time; instead, they 
are types of situations that will probably go on endlessly re- 
peating themselves. Heal life is not portrayed, ^ven in the 
language the spectator experiences a new perception of reality. 
(In the process of his learning English, Tonesco explained how 
the repetitious language exercises from a primer inspired him to 
construct dialogue compatible with the "absurd.") 

The motion picture, too frequently a parasite of the human 
stage, has found a contemporary approach for its own unique pos- 
sibilities which are completely unrealizable in the theatre. The 
very fact that the camera can shift gives the observer himself a 
sense of movement. In techniques of blurring and fading, of 
juxtaposed shapes, in extreme close-uns, reality can be manipu- 
lated as form that grows out of an idea. Such themes as the 
early life of Helen Keller can become penetrating in a subjective 
sense. The actual frustrations of feeling and grasning in a si- 
lent, dark and blurred world can be rriade a part of the spectator's 
experience. The motion picture used in such a way has possibili- 
ties which are uniquely different from those of the stare. Ant 
films such as Alain .-tesnais ' Hiroshima mpjl Amour and L ' Annee 

22 Martin Bsslin, ThSL Theatre of J&e. Absurd , passi m. 


Derniere a Marienbad attempt to cr^at* reality through form as 
well as through theme. Like an abstract painting these films 
can be interpreted ir several different ways. Time itself is 
not considered in a traditional sense; therp is no dpfinite past 
or present. Image, sound, and movAments interact with one 
another to create complex patterns. More recently, artist John 
Howard has created a new scope for th<=> motion picture in adapting 
the principle of spectrum dispersion to photography. Critics are 
quite in agreement that the process cm constitute a new art 
form. "It can take the most mundane subject matter, a heap of 
rusty metal or a patch of dirty snow, for example, and transform 
It into flowing, delicate images like Japanese prints set in 
motion. " 23 

This is not to suggest that the puppeteer should attempt 
"absurd" plays with his medium any more than he should deliber- 
ately design a human form and proceed to dehumanize it; or that 
he should conceive of his medium purely as an art which depends 
entirely upon the sensitivity of the retina through design in 
movement, without any conceivable idea behind it. These contem- 
porary artists of theatre, dance, and the motion picture, however, 
reflect a continual probing into the creative values characteris- 
tic of various media. 

23 Paul Pinson, "The Amazing Modern Art Machine," Chicago 
Tribune Magazine ,, November 17, 1963, pp. 27-29. 


The Ironies of Imitation 

It ig ironical that puppetry, inherently possessing the 
very attributes which artists in other media have striven to ac- 
quire through such attempts as dehumanization has, for the 
larger part of its existence, been forced to falsify its own 
unique capabilities. 

In all fine arts creation, not imitation, is the aim. 
Scene designer Robert Edmond Jones was essentially in agreement 
with G. B. Shaw (see p. 7)» when he made the following state- 

• . • unless life is turned into art on the stage, it 
stops being alive and £oes dead. • . • Truth in the 
theatre, as the masters of the theatre have always known, 
stands above and beyond mere accuracy to fact. 2 ^ 

The discrepancy between what we actually see and what we imag- 
inatively see when looking at a painting or statue and what we 
actually hear and what we hear imaginatively wh^n listening to 
a symphony or a recital involves participation on the part of 
the spectator. When actuality leaves little room for imagina- 
tion the basic truths of art are lost, as in trompe-l'oeil 
paintings, wherein "fool the eye" virtuoso effects deceive the 
spectator into taking that which is painted for that which is 
real; or in such stage designs as those of David Belasco, who 
searched so intently for accuracy that he actually dismantled 
and reassembled an entire interior of a dilapitated room — with 

2h The Prague Imagination) p. 32. 


patched furniture, threadbare carpet, tarnished and broken e as 
fixtures, tumble-down cupboards, dingy doors and window casings, 
even the faded paper on the walls. 

Because of the very nature of puppetry, such a complete 
imitation of life is unattainable regardless of a misplaced at- 
tempt to achieve it. However, numerous efforts toward lifelike 
appearance and movements have been traditionally recorded in 
puppet history. At ot\9i time in the 18th century, Italian pup- 
pet dancers were considered so human that the Roman police re- 
quired the dress of wooden ballet performers to conform to that 
law which regulated the costumes of living performers. All 
"wooden- legged Sylphides [had] to be attired in sky-blue inex- 
pressibles. ■ The nineteenth century marionettes of Geissel- 
brecht could not only ™ove their eyes but could cough and suit, 
discharge flint-lock guns, draw their swords from their scab- 
bards, and pour out wine. ' An outstanding misapplication of 
such an attempt toward reality within the last decade was the 
"Super-Actor" puppet of Michael Meyerberg in the 1950' s. It was 
designed to recreate on the motion picture screen any conceiv- 
able human expression — and more. It was to be controlled with 
no visible strings, -ires, or joints, and to possess a "skin" of 
a texture indistinguishable from the human variety. The rubber 
compound proved to be toxic, and after some twelve years and 

25 David Belasco, Jfcft Theatre Through Its Stage .Door., p. 77. 

26 "The Pedigree of Puppets," Household Words . January 31, 
1852, V*i+39. 

27 Boehn, op. clt . . pp. 329-330. 


$500,000, the calibrated Tiber-marionette , fortunately, was no 


A less extreme example of this type of misapplication in 
puppetry is the attempt toward popular adult entertainment, Les 
Poupees de Paris , originally at the 1962 Seattle World* a Fair 
and later at the 196*+ Few fork Fair, Because the average men- 
tality of the viewing adult, however, was considered, as Wews- 
week aptly put it, to be on the level of "a crackpot who makes 
passes at department store dummies," * the effort did not prove 
worthy of the opportunity. This spectacular a la Hollywood-Las 
Vegas took advantage of the fact that mere puppets could be per- 
mitted the omission of clothing and performance of actions typical 
of the Paris Folies but legally denied human beings at the ?air. 
Miniature costumes designed by Balmain cost as much as $2,000 
apiece. Star puppets resembling such personages as Mae West, 
Charles Boyer, and Liberace spoke with the recorded voices of 
the stars themselves. Charlie McCarthy even appeared as a mari- 
onette — a puppet of a puppet, as it were. A skating ballerina 
glided over real ice in a crystalline forest. A bawdy Balin^se 
girl swam in a pool of real water. Live birds in moving cages 
on overhead trolleys appeared with more of the same sparsely 
clothed beauties who, although they boasted most intriguing cur- 
vatures, had most ugly knee-joints. The puppeteers, Sid and 

28 Roderick MacArthur, "The Super- Actors Emerge," Theatre 
Arts T March 1952, 36:21-22. 

29 "Vest-pocket Vice: Les poupees de Paris," Npwsweek . De- 
cember 2h 9 1962, 60:M+. 

Marty Krofft, with generations of the family craft behind them, 
believed they were bringing the "most modern in production tech- 
nique and design coupled with a flair for spectacular showman- 
ship."^ The New fork Times sumned up the short-lived perform- 
ances of the Poupees off Broadway with a pithy comment: "Tech- 
nically admirable puppets used without wit or taste. "^ 

The Place of Puppet "Reality" 

It is recognized that in the puppet medium as in all media 
there are not only different levels of appreciation but possi- 
bilities within different styles for various decrees of artistic 
interpretation. That a skillful imitation or selection of re- 
ality is not without a certain charm and value is testified by 
such modern reproductions in the Italian realistic tradition as 
that of the Kungsholra Miniature Grand Opera Theatre in Chicago 
with its proscenium inscription from the Danish, "Ej Blot Til 
Lyst," ("Not Only for Amusement.") A diminutive conductor leads 
a full-size opera orchestra of fifty- two puppets, complete with 
violins, cellos, bass violins, harps, clarinets, flutes, French 
horns, bassoons, kettle drums, and other instruments. Operated 
by trained music students, the thirteen- inch rod puppets are 
animated in certain predetermined grooves from below the stage 

30 Program note from Les Poupees de Paris t New ¥ork version, 
off Broadway, 1962. 

31 "Off Broadway: Les Poupees de Paris," New ifork Times , 
April 7, 1963, Sec. X, p. 1. 


and, because of their gliding, unlifelike* patterns of movement, 
lend an aspect of psychical distance to the otherwise illusion- 
ary devices of the miniature. Costumes are exact copies of 
those worn by Metropolitan and La Scala opera artists. Set 
pieces, such as the chandelier of genuine crystal seen in the 
first act of X& Traviata T or the brass candelabra of forty-four 
lights in act three, are constructed to simulate reality. 
Stage properties consist of miniature period pieces, most of 
them produced in the director's workshop, including everything 
from spinning wheels, tables, chairs, fireplaces, and clocks, to 
vases, candlesticks, plates, and jewel boxes. Guest artists 
sing for the puppets by way of recordings from the two great 
opera companies, La, Scala, Milan, and L* Opera, Paris. Twenty- 
four full operas are represented in the repertoire. 

Such an endeavor, however delightful, does not claim a sig- 
nificant form of its own but is rather a hybrid of many of the 
art forms. Definitions often proclaim puppetry as a synthesis 
of all the arts — a combination of various arts which merely 
function together. Susanne Langer, on the other hand, in her 
theoretical Feeling and Form (p. 2*f) finds that the "fundamental 
unity of the arts li»s not so much in parallels between their 
respective elements or analogies among their techniques, as in 
the singleness of their characteristic import ..." Therefore, 
where puppetry may have need of aspects of the other arts, 
ideally, these must be used to serve the art of puppetry. 

Allardyce Nicoll has aptly stated: "In ev*ry art form there 


are essential prpmises which must be agreed to before anything of 
creative value is produced,"^ Nicoll's premise does not recog- 
nize rules; there are no formal rules as to what constitutes 
good puppet theatre any more than there ar« specific rul*>s for 
any of the art forms. It does, however, verify the fact that 
the true interpretive power of a medium does not lie in a skill- 
ful imitation of another form if it is to offer a singular aes- 
thetic experience. Just as a woodcut is not made to resemble an 
etching, a water color to look exactly like an oil painting, or a 
marble sculpture like one of metal, it is recognized that each 
medium presents its own limitations and that these very limita- 
tions can become its ralson d'etre . It is therefore contradic- 
tory for a puppeteer to invite his audience to pretend it has 
purchased cheap seats high in the gallery of a theatre and is 
witnessing a live production from a considerable distance — the 
very procedure usually followed by one internationally known 
American puppeteer before each performance. Arthur Symons rec- 
ognized one of the essentials of puppet theatre when he countered 
this idea with the following approach: 

To sharpen our sense of what is illusive in the il- 
lusion of the puppets, let us sit not too far from the 
stage. Choosing our place carefully, ve shall have the 
satisfaction of always seeing the wires at their work, 
while I think we shall lose nothing of what is most sa- 
voury in the feast of the illusion. There is not indeed 
the appeal to the senses of the first row of the stalls 
at a ballet of living dancers. But is not that a trifle 
too obvious a sentiment for the true artist in artificial 

32 Film and Theatre , p. 11. 


things? Why leave the ball-room? It is not nature that 
one looks for on the stage in this kind of spectacle, and 
our excitement in watching it should remain purely in- 
tellectual. 33 

Michael Meyerberg's attempt to hide the controls was 
not the first example of a refusal to accept the limitations of 
the form and, in turn, to make these limitations strengths. The 
17*+0 writings of the Jesuit, Francesco Saverio Quadrio, tells of 
a net of very fiat thread stretched across the stage to confuse 
the eyes of the spectators so that they would not notice the 
strings or the very prominent rod by which the marionettes were 
Tnoved. Children were sometimes used among the four-foot high 
Italian marionettes to enhance the illusion and perplex the 
spectators.^ Tony Sarg made use of a little live monkey which 
appeared on the stage with the other puppet characters of "The 
Green Suit," and the audience was enthralled with what it be- 
lieved to be a most intricate and beautifully manipulated 

This does not mean, however, that the real cannot be juxta- 
posed with the unreal. Actually, such combinations exist suc- 
cessfully in other art forms. The collage, for example, com- 
bines actuality with the imaginary. In sculpture such assem- 
blages as soldered pipes and machinery parts become new forms 
and exist in their own right, k sensitive artist can mount an 

33 Symons, op,, cit . . p. 19^. 
3** Speaight, on.. £i£. , pp. 36-37. 

35 Anne Stoddard, "The aenaissance of the Puppet Play," 
Century . June 1918, 9o:175. 


old window shaip, torn and mended, on a large canvas, but be- 
cause of its position on the frame, because of the anglp of the 
curtain pull, because of th« selection of related colors, it can 
be appreciated as a work of art. A painter can conceive a theme 
such as "Orange- Peels in the Gutter," and because of its design 
qualitips, because of its lilt, regardless of its subject, the 
canvas can be considered a work of art. oergei Obraztsov can 
simplify a puppet to that point wher* its head is but a ball, its 
body the puppeteer's bare hand. An impossible form with an ap- 
parent three arms on one side and one on the other becomes, in 
motion, a reproduction not of the habitual mechanics of human 
movements but of their emotional content (Plate II). 

Obraztsov deliberately brings together the real and the un- 
real when his own hands sometimes become those of the puppet he 
is manipulating. In doing so he is recognizing that the audience 
is unprepared for this obvious disproportion and, moreover, will 
imagine that the hands are capable of movement beyond their ac- 
tual human capacity (Plate II). The puppeteer recognizes the in- 
dependent acting ability of his hands in this instance, just as 
he feels the puppet he is operating is independent and yet unl«r 
his control as an instrument of expression. Obraztsov was one 
of the first to employ hand pantomimes; other puppeteers have 
added new interpretations to the original idea. Also proving 
that art is subtraction rath»r than addition, the French troup 
of Ives Joly has further explored, through hand pantomime, the 
special kind of expression inherent in puppet theatre beyond a 



Obraztsov is officially titled "Honored Artist of 
the Republic" by the Soviet Union, where puppet art 
is accepted on a basis of equality with oth»r arts. 

TOP ; A puppet version of Tchaikovsky^ "We Were 
Sitting Alone by a Murmuring Brook," an interpre- 
tation of the sadness and the irony of courtship. 

From Puppets and Puppetry , by Cyril Beaumont, 

p. 119. 

BOTTOM ; "If only you, my dreams, would come to be 

From The, Pqppe^ry Journal i Nov. -Dec, 1963, p. 22. 

plat*: II 



mere imitation of human beings and animals. Using only "their 
*ight expressive hands plus bits of cloth, paper and fur and a 
few changes of white and brilliantly colored gloves [they] pro- 
duce an art which is sincere artistry and sheer poetry. . . . 
Movement and imagination are their chief props. • . . The total 
effect is stylized and abstract. Its simplicity compels the 
spectator to bring something of his own imagination into play. " 3 
Such interpretation by Joly as the "Sea Fauna" luring its prey 
is decidedly of the puppet theatre and would be impossible in 
any other medium (Plate III). George Latshaw, representing the 
United States at the International Puppet Festival in Colwyn Bay, 
Wales, May 1963, introduced new whimsey with his "liand in Glove." 
Mane Bernardo of Argentina, professor of sculpture, painting, 
drawing, and history of art in the Kscuela Superior de Bellas 
Artes, University of La Plata, Argentina, has created such musi- 
cal pantomimes as "Romantic Idyl 1900" (Plate IV). 

The puppet, therefore, as well as a painting, a piece of 
sculpture, or a musical composition, can become a total activity 
of which the spectator is conscious because he himself imagina- 
tively participates. The puppet artist as well as the painter, 
the sculptor, the poet, or the musician can express more than a 
visual art, more than audible sounds. Since, imaginatively, 
transitions can be experienced which do not actually occur, such 
prosaic gimmicks as movable eyes and clacking mouths are not, 

36 Herb Scheffel and Lea Wallace, "Masters of Pantomime," 
IUft PuDDeJiEX iojunal, Jan.-Feb. 1952, 3*9, 20. 



"Sea Fauna." An artistic understatement which 
stimulates the imagination of an audience. 

from Puppet Parade. & gflJULftttJlfia of f icturea. 

Published by The Puppetry Journal f n.d. 





"Hand in Glove" 


"Romantic Idyl 1900" 

From The Puppetry Journal r May- June 1963, p. 15. 




accordingly, the hpight of the puppet's potential. Puppeteers 
such as Mathurin Jondo, professor at Columbia University the 
early part of thp twentieth century, believed, for instance, that 
part of the expressiveness of his puppets could be attributed to 
the slightly asymmetrical treatment of the features which gave 
an illusion of movement. The audience could accordingly imagine 
thp expressions to change, evpn that the mouths and pyes opened 
and closed. 

On the other hand, quite actually and believably, the pup- 
pet can do things man himself would find humanly impossible. 
This is one of puppetry f s mainstays. True, Peter Pan's Wendy 
can fly through the air by complicated contrivances which aid 
her flight, but the audience becomes overly interested in the 
mechanical device and overly concerned about its workability. 
Human beings do not normally fly any morp than they can boliov- 
ably assume such characterizations as that of a cubp. However, 
one does not question the ability of a puppet to fly or to turn 
himself into an inanimate object for that matter. Such vehicles 
as Thackeray's The Hose and the ding provide such puppet onpor- 
tunities as that of Porter Gruffanuff who is turned into a door 
knocker by the fairy whom he has insulted. Suffering a certain 
amount of human discomfiture as his body contracts and is pulled 
through the hole of the door, Gruffanuff is capable of surmounting 
the impossible and is left with only his ugly head to serve as a 
knocker. Such a character is not merely a trick puppet used for 
the sake of the trick alone or to point up the dexterity of the 


manipulator; it is a well integrated puppet interpretation. It 
is, moreover, in marked contrast to the puppet who, in close 
human imitation, draws a purse from his inner coat pocket (not 
a simple process to be sure J), or one who extinguishes a lamp 
so that it appears to be blown, out by his own breath. 

The juxtaposition of the possible with the impossible of- 
fers unique credulity in puppet theatre and, artistically, be- 
comes one of the few justifications for any use of lifelike imi- 
tation. In Gbraztsov's "An Unusual Concert" horses parade gaily 
in a circus ring, but, at the finale, when one of the horses 
leaps upon the trainer's back and is carried off in that manner, 
this "switch" is within the puppet* s prerogative. A tempera- 
mental lion in this writer*s own fist puppet circus eventually 
grabs the itfhip from a most harried Ringmaster and forces him to 
jump through the hoop (Plate V). Bil Baird, American puppeteer, 
claims that there is no dancer who has not wished his legs could 
be longer, his head smaller. The puppet, capable of just such 
distortion, can therefore express what Pablo Picasso at his 
Museum of Modern Art show in 1939 termed "a conception of what 
nature is not."^' 

With this added power of exaggeration, lifelike imitation 
can also be effectively used for parody. Since man cannot ef- 
fectively ridicule himself without some sort of disguise, the 
puppet can b<* that disguise. Obraztsov, as an artist and an 

37 Nelson Lansdale, "With Strings Attached," Dance Magazine . 
December 1953, 27:37. 

S 8 






actor, was particularly interested in justifying the puppet's 
existence; his search brought him to the conclusion that pup- 
pets, instead of being mer« imitators of human beings, are in 
reality instruments for showing up their foibles. "They n^«d 
not look like real people, . . . they need not even act liu:e 
people; they had only to move and be symbols of the curious 
traits of man." Henryk Jurkowski, another sensitive punpet 
artist, head of the puppet section of the theatre division of 
the Ministry of Culture in Warsaw, Poland, finds the puppet a 
symbol which has the power to evoke experiences of the specta- 
tor and yet keep its psychical distance. Interestingly enough, 
he discovered that when puppets were used to interpret a shallow, 
rather superficial play such as Moliere's The Involuntary Joe tor T 
the triviality of the characters vras converted into a humor im- 
possible to obtain through human actors, "here, before, it had 
repellei, puppet interpretation transformed it into "a symbol of 
human dispositions and elusions." 

Beyond the animation of the inanimate, the juxtaposition of 
the real and the unreal, and the opportunity for parody within 
the symbolic puppet, fantastic creatures can believably exist in 
puppet theatre. Humpty IXimpty complained to Mice in Wonderland 
that if he were to meet her a:ain he probably wouldn't recognize 
her for the simple fact that she was so ordinary, "so exactly 

38 Sergei Obraztsov, "Actor with Puppet," Puppetry . 19^1, 
p. 7. 

39 "The Puppet Theatre," unpublished manuscript, p. 6. 


like other people, • . • the two eyes, so — nose in the middle, 
mouth under. It's always the same. Now if you had the two eyes 
on the same side of the nose, for instance — or the mouth at the 
top — that would be some help." The world of fantasy created 
in Alice in Wonderland is excellent material for puppet theatre. 
Separated from the reality of daily experience with all of its 
limitations of logical relationships, such a nonsensical and 
imaginative exaggeration inherently possesses a large degree of 
that "distance" necessary before there can be an aesthetic at- 
titude toward an art form or object. Often, however, the theme 
or idea which the puppet conveys does not prompt any distancing 
or interpretation, and the spectator's attention is directed 
toward an applied art of manipulation rather than to Shakespeare's 
"stuff as dreams are made on." A caterpillar smoking his hookah, 
a borogove ("a thin, shabby-looking bird with its feathers stick- 
ing out all round — something like a live mop," a tove ("something 
like badgers, like lizards, and like corkscrews,") even Kumpty 
Dumpty himself — where else, but in puppet theatre, can such 
creatures become realities? 

*+0 Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland and Through the Look - 
ing Glass , p. 236. 

i+l Ibid y pp. 231-232. 



Psychical distance Through Puppet Control 

Roger Fry, the British art critic, advanced the theory that 
vision abstracted from necessity becomes purer. vJhen viewing an 
object that exists for no practical purpose, one "sees" in a rnore 
significant way. This detachment or aesthetic attitude as it 
is sometimes called must take place before there can be an art 
appreciation in any medium. Live theatre strives for a psychi- 
cal distance or detachment from its surroundings by such devices 
as the proscenium arch, costuming, lighting, and theme. The 
puppet has not only these means but a primary advantage over the 
human actor — its varied types of control, each with its own in- 
nate "distancing" possibility. Essentially an art of pantomime 
and of movement, puppetry, however, is not restricted to a mere 
miming of human gesture. Rather, it has within its potential an 
essential movement which grows out of the intrinsic character- 
istics of the control by which the puDpet is operated, its ma- 
terial construction, and its design. The relative merits of the 
various types of puppets cannot be compared; no one type is the 
most effective or expressive. Each form has its place and its 
unique possibilities either alone or in combination with the 
other types. 

The Hand Puppet . Puppets receive their classification from 

h2 Hunter Mead, £n. Introduction to Aesthetics , p. 32. 


the method by which they are controlled. The most direct control 
is that of the hand itself. Puppets so operated are designated 
as hand, glove, or sometimes fist puppets. Attempts have been 
made to falsify the structural truth of this type by simulating 
human movement. If, however, the operator's hand is respected 
as the framework rather than disguised, it is in this very limi- 
tation of approximating human vraisemblance that the strength of 
the hand puppet can be found. Not being mimetically shaped like 
a human being, the figure cannot be expected to move like a hu- 
man being. Since the puppeteer's wrist in much hand puppet con- 
struction becomes the puppet's waist, this pivot alone becomes 
the one natural point for the approximation of lifelike movement. 
The "arms" on the other hand are quite short, naturally limited 
by the operator's finger length. The more an attempt is made to 
extend the arms the les3 effective they will be in making use of 
the hand puppet's outstanding talent — the actual handling of 
props. "Arm" extensions and "shoulder" padding can therefore 
belie the structure and, instead, limit finger and wrist move- 
ment. To attempt other logical human movement is to deny the 
basic skeleton of the hand puppet's frame. Within this control 
of fingers, wrist, and the arm itself, there are innumerable 
possibilities for design and movement— a movement which is im- 
aginatively rather than logically credible, as, for example, the 
puppet's capability of moving with lightning speed. The very 
directness of the fist puppet control also determines the type 
of idea it can best portray. The simple caricature of Punch and 


Judy could, for example, be interpreted in no other way. Oppor- 
tunities for wooden "noggin whacking," for the handling of props, 
for abrupt entrances and exits abound as uninhibited Mr. Punch 
throws his baby out the window, beats his wife to loath, han^s 
the hangman, and kills thp devil. 

Vicariously, the spectator is provided with an pxperipnce 
of Affortl^ss movement which he himself would find impossible to 
achieve. The hand puppet usually has no legs and actually nppds 
none. This "limitation" also can be considered a part of the 
truth of its existence. Its roots, apparently, are down below. 
Everything — props, more puppets, anything — can pop up from this 
nether-land to its turn on stage and then simply return below. 
Versatility too is within the domain of the glove puppet. Ro- 
bustness is not its only nature. Just as the UPA cartoonists 
proved, with such creations as Gerald McBoing-Boing, that re- 
straint can also bring merit to the animated cartoon with its 
grossly over-done super-human speed, sensitive puppeteers such 
as Benjamin Blake, primarily a painter and teacher who is experi- 
menting with color, texture, movement, and sound to produce an 
aesthetic experience in puppetry, has proven that subtle vari- 
ation in movement is a creative possibility (Plate VI). 

William Simmonds, English architect, painter, and sculptor, 
discovered a union between what the puppeteer makes the puppet 
do and what the puppet, by his own nature, can do. J Gordon 

^3 Helen H. Joseph, A Book of Marionettes , p. 158. 



In contrast with the usual robust movements of the 
fist puppet, Benjamin Blake, in "Fisherman and His 
Wife," explores more subtle variations. Note also 
the use of hand properties. 

From The Punuetrv Journal y July- Aug. 1961, p. 17. 




Craig had also investigated significant movement and vent so far 
as to recommend the use of duplicate puppets, each designed for 
specific movement according to its own intrinsic capability. 
The application of this duplicate idea extended the movement pos- 
sibilities in this writer's own fist puppet interpretation of the 
Ttoglish folktale The Three Sillies . One of these characters is 
the simpleton husband, Jasper (Plate VII), whose loving wife 
makes him shirts without a neck hole and who then beats him over 
the head with a frying pan until the head comes through. As a 
fist puppet character, he is quite believably miserable as he 
dutifully accepts the pounding process in a way totally impos- 
sible for a human actor. However, after he is enlightened by 
William, the hero, Jasper reappears as the antithesis of his 
fist-puppet self 5 he has become a "morate" puppet (a simple rod 
type control which is held by a central rod extending down 
through the head inside the costume). The arms are not under 
direct control in this type of puppet; their movement comes 
merely from the twirling of the rod. In this instance, such a 
gesture conveys Jasper's pleasure with himself and his triumph 
over the little woman. In his uninhibited glee he can also hold 
the scissors over his head (an impossibility for the short-armed 
fist puppet) and, with quick up-and-down motions, convey the 
heights of his ecstasy. 

The Hod Puppet . Rod puppet classification includes those 
which are controlled by external wires connected directly to 
such parts of the puppet as head or hands or by a central column 

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range of construction methods is possible within this category — 

from flat two-dimensional to solid three-dimensional figures. * 

Combinations of the types, such as hand-and-rod, provide move- 
ment of a different nature from that of the hand puppet. In ex- 
tending the hand punpet's short arms to more natural lengths and 
providing positive control through the attached rods, the rod 
puppet becomes, by its nature, capable of a f lovingly graceful, 
dignified movement and, as a consequence, of more seriously dra- 
matic, even tragic themes. The fully proportioned and accentuated 
arms and bodies can thus compensate for the loss of the ability 
to handle props, yet still maintain some of the direct quality of 
the hand puppet technique (Plate VIII). As in the hand puppet, 
legs are not essential and without such dangling contrivances 
movement can be suggestei rather than mimicked. With the center 
supporting rod type, a twist of this rod produces an acceptable 
stylized animation. Free of the jerkiness often ascribed to the 
marionette, rod operated puppets excel in finely controlled 
movements. Hemote from humanity in design and movement, this 
type of puppet above all the other types can express religious 
themes. It is very difficult in live performance to convey, 
vithout triteness or embarrassing irrevere^cies (or both), im- 
portant religious figures such as the Holy Family, Jesus, the 

M+ Although the "shadows," or, more familiarly, shadow pup- 
pets, may be considered as a separate development apart from that 
of the more conventional puppet, they are usually included in rod 
puppet classification. 



Judith from ffluebeard . Hand-and-rod type. 

Right s TON* SAHG 

Fish Footman from Alice in Wonderland . Marionette 
closely copied from original Tenniel drawing. 


Saints, or even God. The puppet by the very nature of its being 
non-human transcends these difficulties, and the rod puppet is 
especially capable of such interpretation. Since rod figures 
may be of any size which can be adequately supported, very large 
puppets are possible. Hod puppets on a giant scale, combined 
with some string controls, were designed by Robert ^dmond Jones 
and executed by Remo Bufano for Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex M with 
Leopold Stokowski conducting the oratorio and the Philadelphia 
Symphony Orchestra in 1931* This illustrates an interesting ex- 
ample of the use of puppets to achieve a special effect. It was 
felt that the essential gestures of oversized rod puppets (ten 
feet high) would be more effective than human actors. Masked 
manipulators dressed in black controlled the figures both from 
a forty- foot bridge and from below (Plates IX and X). 

Pauline Benton, an authority on Chinese shadows, has found 
that in oriental philosophy "what one is not supposed to see, 
one does not see. " ' This is a decided philosophical advantage 
over the Western attitude and is reflected in the ability of the 
Chinese to overlook the thick-handled sticks which are the shad- 
ow control rods and in such sincerely artistic forms as the Jap- 
anese Bunraku where the operators, although completely visible 
at all times, are considered merely the shadows of the puppet 
and so actually appear to fade into the scenery after a few 

h5 Pauline Benton and others, "Shadow Figures," Puppetry . 
1935, P. **2. 



From this design for the setting of "Oedipus 3ex" 
one can imagine the impact of the final scene af- 
ter Oedipus has just blinded himself. "He stands 
in the light, blinded, covered with blood, tall, 
gaunt, and emaciated. He raises his blackened 
eyes. Slowly his hands go up as far as they can, 
without reaching anything, only to come down just 
as slowly. There is nothing but the earth left 
for him, toward which he now sinks in despair." 
(Remo Bufano, "Marionettes Make a New T^ntrance, 
PVEPflfrry, 1931, P. 2h.) 

From Puppets and Puppetry t by Cyril Beaumont, 

P. 133. 





Ten-foot rod puppets by R<=»mo Bufano after design 
by Robert TMmond Jones for Stravinsky's "Oedipus 
.{ox. 11 Left to right: Jocasta, Messenger, Oedi- 
pus, Blinded Oedipus, Shepherd, Creon, and Tire- 
sias. The Blinded Oedipus, the Shepherd, and 
the Messenger are the property of the Detroit 
Institute. Others belong to the Brander Matthews 
Museum at Columbia University and to Cedric Head, 
collector and puppeteer. 

i^rom The Puppetry Journal . March- April 1962, 

no page number. 




minutes (Plate XI). ,.ith a morp remote control in order to 
diminish the appearance of the rods, it is necessary to work out 
added details in jointing the figures and, accordingly, to ac- 
quire a greater precision of manipulation for effect. 

By no means limited to an impression of two-dimensionality, 
the shadow puppet has within its means a psychical distancing 
which transcends reality no matter how realistic the intent. 
Paul McPharlin inferred that "solid environment-hedged human 
beings escape in their inverted life dreams" to an emptiness, a 

flatness, an "airless Martian landscape" resembling the space of 

the shadow screen. ' The spectator creates in this space im- 

aginately as, stimulated by the placement of set pieces, the 
area becomes either expansive or confining. The Chinese ex- 
celled in just such a placement of scenery and of figures as well 
as in a mastery of the control rods with all of their subtle nu- 
ances of motion, ^chantments and bewitchments could effec- 
tively take place — one figure, quickly drawn away, was replaced 
by another in the ensuing blur. "Distancing" is further rein- 
force! in shadow play by a unity of material; props, scenery, 
and characters are all related, being made and colored in the 
same manner. Depending upon their mass for effectiveness, such 
traditional figures as the shadows of the Javanese //ajang ex- 
emplify the possibilities of refinement within the mass as well 

1*6 Betty McGee, "The Japanese Puupet Theatre," Educational 

m ^oujnaA, March 1951, Ss^-^S. 

W? "Aesthetic of the Puppet Revival," p. 92. 



Japan's unique form of puppetry, the Bunraku, sur- 
vives at Osaka and is a national institution. Each 
puppet requires three operators. The chief puppet- 
eer is dressed in an ancient ceremonial robe and 
manipulates the head and right arm, while his two 
assistants, dressed in black robes and hoods which 
signify nothingness, operate the left arm and the 
feet. This puppet is the character Bunschichi, 
made in I832, and now owned by John Zweers, Pasa- 
dena, California. 

From History of Puppetry . Los Angeles County 

Museum, 1959, p. 11. 




(Plate XII). Whether in colors, as in the case of Chinese shad- 
ows, or in the black and whites of the Javanese, the rod con- 
trolled shadow puppet has great potential in contemporary ex- 
pression. The relative position of the figures from the screen 
determines degrees of relative intensity and so offers all of 
the chiaroscuro effects of the abstract patterns of the photo- 
gram, with the added advantage of motion. The delicate, other- 
worldly movements which are characteristically those of the 
shadow puppet provide an opportunity in this medium for poetic 

The rod puppet, recognized for its unique quality of con- 
struction and, consequently, of design and movement, is a type 
which deserves more experimentation (Plate XIII). 

The String Puppet or Marionette . The marionette, a string- 
controlled puppet which is designed to move predictably between 
the pull of the string and the pull of gravity, is less direct 
than the other types of control. Popularly considered the most 
complicated and, not always justifiably, the highest form of 
puppetry, a large part of its existence has been prostituted in 
imitating that which human beings can do better. Because the 
nature of the marionette's design is such that it is a completely 
whole figure (from movable head to articulated feet) which swings 
in a pendular fashion between the two forces, there can be ex- 
tremely close resemblances to the movement of the human body it- 
self, and this similarity accounts to a large degree for the 
lifelikeness to which it has been so frequently subjected. 



Modernist rod puppets for "Les Boxeurs," ballot 
by J. Chesnais. 

From Puppets and Puppotry f by Cyril Beaumont, 

P. 62. 




hilt complpte abstraction is possible in the string con- 
trolloi pupppt as well as in th.p othpr typps, it is trup that 
satire and humor, or pv^n tragedy, is convpypd only through some 
association with reality and the human tleaent. Tho legend of 
Dr. Faust, the master of necromancy who sells his soul to the 
devil in return for power, has, over thp centurips, become to 
the marionette what Punch and Judy has always bepn to thp hand 
puppet. 3uch a vehicle abounds in magical transformations and 
provides opportunitips for amazing charactprs controllpd by 
strings. The Mephistopheles designed by Harro Siegel, with thp 
students of thp puppetry class of the School of Arts and Crafts, 
Braunschweig, Gprraany, is strikingly ©xprpssive design compared 
with a mprp copying of realistic proportion. Mephistopheles 1 
hand, of primary importance in the characterization, is largpr 
than the head. The facial expression is that of a mask — a lim- 
ited statempnt which carries conviction. The legs are frankly 
articulated without an attempt to concpal ^ovablp joints. Hit 
does not qupstion the fact that this figure rppresents a unity 
of design and movement and that its expressive possibilities can 
provide the spectator a departurp from actuality (Plate XIV). 
Likewise, in a scene from ]& Mariage de la Flute , Gera Blattner's 
Theatre de L'Arc en Cipl ingeniously humanizes musical instru- 
ments. The flute, given an enticing fpraininity, recpivps the 
violin and the violoncello, rivals for hpr love. They fight a 
duel using their bows for rapiers. The violin wins and all ends 
happily as thp othpr instruments celpbrate his successful troth. 



Mephistopheles frors Faust . The Marionette Theatre 
of Braunschweig, Germany. 

From aa, fWPPflttiry ^Wml, Jan.-Feb. 1958, 

p. 15. 

plat*: XIV 



Such an interpretation frankly admits of artificiality. No at- 
tempt is made to hide the means by which the marionettes are 
controlled; rather the control strings are emphasized and be- 
come an integral part of the overall design (Plate XV), 

The marionette is therefore at its best when it abstracts 
the essentials from reality. Ideally, of course, the supra- 
realistic is its domain. Not only can it defy gravity, assume 
highly improbable forms with related movements, but even the 
"fourth dimension" poses no problem. Trick marionettes can, 
for instance, exist in several planes of space simultaneously, 
as exemplified by the often used "come apart'' skelpton, whose 
bones separate and dance in all directions at once. Another 
favorite, centuries old, is the Grand Turk and Family, a large 
single puppet that suddenly disintegrates into several small but 
fully formed figures. These are indeed tricks and, as such, be- 
come stereotyped. However, it is within some of these possibili- 
ties that new interpretations can be found. There are combina- 
tions of control such as those found on the giant four- to five- 
foot Sicilian puppets, weighing some eighty pounds, which are 
operated from above by one large central rod but with string con- 
trolled movement to arms, shields, and such parts as helmets of 
the heavy armor. This type illustrates an excellent ^xamplp of 
an acceptance of the control limitations and of the conventions 
of an essentially folk tradition, since the puopet cannot pos- 
sibly walk like a human being, it assumes a heavy, stilted walk 
that is uniquely its own (Plat© XVI). The traditional two- 



Figures from J^ Mariaee de la Flute t Theatre de 
l'Arc en Ciel. 

From Puppets and Puppetrv T by Cyril Beaumont, 

p. 56. 





Salvatore Macri, third generation Sicilian puppet- 
eer, in the United States on a grant from the In- 
ternational Puppet Museum, Stony Creek, Connecti- 
cut, stands with two of his antique puppets. 


stringed Rajasthan puppet from India is another oxaiirl" of a 
puppet which, through the centuries, has established a language 
of movement (Plate VII). 

Thus, when the limiting disguise of human mimicry is re- 
moval from the marionette and it is allowed to be its own hon- 
estly artificial self, there is founl, within its v«r / own re- 
sources, the expression of an art form. 

The Finger Puppet anl Others . The diminutive finder puopet, 
sometimes called digit or digitator, fingerette, or fingerine, 
makes use of the operator's fingers, usually for the puppet's 
legs. As in the hand puppet, the control is direct, and the pup- 
pet is accordingly built around the movement of these fingers. 
Additional controls by means of strings or rods can be manipu- 
lated by thp free hand. While restricted in size and movement, 
the finger pupp«t has some advantages which are distinctly its 
own and, within its own scale, has possibilities for artistic 
expression. Herb 3cheffel, American artist in this type of con- 
trol, elatedly claimed he could carry his whole show in his coat 
pocket (Plate XVII). The dimension of the puppet predetermines 
an intimate performance and exaggerated movements which are 
neither repetitive nor lengthy. Fince animation is limited, 
more or less, to actual leg movement such as the precise steps 
of a dance, leaps, tip-toeing, and running, secondary movem^t 
is important to the overall figure. The tail of the Mouse, for 

hS Herb Scheffel, "Table Top Theatre," The Puppetry Journal > 
May- June 1953, *+*20. 



Finger puppets for ballet, "Pas De Voodoo." 

From The. Puppetry Journal T March- April 1962, 
no page number. 




example, from Clement Moore 's The Night Before Christmas , pro- 
vides just such a supplementary motion (Plate V), 

Other diminutive figures such as those u^ed in the stop- 
motion technique of puppet films can be considered as a separ- 
ate classification of puppet. Their movement is a combination of 
manipulation and the technique of the animated cartoon. That is, 
these puppets are placed by hand in consecutive positions for 
each frame of film, exactly as is done with separate animated 
cartoon drawings (Plate V). Many of such films produced in 
Czechoslovakia and Poland, as mentioned below, may rightly be 
considered an art form. Imaginative design, movement, and themes 
reflect the unquestionable artistry of the producers who create 
them. An example of an incongruous attempt in stop-motion tech- 
nique appeared in the Cinerama production of TT>e Wonderful ¥orld 
of the Brothers primm . Little puppet gnomes performed their bit 
within the intimately confining area of the poor shoemakers 
shop. This is in direct contradiction to the very scope and con- 
cept of this particular form of the wide screen, It its best, 
Cinerama is meant, literally, to envelope the spectator in spe- 
cial visual effects, motion, and sound. To be surrounded, there- 
fore, with no more than a magnified stereotype of the animated 
cartoon only serves to deny the whole concept. It is encouraging 
to learn of such an indigenously animated form as Karel Zeraan's 
Inspiration . In this Czechoslovakia stop-motion film a glass- 
blower is inspired by falling raindrops and, as bis imagination 
carries him on, a fantasy develops. Maintaining that nature 


which tho art of blowing glass bos tows upon the medium, those 
figures are highly imaginative and delicate in their glass/ 


structure and movement. w In the ^glish film The Red Shoos a 
puppet cutout of newspaper became animated. again, maintaining 
the quality of the paper, its movement was integral. 

The motion picture and telovision have provided now oppor- 
tunities for mass entertainment. However, as in the case of Les 
Poupees de Paris t "art" in these media cannot easily be divorced 
from money-making. Imaginative use of the puppet in film and on 
the home screen is rare, just as genuine creativity in the medium 
of the animated cartoon is, unfortunately, the exception. The 
rollying-eyed, clacking -mouthed variety-act puppets meroly per- 
petuate the public's misconceptions of puppetry just as the mon- 
otonous "smashed-cat" routine of the typical cartoon, with its 
constant mad pace of near-sadistic brutality disguished as slap- 
stick, becomes an accepted convention, totally ignoring the de- 
lightful possibilities displayed by such cartoons as The Great 
Toy Robbery f a recent Canadian release. Well- integrated charm 
as found in the film Lill is a noteworthy example of such im- 
aginative use. ^tensions of the leading charactors, the pucpets 
were caricatured symbols of the characters* inner solves and, be- 
cause they were puppets, able to communicate with each othor in 
a way their human counterparts found impossible. The puppets 
used on the screen for Inspiration The ded Shoes T and Lili 

*f9 Karail Bednar, Puppots and Fairy Talos T p. *+7. 


stimulate the senses rather than dull them and, as such, repre- 
sent effective use of this aspect of puppetry. 

Other types of puppet manipulation exist. Many of these, 
however, are either too restricted or rely too heavily upon in- 
cidental movement to be considered an artistic medium. Table 
puppets, for example, are useful in creative dramatics with 
young children and are so classified since their animation is 
derived as the operator merely pushes them about on a flat sur- 
face (Plate V). A jigging puppet, usually a toy, is primarily 
capable of but a repetitive jerky motion. Relying upon the 
flexibility of construction for its complete abandon in movement, 
this type may be attached to string or rod, or may obtain its 
animation from a springboard. The operator, in the latter in- 
stance, sits upon one end of a thin board and holds the figure, 
probably by a rod, to the other end. A knocking upon the board 
agitates the figure. 

Puppetry as i>esign in Motion 

The puppeteer chooses for his expression that type of con- 
trol and, consequently, that type of movement, which will most 
effectively animate his design. Because an inherent distancing 
device which can be negated by the so-called formal features of 
composition is literally built into each of the various types of 
puppet control, design and motion in puppet theatre are there- 
fore closely related. The puppet itself, as a work of art, is a 
creative design ; as an actor, it is design In motion , '.hen 


realism is rot the puppeteer's goal, I«sign and its related mo- 
tion hive limitless possibilities. Artists in other meiia have 
gonp to great lengths to add movement to design. Intent upon 
establishing a participating relationship between the spectator 
and the object, Moholy-Nagy created, for example, kin«tic paint- 
ings in which spirally- bound transparent perforated leaves could 
be moved by the spectator himself in such a way that varied air 
spac« between different picture layers would create a variety of 
light and color combinations of his own choosing. Brancusi, 
in order to add the element of time to a sculpture that was 
static, "The Fish" and "Leda," placei them on a revolving base. 
The Futurists, interested in design in motion, attempted to re- 
cord the movement and change in objects rather than their ap- 
pearance at any specific time. Calder's mobiles are moving 
forms with changing relations in space. 

The puppeteer, inheriting the most integral design-motion 
art of all, creates not only with the basic elements of design 
(the emotional qualities of line, form, and color), the tactile 
characteristics of materials, and sound and light, but also, 
most important of all, with movement. A puppet resting upon a 
museum shelf therefore exhibits but a small part of its artistic 

With regard to the basic elements of design, psychologists 
find that specific lines represent a kind of graphic record of 

50 Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in. Totalltv f p. 202. 


aspects of nature which have to do with association and memory. 
C. L. Watkins in his Language of Design (p. 169) maintains that 
a universal language of design exists which artists intuitively 
use and that this "language is universal not only because any- 
one of any race can comprehend it, but because any artist work- 
ing in any medium or in any style may employ it. " Horizontal 
lines, he clearly illustrates, can, because of their association 
with nature, be used to convey repose, peace, and finality. 
Likewise, vertical lines convey stability, inspiration, and 
majesty; diagonal lines, movement conflict, and distortion; a 
zig-zag line, confusion; or an S-curve, grace and lissome move- 
ment. The universal language of color (yellow and red are warm; 
blue and green are cool; at a certain intensity contrasting 
colors produce an afterimage that is based upon optical illusion, 
and so on), n^eds no further elaboration. Therefore, while 
theory does not negate intuition, and the sensitive artist in 
any medium, does not create from a formulated language, the pup- 
peteer, like other artists, draws from such sources as his own 
reaction to these basic design elements* 

Recognizing this universality of a design "language" it is 
understandable why artists from the time of the cave man have 
possessed an innate ability to visualize artistic forms in rocks, 
shells, branches, or roots. Leonardo da Vinci is said to have 
advised students to look at chance forms like cracks in nl aster 
and knots in boards and to attempt to make figures out of them. 
He recognized this process as an exercise for the painter's im- 


agination. A striking pxamolp of this idea can bp s«»pn ir> an 
exhibit at the Nelson Art Gallpry, Kansas City, Missouri, pn- 
titlpd "Chinese Landscapes of thp Pour reasons." Th«se arp 
actual sawed slabs of marble, thp patterns of which pvokp imn 
that are given the appropriate titles of "Many Wonders of rummer 
Clouds," "Bright Moonlight on the Autumn Stream," "Winter Ppaks 
Hoard the Snow," and "Rangp Upon riange of Spring-Green Hills." 
Admitting that his inspiration comes from finding as well as 
^epi^g, Picasso has created such sculpture pipces as "Bull's 
Head," 19^3, from thp handle bars and thp seat of a bicycle. 
Hpnce, a piece of driftwood became Basil Milovsoroff 's source 
and inspiration for a rod puppet to be used in his interpretation 
of Saint-Saens 1 "Danse Macabre" as shown in Plate XVIII. The 
quality of thp marble, of the bicycle parts, and of the drift- 
wood is not camouflaged. Each represents a selection and a re- 
arrangement. If, for instance, gourds are chosen merply for the 
structural framework of a group of puppet heads, as recommended 
by Patricia Piatt in "Those Versatile Gourds,"^ 1 the imaginative 
potential of the gourds — the shapes, colors, and texturps — are 
in reality buripd in this so-called "direct" armature use. 

No other form of theatre offprs such possibilities in im- 
aginative use of materials. Thp varying textures of rough mat, 
rough glossy, smooth mat, smooth glossy and materials of dif- 
ferent physical propprtips such as metal, wood, celluloid, oil- 

51 Thp Puppetry Journal, July-August 1962, Hft31-32. 



Rod puppet from Saint- Saens 1 M Danse Macabre," 
fashioned from driftwood. 


cloth, silk, burlap, or paper "stimulate the tactile sense, to 
make an appeal through the sense of vision to the sense of 
touch and thereby extend and enrich the aesthetic experience. 

Because under the generally intense artificial light of the 
stage things appear different from "reality," the puppeteer 
should be inspired to create imaginatively rather than to attempt 
a simple illusion. A real mirror, therefore, in the hands of a 
puppet, becomes a travesty, while incidentally annoying the 
spectator with its flashing reflections. Heal hair, or, as once 
was once seriously suggested to this writer, genuine artificial 
teeth, imposed upon the figure of the puppet, convert what should 
be an artistic creation into a kind of monstrous hybrid. The 
puppet artist should be concerned therefore with only the es- 
sential qualities of the substances with which he works. This 
being the case, materials may be used creatively for their own 
visual and tactile qualities. As Marjorie Hatchelder points out, 
the "lean and hungry wolf made of sheet aluminum, with a long 
flexible spine to which ribs are attached, catches the essence 

of wolfish starvation, and one does not miss the covering of 


fur." J 

Materials used not only for their visual qualities but for 
their innate possibilities of movement contribute another factor 
in psychical distance. Mildred Osgood, New York puppeteer and 

52 Louis Lozowlck, "Alexander ^xter f s Marionettes," Theatre 
Arts . July 1928, 12:518. 

53 Hod- Puppets and t&e_ Human Theatre , p. 28*f. 


art teacher, constructed the filmiest of fairies from tubes of 
organdy, ethereal and buoyant, their movements were appropri- 
ately delicate, A paper snake, constructed from a heavy wab*»r- 
color paper, foldei and scored, embodies a textural quality and 
a remarkable springy, live movement (Plate VII), Henryk Jur- 
kowski commends the stony, marbl^like figures cf animals in the 
play "About Johnny the Goldsmith and the Burgomaster's Daughter" 
by the "Baj ; ' v. arsaw Theatre in 19?6. The bear, he states, moved 
heavily and slowly like one would presume a stone bear to behave. 
One could feel in the movement the "overcoming of matter," and, 
for this reason, the bear's animation was more interesting than 
any attempted "realistic" movement. Shapes of puppets also sug- 
gest movement patterns. A barrel-shaped puppet can conceivably 
move in half- turns or half- twists based on an imaginary vertical 

With the infinite possibilities in this most elastic of all 
theatres there are but few instances wher<=> the puppeteer's in- 
spiration can justifiably adhere to a pattern of literal adap- 
tation. In the rare examples where an illustrator has to inter- 
preted the writer's mood that the two — writer and illustrator — 
have become inseparable, an identification is established on the 
part of the viewer which discourages the use of any oth^r form. 
Lewis Carroll's illustrator, Sir John Te^niel, established the 
appearance of Alice in Wonderland and his matchless illustrations 

5W Jurkowski, p_n. ci£. , ^. l^f-15. 


were appropriately the models for the design of Wonderland char- 
acters for Tony Sarg's production in 1930 (Plate VIII). Neither 
can there be any other Winnie- the- Pooh, Piglet, ^eyore, or Chris- 
topher iiobin than those depicted by ^nest Shepard for A. A. 
Milne's classic, a fact immediately recognized by Bil and Cora 
Baird whose NBC telecast a few years ago literally reproduced 
these figures, ^en within such preconceived standards, however, 
there is ample scope for individual Interpretation. 

Puppetry as Theatre Art 

The puppet artist has unparalleled opportunities to create 
not only the actors themselves but the other components of 
theatre consistent with these actors to produce an additional 
quality in the dramatic structure of the play, the episode, or 
the idea. In all of these facets — scenery, props, light, sound, 
stage, costumes — the puppeteer must keep in mind the fact that 
he is designing for an imaginative (.£.&• , a non-human) theatre 
unrestricted by the laws of physics applicable to the human ac- 
tor, ^ven the scenery of puppet theatre, as veil as the props, 
can become animated and move in manners most unpredictable and 
: 'unrealistic. " Imaginative possibilities harmonious with the 
style of a particular performance are oft©n more technically 
feasible in puppet theatre; disproportion presents no problem. 

Light and sound can be valuable in creating this imaginative 
theatre. The puppet's unchanging features can achieve a seaming 
plasticity of expr^s^ion by fch« angle, play, and color of light 


falling upon it. !<"\irtV>rmoro, many puppeteers find the human 
voice emanating from a puppet to be incongruous. Contemporary 
experiments with the tape recorder and other electronic media, 
such as those conducted by Vladimir tlssachevsky, composer and 
lecture-recitalist of Columbia- Princeton Electronic Music Center, 
offer exciting possibilities in the field of sound (in voice as 
well as music) which would be more in keeping with the qualities 
inherent in puppet theatre. 

The stimulation available in such forms has been pointed out 
by Marjorie Batchelder, who advised the puppeteer to investigate 
other media. For instance, the extraction of basic shapes, the 
emphasis and rearrangement which express an emotional quality 
Instead of a definite locale, can be found in the abstract paint- 
ings of Lyon^l Feininger. ^ Stage designs themselves can be 
drawn from such sources. There are innumerable possibilities 
other than the all too familiar box- like form of the conventional 
proscenium construction. The stage can, and frequently should, 
expand to allow for the extended concepts of design in motion. 
In ,tey Mount's 1957 production of "Sinbad the Sailor" at the An- 
nual Festival of the Puppeteers of America, the stage, the prop- 
erties, and all the scenery were wholly unified in this manner. 
The waves of the ocean were at the same time the necessary mask- 
ing draperies through which puppets could appear at random. The 

55 "Abstract Art Gives Pointers to the Puppeteer," Puppetry . 
19M*-19V5, pp. ^9-50. 


entire stage proper, including all acting areas, was Sinbad's 
ship itself. This, then, became a unification of all components 
in the performance as a whole. 

In costuming, simplification and exaggeration are the pri- 
mary considerations. Costuming is not to be considered, there- 
fore, in terras of constructing doll clothes but rather as an 
integral part of the design and movement which makes up the 
whole of puppet theatre. A.s the puppet is not likely to make 
any basic costume change in the course of a performance, the 
lines and forms of his bodily shape are often literally built 
into his structure. In no way must costume interfere or detract 
from his freedom of movement. 

Just as artists in many fields have turned periodically to 
the art of the primitive for their stimulation, the designer for 
puppet theatre can find a rich source of inspiration in un- 
studied creative dramatics. The child quite naturally emphasizes 
only the significant aspect and has an amazing capacity for pro- 
jecting himself sincerely through his medium. This innate ability 
to see itfith the inner eye, to emphasize through simplification 
and subordination must be reawakened in the adult, ^hen Obrazt- 
sov used his uncovered hands to express puppet bodies, he recog- 
nized the fact that simply designed ball heads were in keeping 
with the whole. Minutely delineated features would have be©n 
incongruous. All art is composed of this significant aspect, 
this synthesis of the component parts toward the total effect. 
ka Paul McPharlin suggested in regard to a puppet character, an 


old lady was to knit in a rocking chair and comment on the action 

of thp play like a Grpek chorus: 

iter outstanding features, or significant aspect, in- 
clude rocking chair (a permanent part of her anatomy;, 
white hair, open mouth, tight shawl and knitting needles. 
The nppd not bend at the waist or walk; her only joints 
can be at the jaw and wrists; h«r main action is rocking, 
done by the chair. With those few details in evidence, 
the character is complpte. Anything added will be merely 
in the way. 5° 

The spectator at a puopet performance should not actually 
be interested in whether or not the show was strung with "500 
miles of fishline,"*' any more than a viewer at an art gallery 
should be concprned as to how many buckets of paint Jackson 
Pollock used for his "Detail of One" in 1950. The artistic 
creation is the end result. If puppetry is to continue to ad- 
vance as an art form it must rid itself of its craft concppt 
simply of manipulation. 

Craig applauded the puppet for its lack of egocentricity 
so prevalent in the human actor. The puppeteer who insists that 
thp puppet be merely a cute trick which shares the spotlight 
with himself does not markedly contribute to the medium. In 
fact, this attitude can result in a dissipation of artistic do- 
tential. Such, indeed, was the unhappy result displayed by the 
Tantamount Theatre in Carmel Valley, California, endowed with 
physical facilities the pnvy of many a struggling pupppteer. 

56 "Styles in Puppet Design," in £ Book of Puppetry f p. 2°. 

57 An actual advertisement for a puppet show travelling 
through Kansas several years ago. 


Their performance of Hans Christian Anderson's "The Nightingale," 
which this writer witnessed, was enacted on the puppet stage, 
without benefit of masking curtains, so that the manipulators 
could be watched as they performed. Unfortunately, they did 
"perform," and the audience became so torn between the obvious 
pyrotechnics below the puppet stage and the excellent performance 
above, that it was unable to determine which display was legiti- 
mately the performance it had paid to see. That this "open 
playing" can be effectively accomplished is evident in the Jap- 
anese Bunraku and such artists who can forget the self in their 
projection. They, and all who share their view, demonstrate a 
sincere realization that puppetry can indeed be a legitimate art 


It is therefore realized that in order to consider puppetry 
as an art form one must define it in terms other than those which 
merely describe animated dolls. Puppets, properly regarded as 
theatrical figures controlled by human beings, are restricted by 
no human module; the only limitations are those of the puppet- 
eer's own invention. Like contemporary theatre, dance, and the 
motion picture, puppetry, also, must undergo a continual probing 
for its own particular abstractive quality that is at the same 
time an art experience. 

The puppeteer, like artists in other media, should avoid the 


stereotypes of literal interpretation. No genuine creativity 
can recognize set "rules"; if a medium is to offer a singular 
aesthetic experience, its interpretive power lies in the recog- 
nition of its unique artistic qualities. The animation of the 
inanimate, the juxtaposition of the real and the unreal, the 
actualization of the humanly impossible, and the imaginative 
creation of a world of fantasy can become realities in puppet 
theatre, independent of any other form of expression. 

That detachment which distinguishes the art experience from 
the common everyday experience is effected additionally in pup- 
pet theatre by the varied types of control, each with its own 
innate "distancing" possibility. No one type of control is the 
most expressive; rather, each type must be recognized for its 
own intrinsic characteristic, for the essential movement which 
grows out of its control mechanism and its designed material. 
If this designed movement is recognized for its artistic truth 
rather than vrai semblance, the spectator can experience vicari- 
ously and imaginatively a movement which is uniquely of puppet 

Considered as design in motion, the medium offers limitless 
possibilities. Materials may be used not only for their visual 
and tactile qualities but for their innate movement potentiali- 
ties. Unparalleled opportunities exist in puppet theatre for 
the creation not only of the puppets themselves but of the other 
components of theatre consistent with these imaginative "actors." 
Analogous with all art forms, the significant aspect or synthesis 


of those component parts toward the total effect is of paramount 
Importance. Inspiration, too often lacking in the constant re- 
petition within the medium of puppetry itself, can be a more 
vitalizing process if drawn from other resources as well. 

Beyond craftsmanship or "performance," and infinitely more 
than a trick or a "gimmick," these animated theatrical figures 
can be a medium of artistic expression deserving the nomenclature 
"art form." 



The writer extends grateful appreciation for assistance 
and counsel to the following: Miss Dorothy Barfoot, Mr. John 
Hannah, and Mr. Angelo Garzio of the Kansas State University 
Department of Art; Miss *5dith Ridgeway of the Kansas State 
Library; Mrs. Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin, vice- President 
of UN IMA; the New ¥ork Public Library Photographic Service; 
and Mr. Gene Guerrant, Manhattan photographer. Special thanks 
are also extended to her husband for his assistance in editing 
and preparing the manuscript. 



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B. S. , New Haven State Teachers College, 19*+3 


submitted in partial fulfillment of the 
requirements for the degree 


Department of Art 
(Home Economics) 

Manhattan, Kansas 


This analysis is an effort to justify the existence of 
puppetry as an art form and, thereby, to correct those frequently 
perpetuated misconceptions that the medium is primarily for the 
trivial entertainment of children and an imitative art with very 
little artistic identity of its own. 

The primary sources of this study have been two important 
library collections (New ¥ork Public and the personal collection 
of Mrs. Marjorie Batchelder McPharlln); actual viewing of pro- 
fessional performances in major areas of the United States; 
membership in the Puppeteers of America; and personal experience 
through the operation of a puppet theatre. 

Although scattered references did exist, there was very 
little puppet literature in English until the puppet revival 
during the early part of this century. The 5hglish artist and 
designer, Gordon Craig, found the puppet to be superior in many 
ways to the human actor. Craig's theories and translations of 
valuable historical material appeared in limited editions of 
periodicals he himself published. Other revivalists probed the 
many facets of the medium; new uses in education, recreation, 
therapy, advertising, the motion picture, and television have 
encouraged increased exploration and publication in books, 
periodicals, and graduate theses. Much literature still remains 
untranslated, however, and a large part of that which has 
appeared in English does not recognize the unique capability of 
puppet theatre. 

The puppet, when considered in the terms of the definition 

by Paul McPharlin, a leader in the puppet revival, as a 
"theatrical figure animated by a human being," has unlimited 
artistic possibilities in contrast with the stereotype suggested 
by the average dictionary definition which recognizes the puppet 
merely as an animated doll* Although creativity does not acknow- 
ledge rules in any medium, puppetry, like all of the lively arts, 
must undergo a continual probing for its own ^articular quality 
that establishes it as an art experience. 

"Beality" in puppet theatre must allow for the imaginative 
participation of the spectator. A skillful imitation of another 
form has no place. The animation of the inanimate, the Juxta- 
position of the real and the unreal, the actualization of the 
humanly impossible, and the creation of a world of fantasy are 
the "realities" of puppetry. 

Psychical distance, necessary for any aesthetic experience, 
is strengthened through the puppet control types — the hand, the 
rod, the string, or the fingers themselves. Essential expressive 
movement grows out of each control mechanism and the properties 
of its designed material. 

Considered as design, in motion, the medium of puppetry offers 
unique possibilities unfeasible in human theatre. Unlimited by 
the human module, the puppets themselves and all of the components 
of puppet theatre must be realized in terms of significant aspect. 
Creative stimulus can be a more revitalizing process if drawn 
from other art forms as well. Furthermore, puppetry has within 
its potential more than craftsmanship and virtuoso manipulation 
which merely draws attention to the personality of its operator.