Donovan Zimmerman of Paperhand Puppet Intervention invited us into his Saxapahaw studio these two Saturdays.
His group is doing their annual show these weekends and you should go if you can. Here are some puppet heads from the show.
Mark Donley (shown here demonstrating a backpack rig for a huge puppet) works for the Hillsborough Arts Council. He's from New Orleans and had a lot of experience there working with parades. He's currently organizing the Second Annual Handmade Parade
, taking place on October 17 2009.
To ensure a plethora of odd creatures on the street that day, he offered a workshop, over the course of two Saturdays, teaching the art of huge puppet making and giving us all a huge space, all the tools we needed, and giant vats of cornstarch glue so we could kick-start our own puppets.
Most of his giant heads (like this Buddha) are papier mache directly applied over clay-sculpted heads, but that would be an impractical method for churning out street creatures over the course of a weekend, so he showed us how to take cardboard, which is FLAT, and make giant heads, which are ROUND.
This gorgeous silvery creature was made with cardboard, not clay.
Donovan took a large lozenge of cardboard, slashed its perimeter, rolled the slashes towards the back, and stapled them together with his ultra-cool Rapid 31 Sword-Point Stapler which I immediately went home and ordered. Why had I never seen one of these before? Why have I had to live my life without it?
Then Mark and Donovan discussed ways to mount and rig the puppets. Some are three-person puppets (one for head, two for hands) the giant heron here is a six person puppet, others can be worn by just one hardy soul.
If you can find an old backpack at the Goodwill, you can remove the frame part and use it to support the stick that holds your puppet's head above the crowd.
Donovan generously gave me this one for my puppet head, so I guess I'm committed to going to the parade!
If you can't find an external-frame backback, you can make a rig out of PVC and use fabric bands to keep it on your body.
Mark demonstrated a lighter-weight version with bamboo poles and showed how the backpack frees the puppeteer to work the arms without assistants.
Here's an approximation of their suggestion for rigging the head itself: bolt a furring strip to the back of the head (they use washers made of smashed-flat beer bottlecaps) and mount a pvc pipe to the wood. The long pole will slip into the pvc casing, and you tie the whole assembly together with a carriage bolt through both the pvc and bamboo.
As the workshop was winding down today, this group of teachers was working desperately to get at least one layer of paper mache over their giant bat.
I tossed my still-wet head (folks said it had an Easter Island feel) into the truck and left.
Here are two other happy twosomes of puppet makers and their output:
This looked like a cuttlefish for a long time but is a crow's head.
I thought this one was a rhinocerous beetle but it's actually a spider.