North by Northwest – Part 1

After a short breather in Xi’an, I braved the bus towards the northwestern corner of China’s mainland to the small city of Huanxian in Gansu province. I have been to Huanxian once before, for just a few days in 2011, to attend the National Shadow Puppet Conference held every four years. My memory of the conference is fuzzy as we were shuffled here and there to watch this and that for a full three days. Indelibly, however, the Huanxian performers and cutters are still clear in my mind. They seemed out of place at the conference, even though it was their home turf: while the other troupes handled press with ease and utilized the proscenium stage, the Huanxian artists were awkward in the outsider gaze and unaccustomed to performing indoors. I fell in love with them instantly and knew I had to visit them again, in the sobriety of the off-season.

The bus dropped me off with little aplomb. With one mainstreet, Huanxian is just over one mile long. Its side streets stretch another mile or so wide, but beyond that, the mountains cut off expansion on either side.

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They tower over the valley and shelter it from the rest of the world. The wind had swirled the dry, loose soil into a layer of hazy fog that I would have assumed was pollution had I not known Huanxian didn’t have any industry to speak of.

The Shadow Puppet themed hotel was just a three-block walk from the town’s central square and 2 blocks from the bus terminal. I checked in at the front desk, overseen by a few shadow puppet warriors hung ominously high on the walls. Once settled in the tacky, but decent room on the sixth floor, I checked in with my contacts to announce my arrival. Huanxian’s main puppet making company is located on the second floor of the hotel and the cutting workshop just out back. I guess in a town this small, convenience of this sort shouldn’t be a surprise.

Li Yaping, a former provincial level puppet maker, met me in the Longying Shadow Puppet company’s offices. Long years of leaning over a cutting table have relegated her to a manager’s position. She gave us a tour of the offices, empty like a ghost town, and the exhibition room, which boasts a host of lovely pieces and innovative designs. When I asked how busy the company was these days, she replied simply, “not busy.” After discussing the particulars, we agreed that tomorrow I could head out back and look for my cutting teacher myself.

The next morning at nine sharp, I headed out back with my serious researcher pants on, my backpack full of notebooks, freshly charged batteries and my mind set on my goal. Mornings like these have begun to feel familiar. My lack of appetite betrays my outwardly cool composure: I care. I care deeply how the next hour will transpire. A mixture of dread and excitement lays thick in my belly because I never know what I’m going to find. The perfect situation could present itself; an amiable master, a nice workshop, a great study routine and a reasonable price. Or, I could find disgruntled employees, a depressing workshop and an unaffordable situation.

After a thorough tour of the workshop building, I find no one is there. My heart and stomach flutter for a second, but I quickly decide to take the hunt back to the main office. I find the second floor peopled with just one young woman who eagerly agrees to help in my hunt. We head behind the workshop building to the squat brick buildings that serve as residents for some of the employees. We ask a few questions, stand around awkwardly and then, Gao Qingwang rounded the corner. From a distance you could see the deep smile lines creased in his weathered face. He walked with a relaxed gait: open and curious. My young guide jumped when she saw him and explained who I was. In moments, we had agreed to head back to his workshop and talk a bit.

Ten minutes later, the three of us are sitting comfortably in Gao Qingwang’s beautiful studio: a small 10×15 ft room with a window towards the mountains. A bed is in one corner for midday rests and he has shadow puppet trunks stacked against the other wall. Knick knacks and souvenirs are everywhere.

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Without ceremony, Master Gao retrieved a piece of leather he was working on, his tools and sat down to work. Relative to other masters, Gao is talkative and can explain his work in motion. He is open to questions, listens thoughtfully and works steadily.

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After a buoyant half hour of observation and conversation, we agreed to study every morning for my remaining time in Huanxian.

These are the mornings I dream of. The relief the encounter brought summoned my suppressed hunger and I headed off to an early lunch of hand-pulled noodles and pickled vegetables.

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Part Two of my work in Gansu to follow…

Thanks for reading~

Don’t Kill the Messenger

On my way west to Gansu Province from Beijing, I had to pass through my old stomping grounds of Shaanxi Province. Xi’an city is the only logical throughway before heading north by bus to the small desert city of Huanxian. My intention was just to check in on everyone, see how they were doing and be on my merry way. I had not expected to find things so wholly changed.

I had heard rumblings prior to my arrival about the Yutian Wenhua company and knew the Xi’an branch had closed down. I was worried about where my puppet making friends had scattered. When I asked my good friend, puppet maker Wangyan, what she’d be up to when I swung into town, she said “just getting back from doing a shadow puppet performance in Beijing”. I was overjoyed at first, but my relief was short lived.

Save just a few puppet cutters from the old Yutian Wenhua cultural commodity company, and they are the best of the best, the rest are currently out of work. One is delivering sodas, another working in a hotel and Wangyan tried a stint at the local mall. No wonder she jumped at a random opportunity to join a one-time-only shadow puppet performance to welcome the Turkmenistan leader to Beijing, even if she finds herself out of work again on her return to Xi’an.

One trip to the famed Muslim Quarter tourist street in Xi’an and everything is explained. The few shadow shops that were there in 2011 were filled with both machine and hand-cut shadow puppets. I had a growing worry then that most of the vendors were passing off machine-made as hand-cut and making a mint, but had still assumed the industry would progress slowly. Having spent so much time researching in China, I should have known better.

Now, the number of shadow puppet shops in the Muslim Quarter has tripled. And, the handcut shadow puppets? Gone. All of them. Not a single hand cut sample in the shops I visited.

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5This is just a sampling of the shadow puppet stores along the Muslim Quarter.

I’ll admit, the grump took a hold of me around the fourth shop or so and I gave an impolite scolding to a shopkeeper; not because they are only selling machine-made puppets but because they are still praying upon the ignorance of the consumer to make a profit.

This domination of the machine-made puppet hawked as the ‘real thing’ and the inability for the general public to tell the difference has put my good friends out of work. These incredible, beautiful artists have laid their hard won talents to rest. Worst of all, they make more working in malls and delivering sodas then they ever did cutting puppets. The world confuses  me at times like these. How have humans come to place more monetary value in a bottle of Coke than in an inherited intangible cultural folk art form?

Certainly, this change is happening swiftly everywhere if it hasn’t already. Worst of all, this market change has cemented the demise of Shaanxi’s famed shadow puppet cutting apprenticeship system.

There are just a handful of cutters now working in Xi’an and only a few more in shadow puppetry’s original hot bed of Huaxian. I can’t help but wonder just how long they can all hang on. And, I can’t help wishing for a miracle.

Thanks for reading~

The Intangible Cultural Heritage Project

Nearly every time I talk with a shadow puppet practitioner in China about inheritance, future or preservation, “非职务文化遗产”or “The Intangible Cultural Heritage Project” is the next subject that follows. It’s a bit of an urban legend everywhere you go; everyone has heard of it, fewer know about the actual particulars of the project, and most rare are those who have actually received the benefits of its inception. But, as mixed as the tangible results may be, it is clear that the project’s reputation and shadow puppetry’s recent inscription onto the coveted list, has brought a sea change of pride and validation to the working artists.

The Intangible Cultural Heritage Project (ICH) was started in 2003 by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in an attempt to staunch the hemorrhaging of the world’s cultural practices before it was too late. So far, it’s registered nearly 300 intangible cultural heritage practices in dozens countries. Chinese shadow puppetry was inscribed on a national level just around the time I was ending my Fulbright trip in 2011. It was an instant boost in moral, a charge to the heart of shadow puppetry. It made it seem as though things were picking up, that help wasn’t too far away. However, talking with artists in 2012 and 2013, it was clear the realities hadn’t met with their expectations. But, what were the realities and why were those expectations universal? I couldn’t seem to get a straight answer from anyone. The larger truth slowly appeared as anything but concrete; anytime you mix politics with art, it gets complicated.

I finally sat down last summer to read through the available material UNESCO provides on the subject. The slickly designed pdf’s on Register of Best Safeguarding Practices and Operational Directives for the Implementation of the Convention were beautiful and inspiring, but did little to inform me of the day-to-day workings of the project. I was confused and long days of deep googling did nothing to clarify things. So, I decided to go to the source.

During my stop over in Beijing in early May, I popped into the UNESCO office for a meeting. My pestering had finally got the best of them and a gracious project manager, named Julien Glenat, agreed to give me an hour of his time. And, as suspected, much was cleared up in that little hour.

Julien clarified that UNESCO merely writes a convention, loosely, and leaves all of the regional implementation up to the local Ministries of Culture (MIC). In this way they are incredibly hands off. No accountability, no policing, just suggestions. Julien stated that “each country is quite free to implement it as they wish. More importantly, as the local community wishes. I think the central notion of the convention is the communities – what they consider as intangible heritage.” This distinction is important. UNESCO and the ICH project keeps the language intentionally vague in order to avoid exclusion of the world’s great diversity of ICH practices. Sometimes, though, the vagueness of language leaves governments confused, wishing instead for an ICH ‘to do’ list.

I asked specifically about China, whether this vagueness in language had stunted their efficiency in anyway. I was happy to hear that China has stepped up in the Eastern region as a role model and have been progressive in their work with ICH. They’ve even established an independent ICH office in nearly every province to assist with more efficacious planning. (Again, UNESCO’s offices only guide and assist; China’s Ministry of Culture does all of the actual implementation and policy making.) The Ministry of Culture is even working to establish an annual ICH conference with most of the bureau’s in attendance: science, education, business, etc in order to spread awareness and develop collaborations.

We talked for a while longer about the efficacy and possible corruption in the local offices, the awkward collaboration between politics and artists, and my worries about tacit learning and embodied transmission from master to apprentice (which is not mentioned in their ‘best practices for safeguarding’). After all my questions were answered, I asked Julien what his primary concerns for the immediate future were as he is there, everyday, witnessing the swift and irrevocable changes. He says he is most concerned with China’s tendency to direct their ICH woes to the tourism industry with a lot of speed and little reflection. I echo the same worry with Chinese shadow puppetry. Too often, when this shift is done in haste, it tends to only benefit the businesspeople, not the artists, and leaves the soul of the practice somewhere in limbo.

We bemoaned our shared feelings of inadequacy at times – is what we’re doing really effective? Does anyone care? Are we making things worse? But, Julient, who no doubt has thought about this more than I have, declared that there was “no small effort for culture.” And, I sincerely hope he’s right.

Thanks for reading~

*Thanks to Julien Glenat and the UNESCO Beijing office for their time.

A for Effort

In the midst of my chaotic China welcome, I snuck in a trip to the outskirts of Tangshan and an overdue visit to the Lu family cutters. It’s been almost three years since I’ve been out east of Beijing and I was anxious to check in.

I was happy to find the Lu family unchanged in the ways that matter: still ineffably warm, earnest and thriving in their multiple modalities. Both father and mother Lu, while busy helping son Tianxiang set up his new apartment in preparation for a wife, catch me up on their latest happenings. The apartment is on the fifth floor of the third building in a large complex of newly built identical high-rises, which are no stranger to the China skyline.

The apartment building is so new, there are only a few neighbors as of yet – everyone in a different state of preparation.

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In the Lu’s apartment, the electric kang (traditionally a steam-heated brick bed) is the only piece of furniture in the place so far. His father is working on the baseboards, his mother on making new buckwheat husk pillows and Tianxiang is intent on patching in the light switches. The pride of having his own place shows in Tianxiang. He lights up when he talks about how he’ll decorate the walls with his father’s shadow puppetry and display his cutting tools on a specially designed shelf. I am honored to be the apartment’s first guest and sleep like a log on the kang.

The next morning, I see that the hustle and bustle of movement and improvement within the small household is no different from the small town of Han Cheng itself. Just a 20 minute bus ride outside of Tangshan proper, Han Cheng is starting to outgrow its dirt roads and farmland feel. There’s a few fast food chains setting up shop in the first floor of the new high-rise apartment buildings and the street’s nightlife reveals a swarming population of younger folk. Tianxiang’s building complex is just one of a few that now break up the previously flat horizon of corn and millet fields.

Shortly after breakfast, Tianxiang takes me to the small village another 20 minutes further out of Tangshan, named Damengang. Here, in collaboration with a few progressive educators, Tianxiang has been developing shadow puppet curriculum with a small village school. The program has been a success from the beginning, clearly evident with a tour through the school’s exhibition room. The pieces on display are creative, careful and wonderful.

plastic headThis cutting sample is made by a student out of thin, flexible plastic – a more economic learning material than leather.

Later, I am privileged to meet the artists themselves. In the hallway, a band of students are studiously at work carving leather pieces on wax boards and painting the finished parts with watercolor.

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In the music room, there is another group manipulating shadow puppets with help of a local troupe and when they see their teacher has arrived, they ready themselves for performance. We are treated to a short set of shows with students at the helm of each. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t tear up a bit seeing the young and the old working together behind the screen.

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Like everything else he does, Tianxiang has created this program with the utmost care and thought. From the choice of plastic for the beginning cutters to the beautiful wax boards for the advanced students, this is no afternoon activity. A well-laid lesson plan of shadow puppet making integrated with performance practice, encouraged by both its long tradition and the pressing need for creativity — this is the kind of thing shadow puppetry needs. Who better to inherit and evolve the craft than China’s youth?

Tianxiang drops me off at his new apartment after a full day at the school. Shortly, he will head back to his parents house for the night. There isn’t much that needs to be said. He knows how much it has meant to me and I know how much it means to him. This work, this toil he offers on his days off, free nights and free hours from his day job in the city — it is something. They cycle of inspiration continues and we carry on.

the fam at their old homeThe Lus at their “old home” in western Han Cheng

Thanks for reading~

For previous stories on the Lus: 

As The World Turns

I’m back in mainland China for a 10 week fieldwork trip, focusing on shadow puppet troupes and puppet making methods in Gansu and Yunnan. Somehow I finished the first year in my PhD program and left for China within the span of just a few days. I’ll try not to ever do that again. The mental quiet and focus that the school year has demanded has softened my fieldwork rigor for the moment. I was wholly unprepared for the deluge of stimuli and the unforgiving pace of Beijing upon arrival. But, slowly, I can feel myself steeling up again: remembering to carry toilet paper and water with me, abandoning my expectations that anything will start on time and always (always) managing to recheck my assumptions.

As usual, I’m starting my trip in Beijing. It’s the perfect place to recover from jetlag, get my belly used to the oil and spice and get my brain firing in Mandarin again. It is also home to a growing number of shadow puppet friends from all walks of life. Beijing, from the beginning, has never been a place I thought I would invest much time into, as most of what remains here are modern shadow puppet troupes. Still, it grows increasingly undeniable that China’s capitol is the center of many things in this country, which continues to draw artists and innovators, including shadow lovers. Within just a few calls to some of my pals, I see that I’ve lucked out with my timing: so and so has an exhibition, so and so has a new theatre and so and so is opening their new shadow puppet collaboration tonight. Never a dull moment in China, ever.

Hanfeizi, the brother and sister company I first profiled in 2011, is currently busy with a few projects. Most notably, they are participating in an exhibition of handicrafts for the ART BEIJING expo happening. I attended on press day, a day before the exhibition officially opened, and was impressed to see a large showing of journalists, supporters and general enthusiasts. The shadow puppet corner takes up one of the 4 main walls and boasts a small, but classy collection of Dongbei style shadow puppets.

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HFZ 2Hanxing, left, beside two of the event organizers, his father and mother.

Liu Laoshi and the Longzaitian Troupe are also doing well. This troupe of little people remain some of the best trained and most enthusiastic students of shadow puppetry in the country. The manager, curious about my continued returns (this being my third in 3 years), decided I must be serious about shadow puppetry and welcomed me in with decided earnest. He explained that while the troupe’s reputation was growing steadily, with three branches in Beijing and 3 outposts in other provinces, the financial situation was still tight. The government does assist the troupe with things such as rehearsal and performance space, but does little else. They are still mostly subsisting on commissioned collaborations, ticket prices and some private funding. Because I had toted my friend Serge along as well, we got an extra special private showing of their prized blacklight show. So much neon! 

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Over at the Shichahai Shadow Puppet Themed Hotel, which is one of the nicest boutique hutong hotels around, my friend’s Larry Reed and Maomao have just teamed up together to launch a new shadow puppet performance of The Butterfly Lovers for the hotel’s audience. It was exciting to attend their opening night and I was impressed with the amount of work they managed to accomplish in one short week of rehearsal. It’s a great story to translate into shadow and will add to their growing repertoire of shows.

SCH HotelReading for the audience. Isn’t that screen gorgeous?

Buttefly lovers

As the luck of my timing continued, last year’s hutong shadow tour team is all in Beijing at the same time: Julie, my great friend who works with Miao textiles and shadows and Serge, my friend from Holland who works in contemporary painting and performance. Recently, I connected Serge to my friend Tianxiang to help him make leather puppets for some upcoming experimental animated films. Together, Julie, Serge and I did what we like to do. We made some shadow friends, took them to the hutong alleyways and lit up the night.

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All in all, a raucous and unrelenting beginning to my trip. I have no false expectations that this good timing will continue, only grateful to have been apart of the convergence. Can’t wait to see what the next two months has in store.

Thanks for reading~

How to Make a Simplified Colored Plastic Chinese Shadow Puppet

In February, I got to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to present a demonstration/workshop combo to a huge number of visitors to their ‘China Day’ festivities. The development team and I talked quite a bit about how to handle such a large number of audience members in a very short amount of time. I ended up developing some simplified colored, plastic Chinese-style shadow puppets that are simplified (only 2 rods and 6 joints) from the original Chinese shadow puppet design (3 rods and 9/10 joints).

Old Man Plastic Puppet

This simplified design helps kids and beginners start manipulating the puppets better, sooner – without sacrificing much of the puppet’s agility. And, they’re sturdy enough to hold up to hundreds of kids doing their worst and enchant them with awe at the same time. Win, win.

*Though some of the steps in the process can be fussy, it’s worth the effort. Please message me if you need additional clarity and I can edit as necessary. Of course, feel free to modify the materials and joints/etc however you see fit – “there’s many ways to skin a cat” as they say.

Tools & Materials

  • Your design in color/Color print out of traditional shadow puppet *For Chinese shadow puppet pics, click here: www.chineseshadowpuppetry.com (and go to the aesthetic tab – all photos can be downloaded)
  • Dura-lar, acetate or other clear plastic sheeting (.030-.040” thick)     *(you’ll need about a 8.5×11” area for one 12” puppet)
  • A Black Permanent Marker
  • Colored Permanent Markers
  • A sharp scissors
  • 16 – 20 Gauge Wire (about 1’ per puppet)
  • Wire snips
  • Needle Nosed Plier
  • An Awl or Needle Tool
  • 1/8” Wooden Rods (12”-16”long) or Chopsticks
  • Duct/Gaff Tape (6”)

Begin by printing your design onto paper. (You can browse through any of the pictures in the slideshow here and download your favorite one.)

Print Your Template

Once you pick your favorite shadow puppet template, you will be tracing/coloring and cutting out the following pieces (as illustrated in the picture below):

  1. Head and torso, plus one full arm
  2. One upper arm piece
  3. One lower arm piece
  4. One hand
  5. One hip piece
  6. One front leg with foot
  7. One back leg with foot

Template Piece Breakdown

Lay this design under your piece of dura-lar plastic and tape to secure if needed. Keep in mind that you’ll be cutting out separate pieces of the design, so to maximize your plastic, push them as close together and to the edge as possible – like when you cut cookies out of rolled dough.

Trace

I start out tracing the outline in black marker, then filling out the colored patterns within the piece and going over the entire piece with black marker outlining. Of course, expriment and find which way works best for you.

Color In Your Template

After you’ve traced all your pieces and colored them in, simply cut them out with a sharp scissors.

Here comes the hard part: putting those pieces together!

Line your pieces up where they should be joined together and make a hole through both pieces with your awl or needlepoint tool.

Poke A Hole

Looking at some of the finished designs, you can get a sense of where to place these joints (hint: they’re placed almost exactly where they are on the human body – i.e. shoulder, elbow, knee.) This will give you a good approximation of where to start, but know that you might get it wrong the first time and have to try a few more holes. You’ll know the holes are in the wrong place if the puppet, at rest, hangs at an awkward angle. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.

Once you’ve made the joints in the correct place, now it’s time to make your wire joints. Cut a piece of wire about 1” long (step 1). Make a small circle, the size of your needle-nosed pliers, on one end and flatten it, perpendicular to the rest of the piece (step 2).

Joint Steps

Push the straight end of the wire through the joint hole.

Joint Step 2

With the straight end on the other side, make another circle and press flat (step 3). Repeat as needed! (If these joints don’t move freely, loosen the two circle ends away from the plastic joints. Play with it until it hands just right.)

Joints

Once your puppet is fully jointed together, you’ll want to attach control rods for your hands to be able to manipulate the puppet. These are usually placed (one) at thefront or back of the neck and (one) on the free hand. (See below)

Finished Puppet

For your two control rod wires, cut a wire piece about 4” long (step 1). Make a hole on the top part of the hand (where indicated) and at the back or front of the neck. In the middle of the 4” piece of wire, make a perfect circle with your needle-nosed pliers about 1/8”–1/4” in diameter (step 2).

Rod Connectors

Slide one through each hold: neck and hand.

Rod Connectors Step 2

Once through, pinch and twist the excess wire into a tight spiral.

Pinch and Twist

Tape that excess to your rod using very tacky tape (duct, gaff, etc). If your tape is 2-3” wide, rip it in half lengthwise.

Rod

Tape to Rod

Now, you’re ready to start puppeting!

Finished Puppet

*Check the http://www.chineseshadowpuppetry.com’s DIY page to figure out screen and lighting options

Thanks for reading~

Reach Out and Touch Someone

As I’ve continued to delve into the world of Chinese shadow puppetry, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the form’s continued obscurity is one of its main obstacles to survival. In North America, when I begin to tell someone what I do, and they’re kind enough not to glaze over in the eyes, I usually get one of a few standard responses: 1) You mean like the Muppets? 2) Like Being John Malkovich? 3) Or, they put up their hands in a complicated tangle of fingers and say ‘like this?’ In China, the problem isn’t that much better. Everyone has heard of shadow puppetry, but very few have ever seen a live performance.

For numerous reasons, China wasn’t a large exporter of their cultural forms throughout the middle part of the 1900s. Even now, though China has ostensibly become increasingly open, the focus remains on economics, the environment and politics, which leaves little room to push the arts as ambassadors. Even if they had, most of their folk arts forms haven’t warranted enough attention to be exported, even when that has been the trend. There has been the odd article here, the occasional post or book there, but for the most part Chinese shadow puppetry still remains out of the general consciousness.

This lack of attention has seemed to stutter my research at times, making me divert my attention away from the work simply to publicize. But, over the years, this has actually helped hone the work, my goals and continues to reinvigorate what the true mission of my research should always be: sharing and engaging. Just when I think I’m tired of hitting the book, writing papers, conducting fieldwork – I am gifted a moment of true sharing and it does wonders to propel me forward.

Just this past spring, I’ve had the great honor to present a lecture/workshop at the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts (aka puppet-wonderland) and a demo/workshop at the incredible Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Both experiences, while acting as platforms for me to share Chinese shadow puppetry, were also vehicles towards sharpening my own understanding of how to share the work and what about it is relevant to a diverse North American public.

In Atlanta, the workshop participants were largely made of up adult educators and puppet professionals. The center’s educational outreach has also mastered the webinar format – allowing participants from as far away as Hawaii and Australia to participate as long as they have an internet connection! This was a first for me.

annie intro whole room The webinar audience is supported by a team of folks who video and moderate questions and information.  It’s fabulous if you’re stuck in the boondocks but want to join in puppet workshops.

They all delighted me with deeply considered questions about the history, but more interestingly, they wanted to know about the making process: how was the leather handled, what types of blades are used to cut the hide, what pigment options are out there, what are the joints and rods made out of, etc. This engineering minutia is the aspect of my work that I have shared the least. Hearing their curiosity confirmed that I’m not alone in my interests here.

In Virginia, the museum’s incredible art education and events staff and I developed a new set-up for large groups of festival goers to partake in both/either shadow puppetry or a make-your-own shadow puppet project.  With a family audience of around three thousand people in a matter of a few short hours, we knew we had to make both activities easily accessible and feasible, but also engaging and interactive.  Most successful were the new simplified child-proof Chinese-style shadow puppets I created that are sturdy enough for the rowdiest of kid rebels, yet beautiful enough to warrant enchantment. (A Do-It-Yourself Post will follow in a few weeks.)

PuppetpicA plastic, child-proof Chinese shadow male clown figure, ready for play.

I’ve toyed with plastic before and never loved the results, but these satisfied me. And, most importantly, the kids (and adults) fell in love with them.

VMFA1 Parents often ‘help’ their kids get acquainted behind the screen, but really end up enjoying it just as much as their half-pints.

VMFA2I love the natural curiosity to see what’s going on on both sides of the screen, even when you’re the one doing the puppeting.

We had kids who were there so long, I had to request they make room for others only to find them back again after a short pause. At moments in the chaos, I’d look around the mob of children at the screen or studiously making their shadow puppet and felt profoundly encouraged. There was a reason Chinese shadow puppetry survived and thrived for so long, and there is a reason it should continue – it’s just taking a little time to catch up to this crazy modern world. Proof is in the puppet.

Thanks for reading~