How to Make Marionette Puppets
How to make marionette puppets goes back thousands of years. So a bit of history…
Marionettes started becoming more popular around the 15th century when they were used for more than just entertainment. Marionettes at that time were used to tell the stories of what had happened in other cities to the people of faraway lands.
By the 18th century they had gained even more popularity around the world as a medium for spreading news and as a form of entertainment for children and adults alike. Marionettes were often used to plead cases and tell stories to the noble dignitaries including kings, queens and their court.
Carved from wood and dressed in fancy materials these dancing puppets were known as an art form. And a grand puppet master (also referred to as a manipulator) was held in high regard. Often considered sacred, the marionettes were not allowed to be handled by anyone except the puppeteer. And the “secrets” of how to make marionette puppets were often passed down to special apprentices.
They could take years to make their marionettes and each one would be handled with the greatest care. They were most often made from a specific type of wood called Yamane. Human hair was used to provide the hair on each puppets head. The joints were made of rags and soft materials and the body was carved and details were drawn on with red ink. Tamarind seeds and talc were used to make a paste that was used to paint on the faces, hands and feet.
In later years, other materials began to be used in the making of marionettes, such as paper mache, porcelain, and synthetic paints along with other precious items. These things were used to make them distinguished and unique.
Strings were attached to the head, hands, feet or knees in order to bring these puppets to life. Dancing puppets may have two strings attached to the forehead, one on each shoulder and one on the spine which allow more movement throughout the puppet’s body. The marionette is controlled by the puppeteer with either a T or H shaped wooden control bar held high above the puppet.
They are often used on a stage created with covers so that the puppeteer can be on scaffolding above it, hidden from the audience by curtains or some other form of walls.
Some shows from long ago have had as many as twenty eight marionettes in one scene.
Further back in history…
Marionette shows were extremely popular in the Czech Republic and Myanmar. Their use has been recorded as far back as 2000 BC in places like Egypt. Greek and Roman writers have recorded the use of marionettes since 400 BC and were often found buried in children’s tombs to provide them comfort and entertainment in the afterlife.
In the early 20th century marionette theatres were extremely popular in England and throughout Europe. Their popularity was brought to America through stories like Pinocchio, television shows like Howdy Doody, Thunderbirds, and Fireball XL5.
Today, How to make a marionette continues to be an art form that is respected the world over. Heads and bodies are often still carved with a knife out of wood or made by paper mache and painted carefully to add character. The joints of marionettes are often made of muslin caps that are attached to the shoulders and knees. Fishing wire, string or other fine wires are attached to the control sticks which are held by the manipulator.
Marionette makers take great pride in their work and can take years to fine tune their work. Their marionettes can take all forms from human to different animals and mythical characters.
How to Make Marionette Puppets – The Makers…
Some of the biggest names throughout history in the Marionette world are Anton Aicher who created the Salzburg Marionette Theatre along with Gretl Aicher who was the artistic director of the same company. They are credited with making beautiful marionettes and helping raise popularity of the art form, giving manipulators a place to show off their work.
Gerry Anderson is a famous puppeteer who has used a marionette puppet system called supermarionation. This system is most well known for many science fiction movies and television shows. Most recognized of which is probably the Thunderbirds.
In Australia the biggest name in Marionettes is the man who once directed the Marionette Theatre of Australia, Mr. Richard Bradshaw OAM. He is respected around the world for his talent.
Count Franz Pocci is a name that is synonymous with Marionette shows and was the founding director of the Munich Marionette Theatre company.
Pietro Radillo is probably the most well known 19th century person associated with the world of marionettes. He was from Italy and was considered a master of the craft.
Many television and radio stars today have dabbled in marionettes as a hobby including Jon Stewart, Howard Stern, Ted Milton, and Johann Wolfgang Van Houte.
No matter what country you come from, you have probably seen a marionette in action either on screen or in person. Pinocchio will forever be the most loved marionette in the world along with his puppet maker Geppetto.
No matter how much technology is created, marionettes and puppetry will always be a creative and wonderful form of entertainment. And the secrets of how to make a marionette will always be treasured.
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