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Puppet-Making at the Art Center

APR. 16 – Preparations are underway at the Art Center – the walls of a basement room are covered with larger-than-life cardboard faces, skulls and signs. One wall features unpainted fruit boxes that have been shaped into perfect coffins. The gray placards that accompany them are in the shape of tombstones reading “R.I.P. Biodiversity / NO FTAA, GMOs.”

One corner contains a giant, freckled-face girl’s head, complete with bright red and orange dreadlocks fashioned out of felt cloth. The face’s terrain features a nose with nostrils, smiling red lips, and lumps for cheeks – a wonderful, fiery-haired Polyanna. Placards around the plastic-sheeted circular table read “Fair trade, NOT ‘Free’ Trade.”

The tan color of cardboard catches the eye everywhere in the room. Near the floor a flat, round fish face gapes upward with open mouth. A giant gold-coated skeleton key hangs from an overhead pipe, another prop waiting for its place in the show.

One thin girl, early 20s with pigtails, stands above the circular table, using white paint to steadily bleach a hinged, two-piece skull. Meanwhile two mature artists discuss details in French as they move around the room and survey work accomplished so far.

A short flight of back stairs leads to the rear of the building where a bright spring sun shines down on a parking lot and alley of uneven asphalt. There a trio of sitting artists unhurriedly apply paint to a lizard head and red cloth banner. Behind them a 10-foot-high headless, legless torso leans against the building, supported only by a thin PVC pipe. A turquoise cloth with white detail serves as the blouse, and a purple, gold-bordered cloth wraps around the lower part, forming an unmistakable skirt. Seemingly unnoticed, a pair of forearms and hands lie in unnatural positions against a black fire escape, clawing at the air.

Everything is calm, the only noise being the occasional car passing on the street in the front, and the sporadic flaring up of a power drill. Within minutes the lizard head has turned spring green with beady, yellow eyes and fanged jaws.

The artists described their test run with Nemesis, the Polyanna head and torso, as being unwieldy. One pothole was enough to throw the top-heavy puppet off-balance. They are re-working the structure, providing stabilizing beams within the PVC pipes and cross-supports for the shoulders.

All the artists have never made any puppet this elaborate before, and they’re still concerned about the height of the puppet and the way its skirt catches the wind. They decided to shorten its height and may end up providing wind holes in the fabric.

As the afternoon stretches on a focused pair of painters add a yellow border to the black type on the red banner which reads, “Zapata Vive, La Lucha Sigue!”



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