Monday, 7 July 2014

All She Wanted was Good Company

On his Artlog, Clive Hicks-Jenkins is hosting a Puppet Challenge and from now until the end of July, new puppets, created by a wide variety of artists, will be appearing regularly there. From what I have gathered there will be a mix of seasoned puppet-makers and people who, like me, are trying their hand at puppet-making for the very first time. I think it will be very exciting to see what each artist has come up with!

From the very beginning of this project I had a story in mind. As the story goes, there is an old woman who, sitting alone in her house one winter's night, longs desperately for company. Whether through some sort of eerie winter's magic or through the sheer force of her desire, eventually an enormous man starts to appear before her. Only, he appears in pieces... first the feet come, then the shins, the thighs, the torso, the arms and the hands...

The head, though, never appears.

Though I had this story in mind, it took me a while to find out where I'd first come across it.

I searched high and low for any reference to it, until I finally realised that I'd heard it told by Tony Robertson, a local storyteller. There is a recording of his father, Stanley Robertson, telling the same tale here, and I highly encourage everyone to listen to it (the play button is off to the left). It's only about six minutes in length and it's half-spoken and half-sung, and completely eerie and wonderful.

I should add, that if you do listen to the story, you will need to know the word 'muckle', which is used frequently around here, and means both 'big, large' and 'much, many, a lot of'.

As I set to work on the puppet of the old woman, I wanted to make sure that despite her being small and frail, there would be a sort of world-worn daring to her.

After all, she lives alone, and when faced with a rather frightening spectre she doesn't even balk, but sits back and asks: "oh big fearsome bogle-gadsy wantin a heid, what have ye done coming visiting a poor owld wumman sitting in her lane (alone) tonight on a cauld winter's night?".

In his post about these puppets, Clive wrote about how very suitable this story is to puppet making in general, but that turned out to be especially true for the making of these particular puppets. It just so happened that the first bit of time I found to actually begin making these puppets was a stretch of days where my husband had to be out of town, and the weird parallels of my lonesome evenings of conjuring up puppets bit by bit and what happens in the tale were certainly not lost on me.

The more complicated of the two puppets was the "bogel man". I spent months thinking about how I would make him. Because the puppet needs to arrive in pieces, but also be able to join up into a man, it wasn't possible for me to just float each part in separately. Finally I decided to build the parts so that they could slide down the marionette strings and sit in place. Certainly the feet, legs, or arms might sometimes be facing backwards to the body, but I saw this as being a good thing which would emphasize the unnatural horror of the puppet.

Any parts that haven't appeared in the story yet can be strung over the controls and out of sight until they are needed.

I was quite pleased with these puppets in the end. It was very satisfying to bring these two into the world with nothing more that bits and pieces from around the house. In the next few days I'll post again with a some process photos, but in the meantime, do keep up with the rest of the puppets from the puppet challenge!


  1. Amazing! Haunting story, intriguing characters, and both puppets have a fantastic presence. Looking forward to seeing the creation process photos.

  2. I admired your puppets over at Clive's Artlog yesterday - they are fantastic and eery and lovely all at the same time. The painted details on the face are fascinating. Great photos and shadows, Jodi.

  3. i am in awe.
    and very much look forward to your process post!

  4. Thank you so much Hussam! I really love your puppet as well, and it was so interesting to read about the stories your grandmother told you when you were young! I'd love to know more.

    Marja-Leena, I'm so glad you liked them. The coloured parts of the face are mostly a result of the newsprint pages melding together as I sanded down the papier mâché. It was great to work on this, because it made me realize how full of possibilities papier mâché could be when combined with printmaking. I think in the future I will try to build something with my old test prints rather than burning them up, as I did here:

    Zoe, you're too sweet. I am really looking forward to seeing what you've come up with to use in your beautiful puppet theatre!