One of our central principles in creating puppets is to be sustainable wherever possible. We source our materials carefully, using recycled or second-hand supplies as much as we can and we teach others to do the same in our Puppets From Recycled Materials workshop. However, the master of creating puppets this way has to be author-illustrator Ashley Bryan, who just published the book Ashley Bryan’s Puppets with Simon & Schuster.
Bryan, who is 91 years old, lives on one of the Cranberry Isles off the coast of Maine. On his walks on the beach he collects debris and shells, which he turns into intricate puppets in his studio. Ashley Bryan’s Puppets is a large picture book that combines photos of the puppets by Rich Entel with poems by Bryan introducing them to the reader. It opens with a brief author’s note and a picture of Bryan in his studio, which helps to communicate that these puppets are intended as performance, rather than being solely art objects. This is followed by a photo spread of shells, driftwood and sea glass from the beach. The puppets are first shown in groups of around eight, with their names printed below. Then each one is given a spread of close up photos, along with their own poem.
The puppet names are all African in origin and the poems sometimes cite a particular job or character– “I am a cow” “I apprenticed as a printer” –while also specifying the materials used in the creation. “I’ve trained my wishbone whiskers” “My acorn husk eyes” “Head bone, bone face, laughing metal jaws”–all of these lines give the reader a better understanding of the photograph (and the puppet). All of the poems are fun to read aloud and give a good sense of the puppet’s character in performance. This is a beautiful book that will provide inspiration to artists and environmentalists of every age; a celebration of Bryan’s unique artistic vision. I’m looking forward to sharing it with our puppet-making students as part of our workshops!