Friday, March 22, 2013

The Art of Play: A Pelham Puppet Poodle, 1950

String Puppet Poodle
Pelham Puppets
Britain, 1950
The Museum of Childhood
The Victoria & Albert Museum

The marionette has had a long and interesting evolution. Early marionettes usually only featured one long string, connected to a handle which allowed the puppeteer to make the puppet bounce around, and little more. Over time, marionettes became more complicated with the addition of more strings, a cross-shaped controller and articulated limbs. By the Eighteenth Century, marionettes had evolved into the form we know today and became a highly popular form of entertainment, especially in Italy. In Venice, for example, marionettes had a hey-day for a period of several decades. Theatrical companies often preferred using marionettes over live actors whom they found to be considerably more difficult and expensive. Lavish puppet stages were constructed and plays were written expressly for wooden performers. Our beloved Mr. Punch, in fact, began his existence as a marionette before his own personal evolution into the more easily-operated glove puppet we know today.

Though they were traditionally theatrical tools used by adults, by the Twentieth Century, puppets had become kid-stuff. Marionettes were designed in a smaller scale with relatively easy controllers. In Britain, one puppet-maker seemed to dominate the market, Pelham Puppets. Their line of marionettes was quite popular. This poodle, for example, with articulated limbs and a curiously complicated system of strings was a best-seller between 1950 and 1959.

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