Hand Puppets Kits by The Shop Floor Project
The Shop Floor Project’s co-founder, Samantha Allan, shares the influences behind her wonderfully fun Hand Puppet Kits.
I have sketches and sketches of ideas for hand puppets pinned on my studio walls. I blame this obsession on a book I was given five years ago: Paul Klee, Hand Puppets.T his large catalogue archives over thirty hand puppets which the Bauhaus artist made for his son, Felix, between 1916 and 1925. I delve into this book on a weekly basis, it’s permanently open on my workbench – I’m fascinated with the way the puppets combine domesticity and art, folklore and politics, textiles and paint.
To make the puppets, Klee used materials from his own household: beef bones and electrical plugs, bristle brushes, leftover bits of fur and nutshells. Rather wonderfully, he also sewed costumes using his wife’s (the pianist Lily Stumpf) collection of old clothes – lovely threadbare fragments of florals, stripes, linen and silk. Now on display at Zentrum Paul Klee in Switzerland the puppets have a powerful presence, like ancient artefacts or Modernist classics – I can’t quite decide which. They speak of aheady and volatile time in the early 20th century, when artists would create a safe world within their homes, busy with visitors from all corners of the European avant gardeand Bauhaus school.
Klee originally created the puppets because his son Felix wished to own a pair of Kasperl (or Punch and Judy), figures like the ones he had seen at a Munich flea market. This set Klee on a path to create over fifty of them, only thirty now survive. The first puppets focused on characters from traditional theatre and folklore tales such as Mr Death, Kasperl & Gretl (Punch and Judy), Mr Crocodile, the Peasants, the Policeman and Mr Drake, who was half-duck half-man.
Later, Klee developed political, satirical and contemporary figures including: The Bearded Frenchman (a symbol of revolution and radical democracy), Emmy Scheyer, the Bauhaus’ art dealer, Electrical Spook and Spector of the Socket, which were Constructivist-style figures with electrical sockets for faces reflecting Klee’s interest in the rapid use of electricity; and my favourite, the Big-Eared Clown – influenced by Oskar Schlemmer, a fellow Bauhaus artist and ballet designer. Klee, in his late 50’s, was still fascinated with puppets and theatre, putting on a show with his original characters to a small intimate audience, consisting of old members of the Bauhaus. I would have loved to have been invited.
I find this passage from the book so enticing: “Sculptures of ships and animalswere, like the puppets, Klee’s private hobby. Klee surrounded himself with such objects in the intimate realm of his studio where, in proximity to his collection of natural history and paraphernaliaof his studio, they filled his shelves with their own quiet lives andinspired his fantasy.”
So into my designs inspired by Klee’s collection, I combined sketches for hand puppet designs with a love of folklore, customs and rites performed all over the world,marking events in the life of rural communities. My folk-characters are invented versions of some favourite characters. I imagine people sewing the kits and adding their own embellishments just as Paul Klee did; scraps of fabrics, embroidery or old buttons, tassels, ribbons, found objects even – I hope to see that someone has covered the Twig Man in a coat of pine needles, or perhaps Mrs Wolf gets a bespoke clock made for her. I imagine winter evenings with folklore stories being told around a fire, brought to life with these puppets.
Text by The Shop Floor Project
Shop the puppets here.