It's always best to start from the beginning. (Glinda the Good Witch)
The beginning of string puppetry? Difficult to say. We get hints, certainly—clay figures with holes in their hands dating from perhaps as early as the Pleistocene. Intriguing, but hardly definitive.
Bil Baird, in The Art of the Puppet, refers to Potheinos as the great granddaddy of string-pullers, but I wondered how much was really known about him. I put the question to British puppet cognoscenta, Penny Francis: “Thereʼs plenty of writing about Potheinos, and the neurospasta (neuro=nerve, and
spasta=moving or jerking, hence 'spastic'). So it seems to add up to things that jumped about – and internal stringing of the figures seems very likely.”
She goes on to say that Henryk Jukowski's History of European Puppetry covers Potheinos, and, further, that the Greeks who originally described these puppets never mentioned the method of manipulation. While “nervous” and “spastic” seems an apt description of someone picking up a marionette for the first time, it is considered unlikely that the Greek figures (from several centuries BC) were worked by strings from above.
So our profession has its roots in a mystery– what's wrong with that? The essays that follow include things historical, theoretical, traditional and experimental, as well as a number of our most respected “string-pullers” reflecting on our most fascinating pendulum.
Two well-known marionnetists have recently passed away – Slovakian Anton Anderle and American Paddy Blackwood. Anton Anderle was featured in one of our first issues of A Propos (PI's predecessor) in the late 1980s. His work was rustic and vital, and we were saddened to read of his death in the Puppet
Notebook article celebrating his career (British UNIMA's journal).
Paddy Blackwood's career is remembered in the current issue of the Puppetry Journal, but among our memories is a moment that comes back to us from time to time. Soon after the death of that other great string puller, Bil Baird, there was an auction of many of his puppets in Manhattan. We were there to observe and to make
a photographic record of everything being sold. The bidding began rather sluggishly.
Then Paddy began picking up the items offered for sale. As he began to work the figures, the amounts being bid jumped up way beyond anyone's expectations. It was a feeding-frenzy as we all saw not just puppets, but the glory days of Snarky Parker and his pals brought back to life. Paddy was worth his weight in gold that day, though we doubt he earned a dime. For this, and so many other things, we will
This appearance of Puppetry International #27 marks our 25th anniversary of producing the magazines for UNIMA-USA. It has been a marvelous adventure—one that we hope will continue for awhile. We've had so much help along the way, from our many board members and staff, advisors and associates, interviewers and reviewers, writers and underwriters, and, of course, the members and subscribers who read PI. Our heartfelt thanks to all, and especially to the innumerable artists, present and past, whose creative output has made such publications necessary. To them, and to all of you, we offer this poem of praise (with apologies to Walt Whitman).