Needle felted Rabbits; Teaching History with Puppets

needle felted puppets
Needle felted puppets: Three bunnies?

When I first made my Easter puppets, I set them up to look at them as I always do, to see/feel if they were finished or if they needed a little something extra. Many things came to my mind, the first being that the chick, so different from the bunnies wanted to fit in with the crowd, so I needle felted the chick a bunny hat. Now the chick looks like his friends, more or less. This reminds me of my girls, dressing in “IN” clothes and having the right shoes or accessories to be in style. It also reminds me of myself  in college, I usually dressed “artsy” or differently as a statement of individuality. The chick dressed as a rabbit struck me as sad; I felt sorry that he needed to be like the others.

needle felted puppets as teaching tools
Needle felted chick puppet: in disguise

 After my thoughts of “fitting in” and my musings over my slightly humorous photo of “three rabbits” had passed, my light-hearted Easter puppets moved in a more somber direction, a different idea came to me. What if the chick needed to pass for a rabbit, what if he is in disguise, a disguise to save his life? 

hidden children of WWII
Needle felted puppet: Jewish chick

In 1940, my mother-in-law was 12 years old and her parents sent her to live with a family, in a small village outside of her town of Krakow, Poland. She was to live as a Christian because she was/is a Jew; later in history, we refer to the “hidden children” of WWII as those living with a different identity, different names, in foreign towns and with people who were not always a part of their family. These children were hiding from Nazis or in the case of Poland, they were hiding from every day Polish citizens who would turn them into the Nazis, who would kill them. The little girl (my mother- in- law) was given a different (Christian) name and she needed to be careful to answer to it when called, she remembers going to church and tells of how much she loved the stained glass windows. Luckily for my mother- in- law, she had white-blond hair as a little girl and big blue eyes, she easily passed for a Christian child in 1940. I can’t imagine the trauma of sending a child away to save their life or the trauma the child must have felt living away from the family; I have a 12 year old daughter now. I imagine my mother-in-law’s parents were grateful beyond words that they had found someone who would take their daughter in (I’m wondering if they paid the family to take her in). The people who took in my mother-in-law were helping to save her life, but the lady of the house wasn’t very nice to her and she used her as a maid. The man of the house noticed that the little girl read a lot, so he started to cut out all the articles related to the war and what was happening to the Jews from the newspaper. He told her this after the war, he said he cut out the articles so she would worry less. He told her he always knew she was a Jew because of how much she read (sterio-type?). She lived in hiding (as a chick amongst rabbits) for about a year and a half. We don’t know a lot of details from the war time about my mother-in-law’s life because she can’t bring herself to talk about it. She says after she talks about this time in her life, she can’t sleep for weeks afterwards, so we don’t ask a lot. Sometimes after a few glasses of wine at dinner, she starts to talk about the war and this is the time that we listen very intently, to hear her fascinating, heart-breaking story. She moved on from the small village and continued her journey through the war with her brother who had been in hiding in another town, working and living on a farm. The brother and sister never saw their parents nor their home again and from the stranger’s homes from which they worked, they moved on to live in the forest, accompanying and fighting with the Polish partisans….

Needle felted Barnyard Puppets-Peanut Gallery Critique

needle felted puppets
Barnyard puppets

I started needle felting puppets again, I haven’t made any in about a year. I used to make a lot of puppets and the girls and I would play with them together. I used the puppets to help tell bedtime stories and I would put up my doorway puppet theater and the girls would put on puppet shows for me. My girls are a little old for that sort of puppet play now, but we still use them to help teach English to our little students. I think the puppets prolong the attention span of the kids and help them to be more interested in what I’m saying when I’m teaching them English. The puppets also prompt the kids to participate more than usual; they’re really a very helpful teaching tool.

cow
Needle felted cow puppet

Sometimes I finish a puppet and I don’t like it, so I tear off the parts I don’t like and start again. As I was working on one puppet imparticular, one of my girls walked by and said “WHAT…….IS……..THAT????!!!!!” I indignantly answered “it’s a cow“. She went on on to tell me that she really didn’t like the way it was turning out. “OH MY GOD, is it a mutant cow or something?” Did you ever see in the movies when an artist was working on a painting, they would always cover it with a cloth until it was finished and ready to show to the world, there was a reason for that. The problem with working at my kitchen table is that everybody and their brother (my husband and kids that is) see everything I’m working on and they coment on it.

needle felted pig puppet
Needle felted pig puppet face detail

Now I’m not opposed to contructive critism, but  overly truthful, premature comments sometimes rattle me: “that is really ugly“, “that’s scarry” and “whoa!” are not usually helpful. I also get alot of “awwws” (said in a very high pitched voice) from them, so their feedback is not always critical.

needle felted puppet
Needle felted Rooster Puppet

But I will have to say that I took a good, hard look at that scarry, alien cow puppet and I went back and changed it and now I like it better. Thank You peanut gallery!

Grand Puppet Reunion in the Mushroom Forest

gnomes hide under mushrooms
Tiny gnomes hide right under our noses!

I tried to build a “magical world” for my needle felted gnome puppet to hide in the other day so I could take his picture. I set up my photo like I usually do, on a white piece of cardboard on my front porch. I set up my small mushrooms, positioned my gnome puppet behind the big orange needle felted mushroom and started to shoot. Something was missing. It’s hard to shoot  magical, mystical worlds when you live in the middle of a city, another reason to be more creative I guess. I stood back and looked at my set up and I noticed the vines clinging to the side of my house, creeping along and nearly covering the facade. I pulled some of the vines into my shot and positioned them so the green leaves filled in the empty spaces, I think that did it!

Little gnome says "hi"
Peek-a-boo

My needle felted puppets usually end up acting out scenes and telling stories (like my Little Red Riding Hood post: http://www.lauraleeburch.com/blog/2010/04/the-adventures-of-little-red-riding-hood/). The mushroom forest set up inspired me to finish two other needle felted puppets I’d been working on and set aside for several months. I set out to finish the Rose Princess puppet and the Little Red Mushroom puppet because I was sure that the Little Gnome puppet would  be delighted to run into them in the mushroom forest.

handpuppets
The Little Gnome puppet, the Rose Princess puppet and the Mushroom puppet meet in the Mushroom forest.

I was right, it was a grand reunion of old friends.

Laura as Marie Antoinette

marie antoinette
Laughing Marie Antoinette

I decided to change my Laura Lee Burch Studio Facebook page photo to something fun, so I donned my Marie Antoinette felt wig and asked my oldest daughter Lili to shoot some photos of me. She must have taken 50 photos of me or more, none of which I thought did Marie nor I justice. I just felt like I had a plastic face (my girls make modeling look so easy-it’s not), then Lili told me she thought I looked like a drag queen in this wig, which made me laugh really hard and voila-I like this picture. My kids say the darnest things to me like, you know mama, if you dyed your hair you wouldn’t look so old and if you put more cream on your face you wouldn’t be so wrinkly! My youngest daughter asked me recently if I voted for Abraham Lincoln and she asked if I had  ever seen a real dinosaur!!! She also once told me that I was a real mother felter, which I wasn’t sure was a compliment or a misguided insult disguised as a compliment.

felt wig
I'm trying not to laugh

Are those train tracks around your eyes? Lili assured me that I didn’t look bad and that I’d be 28 this year on my birthday (since I was 29 last year-I have a Jack Benny/Benjamen Button thing going on). We decided that if the wig was blue, I could pass for Marge Simpson; that gives me an idea for the upcoming Halloween costume! All I need now is a doughnut for Doron and we’re set as Marge and Homer.

Emili wearing a Marie Antoinette wig
Emili wearing a wool Marie Antoinette wig

Marie Antoinette has played a major role in my artwork for the last several years. I made this wool wig for Emili to wear in a fashion show; it was so big she could barely walk in it! The Marie Antoinette dress was the most popular princess costume in my shop.

princess dress
Marie Antoinette princess costume

I think it’s the elegance and excess that appeals to me about Marie, she was something that I’m not. I don’t wear makeup or big puffy dresses. The last time I wore a big,  puffy dress, the girls were little and they crawled up under it and used it as a tent, while I was wearing it! Even my puppets have gotten into the action.

Marie Antoinette puppet
Needle felted Marie Antoinette Puppet and Emili in matching wig and dress.

This Marie Antoinette puppet is one of my favorite pieces; I woman bought her last year after she persuaded me to sell her. I was paid a pretty penny for her, but I had this emotional attachment to her. I felt terrible after I sold this puppet. I said I’d make another one, but I haven’t yet…..I will.

Marie Antoinette puppet
Needle felted/sewn Marie Antoinette puppet

She’s in love with a pig!

Smooooooch!

We’ve all been in love with a pig once in our lives, haven’t we? I find that when I’m needle-felting, I need to really be “into” what I’m felting. Because needle-felted sculpture take so long to do, I have to be inspired by my subject. I don’t know if I could needle-felt an armadillo or a hippo for example, not that there’s anything wrong with armadillos or hippos. I’ve always wanted a pig, I think because they’re supposed to be very smart and they seem to have a lot of character. If you’re going to have a pet, why not have one you can talk to, right?

needle felted pig

Here in Israel, the pig is not a popular animal; observant Jews aren’t supposed to eat pork, so if I were a pig I’d want to live in Israel. I’m a bit fascinated by the level of repulsion concerning the pig in the Middle East. When the swine flu was affecting people all over the world, the Jewish religious community couldn’t bring themselves to refer to this particular flu by it’s common label, but made up the term the Mexican flu instead. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well with Mexicans. “Bury your head in the sand”, I say and “everything will be o.k!” I’ve read that it’s common to mark out the word pig with a big black marker in Muslim countries. This is done in bookstores, in children’s books as well. I wonder what the job title of the person who marks out the word pig is. Many Middle Easterners and other Muslims have no idea who Kermit’s main squeeze is, nor do they want to know.

I have fond piggy memories from my childhood. There was a pig farm near where we lived and every time my parents drove by it (must have been 10 times a week) my brother and sister and I would hold our noses and yell Pee-ewww! Every single time. So, I’m not upset that Emili has fallen in love with this particular needle-felted swine, I can think of worse company to keep.

Emili and friend