Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thanks to a Little Pink Pig -- Felt Puppets for Children

Angel puppet, showing scale
I've been indulging in one of my most enjoyable pastimes – designing and making felt hand puppets for children. I started making puppets decades ago when I had small children of my own. Those were the days when Kukla, Fran, and Ollie had one of the most popular programs on television. As a teacher, I found puppets very useful for reaching young children. I could use animal puppets to teach them about life on the farm or in the desert or the jungle. Character puppets could illustrate history or life in other other cultures, as well as demonstrating concepts like kindness and cooperation. Even fifth-graders enjoyed the puppets, although they felt they were far too sophisticated to admit it.

Although it is one of my simplest designs, my favorite puppet is a little pink pig. Let me tell you how that came about.

More than thirty years ago, my day job was teaching art and craft classes for a Parks and Recreation center near Fort Carson, Colorado, while I taught night courses at a business college in Colorado Springs. One of my craft classes was engaged in making several dozen puppets to take to Children's Hospital in Denver at the end of the session.

The Little Pink Pig
The class members were a diverse group, differing in age, ethnicity, and previous crafting experience. Only one was a native Coloradoan. The others came from as far away as New York and California and one was from the Navajo reservation. They were friendly and enthusiastic and a joy to teach. They really kept me hopping, designing new puppets each week.

At last the big day arrived. We gathered up our bags of puppets and formed a small convoy to convey them to Denver. After a kind greeting from hospital administrators, we began walking through the wards, showing the puppets and giving them away to the children as we went.

I had the little pink pig puppet on my hand and was making it bow and wave or hide its face shyly against my shoulder as I approached a nurse who was holding a very limp-looking toddler in her arms. Suddenly the little one gave a faint cry and reached both arms toward the puppet. I pulled the little pig off and handed it over.

The nurse's eyes filled with tears. As our group gathered around her, she explained that the child had been brought in some time before, suffering from a closed head injury. The doctors feared that there was brain damage. The little pink pig was the very first thing the child had responded to.

Red fox puppet
Soon there were a lot more damp eyes on that ward, including those of the child's mother and grandmother, hastily called up from the hospital cafeteria. But the tears were tears of hope and joy. It was then, and still remains, one of the best days of my life. 

The head nurse was kind enough to keep us informed of the child's steady progress and eventual release. Just about everyone in the center had become interested in the matter and we were all greatly cheered by the good news.

This past December I was making new puppets when I remembered the little pink pig and wondered if I still had the patterns from that long-ago class. (I'm the proverbial pack rat and seldom throw anything away that might possibly be useful someday.) I rummaged through file boxes until I found a dusty expandable folder that looked promising. Inside were all my old patterns. I've started making them again, along with new designs.

The "End"
The very first one I made was a little pink pig.

And no matter how many characters I create, or how many “critters” I portray, my very favorite one will always be a jolly little pink pig with a jaunty curl in its tail.


These, and other puppets, are available in our Etsy shop

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013


The garden has awakened. Shyly at first, like sleepy children, the crocuses appeared. Soon they were joined by graceful white snowdrops and miniature irises in their passionate blues and purples. Now there are clumps of bells-of-Holland and star-flowers. Jaunty daffodils flutter in the breeze. By mid-week we will have fragrant hyacinths in a rainbow of colors.

The Year's First Daffodils
One of my teen-aged garden helpers once observed how wonderful it was that the garden starts subtly and close to the ground in spring, grows taller and showier to culminate in the giant sunflowers of late summer, then begins to recede toward the earth again in autumn. Our garden both begins and ends with crocuses. Before they disappear below ground for another year, the leafless autumn crocuses warn us that winter is on its way and we must get busy to prepare for it.

Our plants must be resilient. They emerge to face a prolonged drought, extremes of temperature, drying winds, and other problems presented by high altitude. We are close to 6,500 feet above sea level here. Thunderstorms, even thunder-snows, are common. Frosts and freezes strike at inopportune times. I'm afraid the century-old apricot tree that overhangs our back fence has already lost its crop to recent bitterly cold nights.

Making jewelry.jpg
People, too, must be resilient. I'm proud to say that resilience is a characteristic of our group of artisans. None of us are young. We range from middle-aged to nearly eighty years of age. Recent years have not been kind. About half of us have faced the adjustment to retirement from long careers. A couple of us have been widowed. Others have faced serious illnesses or injuries, or are caretakers for ones who have done so. Economic woes have cost jobs, lost savings, and relationships.

Sue working.jpg
Still, we are a hardy, resilient group. One of the things that has supported us through hardships is the love we have for, and the pride we take in, the work of our hands. We work in wood, paint, natural stone, yarns, ceramics, glass, and fabrics. We believe that there is strength in numbers; that by using the various skills and talents of our members and by sharing ideas, materials, and expenses we will all profit more than we would individually. We want to advertise that there are people like us making beautiful and useful art and craft creations at prices competitive with those of mass-produced, machine-made ones. We subscribe to both the mottoes: “Buy American” and “Work Locally, Sell Globally”.

Of course we want to sell our wares, but our philosophy extends beyond marketing. We want to emphasize the role Nature plays in inspiring us and to foster the use of natural materials wherever possible in our work. We support recycling, both as a lifestyle choice and as an integral part of the creative process. We prefer to concentrate on handmade, one-of-a-kind items. We are not interested in mass production or in making cheap, throwaway goods. Indeed, we hope that some of our creations may be handed down as heirlooms. We want Annake's Garden to provide a framework that frees our artisans to concentrate on original creations. We are very serious about keeping this a collaborative effort.

Judy working.jpg
Personally, I feel that our most important tenet is our desire to promote and preserve art forms, methods, and techniques, especially those which, sadly, appear to be disappearing. We are not young. We would like to inspire, instruct, and assist younger people to take up the pursuits which we must ultimately leave behind. We do not want these endeavors to fade away. They are a part of our legacy.

Resilient Crocus

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