This week at Pass the Crayon, our workshop theme is Puppets! So, we thought it would be nice to dedicate this week's Artist of the Week post to the oldest puppetry association in the world, UNIMA!
Founded in 1929, UNIMA (Union Internationale de la Marionnette) is an international non-profit organisation and UNESCO partner, operating in over 90 countries worldwide. As a collective, UNIMA connects and supports thousands of puppeteers from all over the globe, promoting puppetry as an art form, and sharing its craft with future generations through performance, workshops, exhibitions and festivals.
UNIMA is one of the oldest artists collectives in the world, and has a long and beautiful history of connection and friendship, which transcends political or cultural divisions. In 1929, at the Fifth Annual Convention of Czech Puppeteers, a group of puppeteers from Bulgaria, France, Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria, Romania and the Soviet Union, gathered together and decided to form UNIMA. The bond of comradeship, and passion for their craft was so strong, that the fledgling UNIMA group continued to stay in contact throughout the war, and the cold war period.
The craft of puppet-making has developed over centuries into a rich variety of forms, such as finger, hand and shadow puppets. Combined with the performance skill of the puppeteer, the physical puppet is animated and becomes a powerful tool for communication. As an art form, puppetry bridges the gap between visual and performance art- this makes it a precious and often overlooked form of creative expression, and one which becomes crucial in times of censorship. These values of peace, understanding and friendship are central to the functions and objectives of UNIMA.
"This organization and art form allows us to promote the noblest human values such as peace and mutual understanding between people regardless of origin, political or religious convictions and differences in culture" - UNIMA
As our AOTW series is meant to focus on a specific artist, I took a closer look at UNIMA Deutschland, and chose three German puppet makers who each made important contributions to the craft of puppetry: Herbert Fritz Bross, Max Jacob and Till De Kock.
HERBERT FRITZ BROSS
In a very touching display of affection and passion for puppetry, puppet collector, Karl-Heinz Rother, made a series of promotional videos for the Museum für PuppentheaterKultur (PuK), in which he presents his puppet collection. Above, is a video he made featuring the work of Herbert Fritz Bross- you can view more of his videos here.
Herbert Fritz Bross was a master puppet-maker who advanced the craft of puppet-making in a number of important ways, which are still in use today. Born in 1910, to a family of wood-carvers, Fritz Bross first trained as an engineer, before devoting his skills to puppet-design after the Second World War.
Fritz Bross developed a number of technical marionette-construction methods, which are referred to in puppetry-circles as 'Bross puppet'. Bross designed and built hundreds of puppets for many different theater companies all over Germany, and also taught puppet construction at the German Institute for Puppetry, where he was the Head of the Department of Marionettenbau. Fritz Bross's extensive knowledge of design, combined with his artistic skill, allowed him to develop puppets which were not only aesthetically striking, but agile and user-friendly- some of these techniques were even used by doll-makers!
TILL DE KOCK
Till De Klock (1915-2010), was a master wood sculptor, who crafted over 6000 puppets during his lifetime. He made puppets for numerous theatre companies, and later for TV programmes, including for the children's TV series 'Kasper and René' (see clip below). De Klock broke away from the more well-known Hohnsteiner style of carving to develop his own unique 'cut' style of wood carving.
De Klock finally closed down his workshop in 2003, at the age of 90 years old. His puppets are still being used in puppet shows today, although most of them are now on display at the PuK Museaum.
Born in 1988, Max Jacob became one of the best-known puppet makers of the 20th century. Jacob fell in love with puppets when he went to watch his first ever Kasperie show (the German equivalent of Punch and Judy). He began to make and perform puppet shows to his friends from the Wandervogel movement- a grassroots youth movement which emphasizes a back-to-nature philosophy.
With his friends from the Wandervogel movement, Jacob formed the Hohnsteiner Puppenspiele, and created a thriving community of puppeteers who all lived at Hohnsteiner Castle, which they turned into a youth hostel and artistic centre. Slowly, Jacob and his friends began to evolve the style of Kasperie into more than just slap-stick comedy- Jacob saw Kasperie performance as a pedagogical tool which could be used to teach important moral lessons:
"Er tut das Moralische rein vorbildlich, er moralisiert aber nicht. Und dieses Vorbild nehmen die Kinder in sich auf" (He does what is moral simply by example, but he does not moralise. And the children internalise this example) - Max Jacob
But, when the Second World War began, the artistic utopia of Hohnsteiner castle was destroyed, and the Nazis took it over and turned the castle into a concentration camp. Jacob and his troupe continued to live together and perform, and were made the official puppet theater performers for the Nazis, and were commissioned to entertain the troops. By the end of the war, a lot of Jacob's original troupe members and friends had left or been killed, so the troupe re-formed as the Hohnsteiner Theatre in Hamburg. By 1953, Max Jacob retired, but continued to be involved with Kasperie, and in 1957 became the president of UNIMA, a position which he held untill his death in 1967.
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