By Yvonne Kanyi, student writer
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
For most, puppets are fond, but distant memories from childhood television. But for Union student Ethan Fishell, puppets became a passion and a lifelong mode of artistic expression. His puppet creations are on display in Union College’s McClelland Art Gallery through Sunday, Feb. 25.
A film production personalized degree major from Maryland, Fishell turned his passion for puppets into Right Brain Puppetry, a company that sells his creations. Like so many children, he became interested in puppets thanks to the long-running public television kids show, Sesame Street. But he first tried his hand at making puppets in 2005 with scrap cloth from his garage after being inspired by the works of Jim Henson. That Christmas, he received his first “professional” puppet, which he named Gomer after a character from The Andy Griffith Show.
“Jim Henson is easily one of the most influential people in my life, despite his passing away before I was born,” said Fishell of the pioneer puppeteer, artist and filmmaker best known as creator of The Muppets. “He created puppets like Kermit, Bert and Ernie, Grover, the Fraggles, and was the genius behind films such as The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. He even helped a little in designing Yoda [a character from the Star Wars films]. He has always been characterized by his colleagues as being very calm and caring, despite the film industry typically being full of cynical and aggressive people.”
Fishell’s puppets exhibit a detail that makes them seem lifelike even when unanimated. He typically uses a combination of materials such as foam rubber, thread, contact cement, anti-pill fleece and Antron fleece to create his masterpieces.
“I find puppetry more interesting than a lot of other art forms. When you do a painting of a cat sleeping, all you have is what is on the canvas. The painting doesn’t do anything.” said Fishell. “You can’t give the cat expressions. You can’t make him stretch or purr or pounce on someone. But with puppetry, you can. Puppetry brings art into the fourth dimension. Drawings and paintings are 2D, sculptures are 3D, but a puppet is 4D because it can interact with people in real time and, in the hands of a good puppeteer, appear to have a genuine life of its own.”
One of the pieces on display is a replica of Kermit (1955 design), a tribute to his inspiration, Jim Henson. In fact, the replica is made from the fabric of a wool spring coat, just like the original Kermit. Some of Fishell’s pieces are still in the sketch stage, including Joni, who sports intricate detail down to her gray and green dreadlocks. Some of the other pieces on display include Howard, Terrance, Danny RugMonkey and some sketches of other puppets in progress.
“My favorite puppet is probably Terrence,” said Fishell. “I like the muted, coppery color of his fleece. I’m especially proud of his little hands. They are really tiny, but all hand sewed, which is really time consuming.”
Be sure to enjoy Fishell’s creations now through Sunday. Some of the pieces are also for sale on his website, rightbrainpuppetry.com. The McClelland Art Gallery is open from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. daily and is located in the Ortner Center on the campus of Union College. It is free and open to the public.