Monday, February 6, 2012

Vintage Puppet: Vegetable Gnome

So I'm just going to put it out there that, not only do I make handmade puppets, but I also have a soft spot in my heart (and wallet) for puppets that are vintage, or handmade (by someone else's hands), or -- best yet -- vintage AND handmade.  I used to search for them pretty often on eBay, and they'll turn up in thrift stores here and there.  I've got quite the little stash of them now, and I figured I might as well show them off.

I don't know what to call this guy, but check it.  Look at the top half of his face, and he looks like a vegetable.  I don't know what, specifically -- maybe a pale squash or rutabaga or something.  Now look at the bottom half of his face, and he's definitely a gnome (or dwarf, or leprechaun, etc).  He's ready to party in the Halls of Khazad-dum with that ratty tuft of orange beard hair.  Altogether he looks like a creature from a level of Super Mario Bros. 2 that no one's discovered yet.

I know I got him from someone on eBay, but I really don't remember where he came from -- I wasn't as careful about provenance back then (probably about ten years ago).  If the seller gave me a back-story, I would have remembered, so I'm pretty sure that the seller wasn't connected to this puppet's original context or maker.  I'm super curious, though; always have been.  My guess is that there was some kind of play, at a church or a school, that called for... a vegetable gnome?  Was it a play about eating healthily?  Or did this puppet start out as something else, and just organically started becoming vegetable-like in the creative process?  Or was Captain Beefheart involved, and after he shouted "vegetable gnome puppet" in a stream of consciousness rant, somebody made one?  What I like about these old, handmade puppets is that there's surely a story behind each one: a puppet is half toy, half tool; it entertains and it (often) serves some kind of dramatic function.  No one accidentally makes a puppet -- but the qualities that make it charming can be very accidental.

I should mention that the "root" on his head had broken off by the time I got him, so I had to make a restorative repair.  The part above the deep crack is Sculpey clay; I mixed a green in acrylic paint as closely as I could to the original artist's.  The whole head is papier mache, and pretty well made -- it's nice and sturdy.

Right under the head, the maker got a little nuts with the hot glue.  He or she probably hadn't made a ton of puppets before, but he/she got the job done -- it hasn't fallen apart on me.  And I'll cut him/her some slack, because that's the most stressful part of putting a puppet together.  You need hot glue, because it sets really fast, but if you've pulled the fabric a little too far one way or the other, or you haven't left yourself enough slack on one side or the other, the whole thing's tattered, and you've got really noticeable hot glue blobs stuck to everything if you try to take it apart and start over.

So cheers to him/her, whoever you are!  In the mind-blowingly unlikely event that you're reading this, let me know why this little guy exists!

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