Collaborations With a Sock Puppet and Why it Feeds My Art


I live with a socket puppet, or the sock puppet lives with me.

I began making puppets a few years after I moved to my farm. It was one of those projects I'd had in the back of my mind and forefront in my heart for many years. I began experimenting with sewing and combining needle felting with sock puppet making.

The real, living donkey named Pino eats, sleeps and brays in my barnyard and is so meshed in my thoughts and art, that it's no surprise that on the day I finally sat down to make my first puppet, a donkey emerged.

I speak to the real donkey all the time, and his quivering lips and ear stance expresses many things to me. But when the puppet formed in my hands, I realized I had yet one more way to share what the living donkey might be thinking... or what I might be thinking. After working with Pino the puppet for a couple years now, I feel uncomfortable saying that I speak though him -- but not necessarily for him. While he is a conduit for my thoughts and imagination, he also has very individual traits. In some ways, Pino the puppet collaborates with my higher self, my goat puppet brings out my rascal self, and my lamb puppet lets me be tiny and vulnerable.

I've never been a musician, but I imagine that my collaboration sessions with my puppet are much like the process John and George might go through if they were sitting in the living room with guitars. One thing leads to another when you are working with a puppet, you become completely self entertained, and the puppet is being entertained too, all the while showing his unique voice and dreams. One minute you're a bit weary, creatively blocked or restless, the next minute you are talking to a sock puppet and you can't stop the onslaught of ideas and stories.

When you sit down and begin talking to a puppet, it's a clean slate, much like a blank canvas. You don't know what to expect, nor will your audience if you have one. Your puppet will not only engage you, and your imagination, it will engage the audience. Puppets can teach, share love and fear, entertain or amuse, and sing out of key.

When I haven't been with my puppet for a while, I miss him. I like to think he misses me. His purpose is not to sit on a shelf, it is to speak. The other day I was feeling very blue from the winter rains. I felt foggy as I sat looking at the mess of a painting in front of me. I felt clumsy and closed down to my inner stories and dreams. So I took time to be with my puppet.

"You seem so blue today, Pino." I said to him.

"I'm gray," the puppet responded.

I took time to explain to the puppet that he was thinking too figuratively. Perhaps the most important thing that came out of my chat with him was it made me laugh out loud. I amused myself.

I went back and dabbled on the painting. I felt a bit lighter and even though the painting isn't finished, I moved it to the next level after my puppet chat.

You can see more of Pino the Puppet at his video channel where he ponders life, death, sings and recites poetry. Katherine Dunn is an artist, writer, and shepherdess at Apifera Farm where she lives with her landscaper husband... and some puppets. Her new book, Creative Illustration Workshop [Quarry Books], is now available. She also muses about farm life, old goats, donkeys, feral cats, weeds, pie and chicken underpants on her regular blog .