And they called it puppet love

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Loran Stearns, 9, carefully traced a dress pattern on white fabric before her.

The fabric was to serve as the outfit for her puppet chef, which at this point Tuesday morning consisted of a head made of a Styrofoam ball and paper mache, painted, at the end of an 18-inch stick.

“It’s really fun,” Loran said of the puppet-making camp she’s attending through the Williston Recreation Department this week. “If we’re lucky, we get to do a puppet show at the end.”

Loran is one of 14 campers attending this week’s puppet-making session of Williston’s Summer Art Camp. Hairdryers buzzed Tuesday morning to dry just-painted puppet heads. Students traced and cut felt, silk and other material for puppet clothing or decoration. They tested fleece colors for hair. Puppets in progress included a tree, a leaf, a hatching chick, a rock climber, family dog and chocolate monster.

“Would anyone else like their head glued on before I unplug?” camp assistant Allison Demas, 22, called out, with glue gun in hand.

Summer Art Camp in Williston is in its fourth year, according to instructor Liz Demas. Demas, a teacher at Williston Central School for 18 years, created the Williston camp after directing and teaching the Shelburne Summer School Art Camp. The Williston version, coordinated through the Williston Recreation Department, serves students ages seven to 13. Each weeklong session runs three hours a day. Each session costs $120, though discounts for multiple sessions or multiple children from one family are granted.

Topics include jewelry making, clay whistles and tiles, mirror mosaics and paper making. A new session this year, multicultural arts celebration, drew four participants, including second-time arts camper Elizabeth Waller, 11.

As she worked on creating her puppet Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Elizabeth explained that in the multicultural arts session campers “visit” a different country each day. On Monday, she said, they’d visited Mexico and learned how bark paper is made from fig trees. Tuesday afternoon, China was on the schedule.

Demas said art camp is appealing for students because of the “luxury of time and materials.” Instead of a 40-minute art class typical for school, camp sessions are three hours each. Puppet-making in particular is appealing to campers, she said, which may explain why roughly half the group are second-time participants.

“There’s a lot of problem solving in this particular camp,” Demas said. If a camper wants their puppet’s arms to move, for example, campers and Demas must brainstorm how to get a wire into the right places to make that happen.

Also appealing is the fact that “there’s no right puppet,” Demas said. Though there is a basic puppet structure – beneath the head is a horizontal toilet paper cardboard roll to serve as shoulders – campers can be as creative or inventive as they want to be, Demas said.

Thomas Lang, 10, was one such inventor. Where many other campers had created a small head for their puppet, Thomas had selected a large cardboard mask to duct tape, paper mache and paint silver. He was in the process of selecting silver and gray felt as the “outfit” that would hide his hand during a puppet show. He sought out gray fleece for hair. He hoped his puppet might get to be a narrator in the puppet show campers would get to perform on Friday.

What was his puppet? A dustball.