Georgia

MiM 008 – Worlds of Puppetry Museum in Atlanta, Georgia

Confession:  I am a secret puppet person (I just didn’t know it)

I certainly didn’t think of myself as a puppet person before I visited the Worlds of Puppetry Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.  But after visiting and talking to Jill Malool, Director of the museum, I realized I’ve been a closet puppet person for years.  Roaming through their amazing collection, I kept seeing puppets that reminded me of various times in my life. 

Of course, there’s the classic Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street (sorry, Big Bird, Oscar is still my favorite).  And we all know Kermit and the fabulous Miss Piggy from The Muppets.  I then remembered that my sister, Vicki, and I had Ernie and Cookie Monster hand puppets when we were little that I had totally forgotten about until I was walking through the Jim Henson Collection (strangely, I don’t remember having a Bert).  

I turned the corner and saw Gumby and The Corpse Bride characters showcasing stop motion puppetry.  I remember watching Gumby on Sunday mornings before church.  There are puppets from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 (that show still cracks me up!).  Then I wandered over into the Global Collection and saw marionettes, which reminded me of all the puppet shows I’ve seen growing up. 

At the time I visited, it was the opening of the Dark Crystal exhibit.  I hadn’t thought about that movie in years, but seeing the Mystics, Skeksis, Garthim and Jen reminded me of what a fantastic movie that was and how it was all created with puppetry.  

I also saw puppets I had never seen before:  shadow puppets from India, puppets that “walk on water” from Vietnam, and almost life-sized puppets from Japan.  The puppets were also in a variety of materials:  wood, fiberglass, leather, paper, felt.  I think they have puppets from every country and region in the world:  Italy, Central Europe, Indonesia, Myanmar, Turkey, China, Taiwan, Egypt, Korea, Japan and Mali.  Puppetry can be traced back hundreds and even thousands of years in some regions.  It didn’t hit me until I stood in the middle of the Global Collection and saw all the creativity around me that The Worlds of Puppetry Museum showcases how cultures around the world and throughout time have expressed themselves through puppetry to tell their stories and share their history. 

So let’s get started traveling through their amazing collection!

Museum Highlights:

The Worlds of Puppetry Museum – the original museum started out in an old elementary school building, but has been added on since then.  On the behind-the-scenes tour you get to visit the old classrooms upstairs where they offer puppetry making classes for kids. 

The Center for Puppetry Arts and the Worlds of Puppetry Museum share this building that started out as an elementary school
The Center for Puppetry Arts and the Worlds of Puppetry Museum share this building that started out as an elementary school
Additions have been made to the outside of the building to reflect its current  puppetry focus, but it still has a lot of the original school building features intact that you see when you take the behind-the-scenes tour
Additions have been made to the outside of the building to reflect its current puppetry focus, but it still has a lot of the original school building features intact that you see when you take the behind-the-scenes tour

Jim Henson Collection:

Muppet Workshop – when you enter the Jim Henson collection there are a series of workstations with corkboards on the wall covering a specific aspect of how to make a puppet.  Pinned to the boards are hand sketches showing how a particular puppet moves, photographs of Jim Henson, little pieces of fur and felt, and some of the most interesting notes about how to make a puppet come to life. 

At the beginning of the Jim Henson Collection, you walk through his workshop showing notes, drawings and photographs of how a puppet is developed.
At the beginning of the Jim Henson Collection, you walk through his workshop showing notes, drawings and photographs of how a puppet is developed
The "mechanics" board focuses on puppet movement.
The “mechanics” board focuses on puppet movement

Big Bird – since his debut in 1969, Big Bird has remained as curious as an inquisitive six-year-old.  So how do you animate a giant puppet like Big Bird?  Listen to how the puppeteer works his mouth, and both wings, while at the same time being able to see where he’s going inside this giant puppet.  Jill, the Director of the museum, shares a wonderful story between two generations and how they connect through this yellow bird. 

No one can miss the life-size, bright yellow puppet of Big Bird
No one can miss the life-sized, bright yellow puppet of Big Bird

Oscar the Grouch – my favorite Sesame Street character.   The same puppeteer, Caroll Spinney, made both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch come alive.  We all know the green Oscar of today, but you can see the original drawings for Oscar that pink was his original color. 

Here’s another fun fact about Oscar’s color from the behind-the-scenes tour.  In the first season on Sesame Street Oscar was actually orange, but the orange color didn’t show up very well on television so he became green.  How did they explain on the show how Oscar suddenly changed color?  Well, he visited a swamp and liked it so much he never showered again. 

Oscar the Grouch at home in his trash can
Oscar the Grouch at home in his trash can

The original drawing concept for Oscar the Grouch - pink and with a long neck.  Listen to the podcast episode to find out how he turned green (and what other colors he's been).
The original drawing concept for Oscar the Grouch – pink and with a long neck. Listen to the podcast episode to find out how he turned green (and what other color he had been).

Kermit the Frog – Kermit came from humble beginnings as a “found object” puppet because he started from Jim Henson’s Mom’s old coat and a couple of ping pong balls, but has developed over time into the iconic Kermit we know today.

Kermit the Frog in his director's chair.
Kermit the Frog in his director’s chair

Miss Piggy – fabulous in feathers, satin and diamonds, Miss Piggy was the ultimate diva with a mean “harrumph” karate chop.  Don’t mess with Miss Piggy.  I always liked that about her. 

The museum also had a picture of Miss Piggy from the Pigs in Space skit.  Who else remembers that?  I absolutely loved that skit because my family were also sci-fi fans. 

The fabulous Miss Piggy from The Muppets
The fabulous Miss Piggy from The Muppets
Miss Piggy in the Pigs in Space skit from The Muppet Show
Miss Piggy in the Pigs in Space skit from The Muppet Show

Global Collection:

Shadow Puppets from India – I think these were my favorite puppets in the museum.  The texture and details on each puppet is amazing.  With the light shining behind the puppets, you could see the tiny pinholes punched in each one that really bring out fine details and highlight specific areas on each puppet. 

Shadow puppets from India on a wall backlit from behind
Shadow puppets from India on a wall lit from behind
Close-up detail of a shadow puppet from India.
Close-up detail of a shadow puppet from India

“Puppets that Dance on Water” – during rice harvest celebrations in Vietnam, puppets started performing in ponds over a thousand years ago.  Hidden by a screen, the performers would stand waist-deep in the water and control the floating wooden puppets with submerged rods, cords and chains. The model the museum has would be a reflection of contemporary times where there are also indoor performances with specially built pools and pagodas. 

Model of a Vietnam puppet show where the puppets would actually float on water.
Model of a Vietnam puppet show where the puppets actually float on water

Horse Marionette – this wooden horse marionette from Burma shows just how large and heavy these puppets can be.  It’s a little hard to tell the scale from this image, but it’s probably 4’ tall to the top of the head and probably that long from nose to tail.  Imagine reaching your arms straight out and holding something this large and heavy for hours?   

Horse marionette from Myanmar
Horse marionette from Burma

Other Puppets from Around the World – we didn’t have time to talk about every puppet in the Global Collection, but I wanted to share a few of them to show the variety of this art form found around the world. 

Czechoslovakia puppet
Czechoslovakian puppet
Japan puppets
Japanese puppets
Taiwan puppets
Taiwanese puppets

Dark Crystal Exhibit:

Jen – one of the two main characters from the 1982 Dark Crystal movie.  Jen, a Gelfling, is tasked with healing the magical crystal by replacing the broken shards back into the original crystal that was split.  Of course, it’s not that easy as he’s constantly under attack from the Skeksis who rose to power after the crystal originally cracked. 

Jen, a Gelfling, and one of the main characters from The Dark Crystal
Jen, a Gelfling, one of the main characters from The Dark Crystal

Skeksis – the “bad guys” that are trying to stop Jen and Kira from healing the crystal.  Tall and vulture-like in their appearance, the amount of details in their costumes are amazing.  At the end of the exhibit, the museum shows the mechanics underneath the heads of the Skeksis puppets.  I love cutaway-type exhibits where you can see how something works.  Seeing the finished puppet first, and then how it works underneath, added an entirely new level of appreciation for the skill in creating these puppets.   

A Skeksis ( aka "bad guys) from The Dark Crystal.
Skeksis (aka “bad guys”) from The Dark Crystal
Showing the mechanisms underneath the puppet in order to operate the Skeksis head.
Showing the mechanisms underneath the puppet in order to operate the Skeksis head

Mystics – the “kind” wizards that help Jen and Kira and want the crystal united.  Look closely at the detailed swirls on the Mystic’s face – sometimes it looks like wrinkles and sometimes it looks like tattoos.  Over and over I saw this level of detail on puppets – even if no one was ever going to get that close to see it – because of the artistry and care each creator had for the puppets.    

A Mystic (kind wizards) from The Dark Crystal.
Mystics (aka “kind wizards”) from The Dark Crystal
Close-up of the Mystic's face showing the swirls carved into the face.
Close-up of the Mystic’s face showing the swirls carved into the face

Garthim – I came around a pole and, boom, this giant Garthim is right there.  With a hard exoskeleton similar in design to a crustacean, and crab-like legs that scurried about, these are the soldiers for the Skeksis.  As a body puppet, the puppeteer is inside and has to be both strong and flexible to maneuver these large puppets around the set. 

The Garthim (soldiers for the Skeksis).  You can really get a feel for the size of these puppets from this image.
The Garthim (soldiers for the Skeksis). You can really get a feel for the size of these puppets from this image.

Landstriders – I had completely forgotten about these characters until I saw this picture in the museum.  Jill shared a great story about how they developed the Landstriders’ gait and movement.  Sometimes opportunity knocks, but someone has to recognize it and open the door.   

Landstrider from The Dark Crystal showing how the puppeteer moved around the stage
Landstrider from The Dark Crystal showing how the puppeteer moved around the stage

The Worlds of Puppetry Museum showcases how cultures around the world and throughout time have expressed themselves through puppetry to tell their stories and share their history.  I had no idea that there were so many different types of puppets, the variety of materials used, or the mechanics and skill involved in making and operating a puppet. 

As part of the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Worlds of Puppetry Museum is dedicated to all things puppetry.  From displaying puppetry, performing puppetry and preserving puppetry, the Center for Puppetry Arts and the Worlds of Puppetry Museum work together to reinforce their vision that puppetry is an art form that can unite people all around the world. 

You may not think you’re a puppet person, but after you visit this museum you just might change your mind.  I know I did. 

Oh, as a side note, when you make the trip to visit the Worlds of Puppetry Museum, I highly recommend the behind-the-scenes tour that includes visits to both the puppet workshop and scene shop.  Absolutely fantastic!

If you love to document your travels to off-the-beaten-path places, then show me where you’re heading or where you’ve been by sharing your stories with me at Made in Museums on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.  If you want to let me know about a curious museum that you’ve visited, and that I should cover on this show, contact me through social media or send me an email.

Resources:

Worlds of Puppetry Museum – visit the museum’s website for all the details to plan your trip.

Center for Puppetry Arts – visit their website to learn more about upcoming puppet shows and other events.

Nashville Public Library – if you live in the Nashville area, or even just visiting, then check out their puppet shows, the local traveling Puppet Truck, or their marionette collection.

Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance – trailer for the upcoming new Netflix series.

MiM 006 – Museum of Design Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia

Confession:  I love product design.

As a product manager, my world revolves around products and how they’re designed.  When I tell people that my day job is a product manager, the usual response is, “What is that?”  I’m not even sure my family completely understands it.  A product manager’s job is to figure out what customers want and then work with the engineering team to develop new products and launch them into the market.  However, there is a huge gulf of understanding (or misunderstanding) between concept, launch, and ultimately whether a product is successful.

What is “good” design?  And how does design affect us in our daily lives?  And how can there be a museum about something as subjective as design?  What is the difference between design and art?

On this episode I sit down with Laura Flusche, Executive Director, of the Museum of Design Atlanta — which you’ll also hear referenced as MODA.  Located in Atlanta, Georgia, MODA is a museum dedicated to the world of design.  Laura defines design as, “a creative process that inspires change, transforms lives and makes the world a better place.”  I love the idea of exploring the abstract concept of what design is and then the reality of how we interpret and interact with design every day.

Front of the MODA building

Front of the MODA building

Inside the lobby at MODA

Inside the lobby at MODA. Who wants one of those chairs in their house?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Highlights:

Normally, this is where I include images from the museum’s collection, but we’re changing the format this time.  Why the deviation?  Reflecting the fluidity of what design is, MODA is unique in that it doesn’t have a permanent collection, but rotates a different exhibit every 3-4 months.  So the exhibit they had on display when I visited – Craftivism – closed the week after I was there.  The next exhibit Design for Good:  Architecture for Everyone will be on display when this episode airs, but if you’re listening to this in the future, there will be an entirely different exhibit on display then.   In that spirit, below are some images of the museum and a few from the Craftivism exhibit to give you an idea of the space, but when you visit the Craftivism exhibit will be gone and a new one in its place.

Actually this constant change reflects the larger, overarching mission of the museum — how design impacts the world and inspires change.  That story flows through the museum regardless of the specific exhibit on display.  In this podcast episode you’ll hear Laura share the stories about the impact of many different exhibits – past, present and future – and how design affects people’s lives.  

Vintage purses with statements like me too, vote, nevertheless she persisted and girl power

Vintage purses make a statement in more than one way

Michele Pred – utilizing vintage purses, artist Michele Pred inscribes words and phrases with electroluminescent wire on this iconic female symbol.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ehren Tool – a Marine veteran of the Gulf War, Ehren Tool makes ceramic cups that reflect his military experiences.  According to Tool, “whether you are for or against a particular war, the point is to look at what is actually going on and not look away.”

Ceramic cups feature imagery reflecting the artist's military experiences

Ceramic cups feature imagery reflecting the artist’s military experiences

Close-up of the ceramic cups featuring the artist's military experiences

Close-up of the ceramic cups featuring the artist’s military experiences

 

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy – reminiscent of lace doilies that you might see on the back of your grandmother’s chair, this artist takes this decorative, homemaker art and gives it a new perspective by cutting out images of Chernobyl, Fukushima, Deep Water Horizon and Three Mile Island reminding us of the fragile balance that sustains our existence.

Paper doilies combine an everyday household item with modern environmental disasters

Paper doilies combine an everyday household item with modern environmental disasters

Doily depicting Three Mile Island

Doily depicting Three Mile Island

 

 

 

Scraps of fabric with text from social media tweets and posts

Exploring whether we are truly engaged if we tweet, post, or like on social media

Jeana Eve Klein – this piece makes a statement about the passivity of social media as an activist tool and whether we are taking real action or just the illusion of it when we send a tweet, like a post, or add an emoji.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of Welcome Blankets hung on the wall welcoming immigrants and letting them know that someone cares

Welcome Blanket project welcoming immigrants and letting them know that someone cares

Tag from one of the Welcome Blankets hung on the wall

Tag from one of the Welcome Blankets hung on the wall

Welcome Blanket Project – as part of their community outreach with the Craftivism exhibit, the Welcome Blanket project asked individuals to sew, quilt, crochet or knit 40 inch x 40 inch blankets and then add their own immigration, migration or relocation story.   At the end of the exhibition, all of the blankets received at MODA will be distributed to immigrants and refugees along with the notes of welcome written by their makers.  The Welcome Blanket project will continue beyond the MODA exhibition.  For more information and how to donate a blanket, check out their website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lifesize magnetic poetry on the wall of the women's bathroom

Probably one of the coolest museum bathrooms I’ve been in

MODA Bathroom – if you visit, and you’re female, you need to check out the women’s bathroom in the museum.  Where else but a design museum would you have a giant magnetic poetry kit on the wall? (By the way, I believe this bathroom was also featured in a movie.  Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what movie it was!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Museum of Design Atlanta gives us a behind-the-scenes look at design, how it affects every person every day, and explores both the functional and aesthetic sides of design.  Transforming the intangible, creative world of design into tangible processes and products is incredibly hard, but is so valuable.  Understanding the thought process behind design allows us to appreciate what is involved in developing a product, and why some products work and some don’t.  The next time you use a product and wonder, “what were they thinking?” – good or bad – well, you’ll have a better answer to that question after listening to this podcast episode and/or visiting MODA.  I am so thankful that I found this museum and was able to share their stories with you.

If you’re a museum nerd like me, then add this museum to your “must-see” list and tell them, “I heard about you on the Made in Museums podcast.”

If you love to document your travels to off-the-beaten-path places, then show me where you’re heading or where you’ve been by sharing your stories with me at Made in Museums on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.  If you want to let me know about a curious museum that you’ve visited, and that I should cover on this show, contact me through social media or just send me an email.

Resources:

Museum of Design Atlanta website 

Classes and Workshops – if you’re in the Atlanta area, MODA offers a variety of classes, workshops as well as a dedicated workspace with hands-on activities tied to the current exhibit.  Professional lectures are also scheduled throughout the year.

In the episode, Laura referenced the next exhibit, Architecture for Good, and the companion book Design for Good:  A New Era of Architecture for Everyone by John Cary.  If you can’t make it to the museum, but still want to check out the book, here is a link to find out more information.  

Want to learn more about how design works?  Check out the excellent 99% Invisible podcast.