No strings attached: Children learn about art through making puppets

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SHAFTSBURY - Over the past week, students at Shaftsbury Elementary School learned to make puppets with the help of the No Strings Marionette Company.

Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson, of No Strings, started their seven-day residency at the school last week, and will continue work with third, fourth, and fifth grade students on Monday and Wednesday of this week. On Thursday, the fourth graders will put on a show using the puppets they made, featuring the characters of Greek mythology.

Friday was the third day of puppet creation for Laura Maguire-Jones' fourth grade class, and Baginski and Paulson taught them how to lay a base layer of flesh-toned acrylic paint on their puppet heads, as well as how to make hands out of foam. Baginski was quick to warn the students, many of whom were in costume for the last day of Spirit Week, to be careful with the acrylic paint. "If this paint dries on your clothes or costume, it will stay on there forever," he said.

The fourth and fifth graders made the heads for their puppets out of paper mache, while the third graders learned a simpler method using foam. All three grades are making puppets that go along with other things they are learning in class. The third graders are making puppets to go along with a unit on Native Americans, the fourth graders a unit on Greek mythology, and the fifth graders are making and learning about U.S. presidents.

Maguire-Jones said the Greek mythology unit is designed to teach students the linguistic roots of many English words and phrases, including iridescent, which comes from Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, and tantalize, from the myth of Tantalus, who was cursed to be punished forever with food and water just out of his reach. They have also learned about the phrases "Pandora's box" and "Achilles' heel," which trace their origins back to Greek legends.

Before any real work on painting the paper mache heads could begin, Baginski was careful to instruct the students on the proper way to clean the paintbrushes after use. Acrylic paint, he said, would dry after about 10 minutes, leaving the paintbrushes completely ruined if the students weren't careful to wash them correctly.

Once students had the base layer of paint, he demonstrated how to add features, such as eyes, mouths, and blushing cheeks. As students worked, Baginski and Jim, one of the company's puppets (and the star of their "Treasure Hunt" show), toured the classroom to check on their progress.

Baginski and Paulson have performed together all over the country for over 16 years. No Strings is based in Randolph, Vermont. Its shows include renditions on classic fairy tales, as well as relatively more recent works, such as "The Hobbit" and "A Christmas Carol." You can learn more about the company and its workshops and performances at www.nostringsvt.com.

Reach staff writer Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122 or @DerekCarsonBB.


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