Making marionettes an engrossing pastime

Marionette maker Cherol Filbee, Hawera, walks Phyllis, one of her favourite creations.
Catherine Groenestein

Marionette maker Cherol Filbee, Hawera, walks Phyllis, one of her favourite creations.

People sometimes talk to Cherol Filbee's brightly coloured, fluffy puppet birds when she takes them out.

The Hawera artist and marionette maker said the movement and colour of the creatures meant people forgot to notice the strings controlling them and would react as if they were alive.

Getting a marionette to walk and move is an art, one that children found easier to learn than adults, Filbee said.

Phyllis is one of Cherol Filbee's favourite marionettes.
Catherine Groenestein

Phyllis is one of Cherol Filbee's favourite marionettes.

​"Children pick them up and operate them very quickly, most kids can do it. They don't have any idea in their heads that they can't do it, like adults do."

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One of her favourites is Phyllis, a fluffy pink and grey creature with shocking pink hair, dangly earrings and a face that looks like she's seen a few good adventures.

A few of Cherol Filbee 's marionettes. A caricature of her husband, Peter, is on the right.
Catherine Groenestein

A few of Cherol Filbee 's marionettes. A caricature of her husband, Peter, is on the right.

They are created in Filbee's home workshop, which she describes as her happy place.

Here, paintings line the walls and jewellery displays fill a table. Near her workbench, a crowd of bright marionettes watch visitors with surprisingly realistic eyes.

Filbee did a puppet-making course as part of her studies at Wellington's Learning Connection a while back and the craft has consumed her since then.

"I really want to get back to my painting but the art gods haven't let me yet," she smiled.

"I've always been interested in puppets. As a kid I had glove puppets and I'd make the family go to the other end of the lounge to watch while I used the couch as my stage."

She went on to entertain with puppet shows at places she worked and at kindergartens and various events. Unlike puppets that need a theatre, marionettes can entertain just by "walking" around at an event.

Since her initial lessons from an expert German puppet maker, Filbee has continued learning by trial and error the engineering side of the art - how to control the creatures, where to attach the strings and the best way to get a life-like movement.

The puppets - there are people as well as birds - have paper mache heads, hands and feet. The birds are easier than people because there are no arms to control, just the legs and head.

One person-style puppet is modelled on her husband, Peter Filbee.

"He objected - he said his nose wasn't that big, and it's not, that's the caricature of it and you have fun," she said.

She made the model of Peter to celebrate his third trip to take part in the world croquet championships.

Filbee enjoys teaching other people how to make the endearing puppets and is holding a series of workshops during February.

 - Stuff

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