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Make your favorite Martian, no strings attached

Artists Hall and Fraga cook up an alien invasion for Independence Day.

Giant Martians are landing here this summer.

A fleet of 10-by-20-foot paper mâché puppets is being crafted to march in next month’s Fourth of July parade.

The alien invasion is the brainchild of island animator Wendy Hall and gallery owner/artist Kathe Fraga, who invite islanders to join in making the puppets at informal workshops held at Oil and Water, the new art supply store across from the Pavilion.

“The thing about these (puppets) is you can’t believe it ‘til you see it,” Hall said. “You’re looking at all this paper mâché and fabric and poles lying around, but when you stand that puppet up and start to move it around, it becomes real.”

Hall is something of an expert when it comes to the behemoths of the puppet world; in 1995, she trained in construction techniques and performance with Glover, Vermont’s Bread and Puppet Theater. Founded by Peter Schumann in 1962, the famed company has presented their 30-foot-high characters in street theater, demonstrations and performance for four decades.

“We produced the Domestic Resurrection Circus,” she said. “It was a huge event: 20,000 people came to watch this great show all composed of puppets.

“That’s when I learned to walk on stilts.”

Hall also learned the puppet-making techniques she shares at the free nine-day workshop on Bainbridge.

Hall and workshop collaborator Kathe Fraga chose a Martian theme to bypass the political content for which Bread and Puppet Theater was known – and because the notion would bring out the creativity in even non-artists.

“When you have Martian puppets you can do whatever you want,” Hall said. “Three eyes, 10 ears – whatever.”

A puppet begins with head and hands, Hall says.

A clay form is sculpted and covered with a thin layer of plastic wrap and the layers of paper mâché are laid on.

The plastic separator lets the artist pull multiple copies of the face and hands from the one form.

The features are painted and the head is set on a pole – in this instance just 10 feet high, to clear the power lines along the parade route. The rest of the body is constructed from fabric.

The Martian puppets have been given a boost, however with donated materials that include bamboo poles from Bainbridge Gardens, paints from Oil and Water and Winslow Paint, cloth from Esthers and a bale of straw from Bay Hay and Feed.

Other project costs will be underwritten with a Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council grant.

The puppets will be built and stored under three large tents that Oil and Water owner Richard Nelson will set up behind the store.

The project is the first of artist-community collaborations that Nelson, a printmaker himself, hopes to sponsor.

“We’ve made a big commitment to support child-related arts activity because this is where artists come from,” he said. “Because we have that large space behind the building, it lends itself to all kinds of arts activities.”

Once the puppets are done, prospective puppeteers must learn to work the monsters, each of which needs about five operators who must coordinate their moves.

Hall notes that being one part of a collective whole makes it easier for inexperienced or shy performers to enjoy the experience of bringing the art form to the public.

“They say animators are shy actors and it’s true for me,” she said. “I never perform in plays, but when I’m helping operate a puppet, I go crazy. I really become that character.”

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