Saturday, April 09, 2005

A small town with lots of puppets

If you are not from the Ottawa area chances are that you have never heard of the town of Almonte. It was the birthplace of basketball inventor James Naismith, but it's streets are not adorned with basketball sculptures or basketball themed paintings. No this little town is a haven for a variety of talented artists and has several small art galleries within its small borders. But walking through the town it slowly becomes apparent that this town is also full of puppets. They smile to you from almost every store window.

Now why would a small town like this have so many puppets? It is also the home of puppet builder Noreen Young. Noreen has used her love of puppets to help bring a wonderful vitality to the town and has helped to make it stand out from most towns that I have been to. It has become almost a right of passage for each store owner in the town to purchase a custom puppet built by Noreen to be displayed in their window.

Noreen contributes to the town in many ways including with her annual Noreen Young Bursary Dinner and Gala. This event helps raise money to offer financial support to young people from Mississippi Mills and Carlton Place who are pursuing post-secondary studies in arts.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of yet another wonderful puppet project put on by Noreen (which is no longer showing). This time she had organized and curated a beautiful puppet exhibit in the town of Almonte's newly built Chamber of Commerce. It was truly an honour for me to have my puppets along side some of my favourite builders'.

Here is one of my chimp puppets along side Iggy from Under the Umbrella Tree (one of Noreen Young's puppets) and a roach puppet built by Matt Ficner.

The exhibit also showcased puppet marionettes built by master puppet builder/puppeteer Ronnie Burkett.

Here is a great picture that demonstrates Noreen's uncanny ability to capture the likeness of people. This is a Ronald Reagan puppet cozying up with a creature built by Trish Leeper. Patricia (Trish) Leeper is a puppet builder/puppeteer whose puppets many Canadians have probably seen on television and not even realized it. She is an amazing builder (and puppeteer) and these little creature puppets are extremely affordable. They are great for the aspiring puppeteer to get the feel of a well constructed performance puppet and at a good price.

These bat puppets where probably my favourite puppets in the entire exhibit. These were built by puppet builder Vicki Veenstra. Used in the television series the Longhouse Tales.

Ultimately this little town is something very special. So, if you have a love of puppets or the arts in general, make it a point to stop by Almonte on your way through to Ottawa. Who knows, you just may come back with a deeper love of puppets.