Mikey Artelle's Puppets: In the Community

Puppetry organizations and museum work:

In 1997 I co-founded the Ottawa Puppetry Club along with a small group of local puppeteers. The OPC was a not-for-profit organization operated by volunteers with a mandate to host puppetry workshops and teach members about how to make and perform puppets. The OPC operated from 1997 until 2011, and for the majority of those years an annual variety show was presented.

Several guest puppeteers did workshops for the group such as Noreen Young, Bob Stutt, David Powell of Puppetmongers Theatre, John Nolan of Rag and Bone Theatre, and David Smith of David Smith Marionettes, among several others. In addition, the OPC gathered a small collection of puppets and puppetry books, and did puppet displays at local libraries and community centres.

Along with serving as President on a few occasions, I was the group's second newsletter editor. Some of the changes that I made involved formatting the newsletter to become a booklet and creating the OPC logo, shown above. At this point I coined the OPC's slogan "Where imagination and creativity come to life". This was in addition to writing several articles about puppetry. More information about the group's history can be found on the OPC Blog: http://ottawapuppetryclub.blogspot.ca/

In 1998 or 1999 I learned that puppeteer John Conway was living right here in Ottawa. Mr. Conway is a pioneer of Canadian television and performed his puppet characters, Uncle Chichimus and Hollyhock, for the very first broadcast of the CBC's English network in 1952. This led to researching Mr. Conway's career and producing a 45 minute video documentary, titled "John Conway and Uncle Chichimus", which I completed in March of 2003 when I was 29. Earlier that month Mr. Conway had passed away at the age of 80.

More information about John Conway and the documentary is available on the next page of this blog at this link: http://mikeyspuppetryblog.blogspot.ca/p/john-conway-and-uncle-chichimus.html

The above photo of John Conway was found at this link: http://www.penelopeironstone.com/CS101broadcastingandnation.htm

While working on the John Conway documentary I spent a lot of time doing research at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) and got to know some of the staff there. They were super friendly and helpful, and at one point I was even given a tour "behind the scenes" of the museum where they designed and built elements needed for exhibits, and where they have huge artifact storage areas. The museum has a very extensive puppetry collection made up of several collections from different donors. The largest of these was from the Ontario Puppetry Association (OPA), donated in 1994. I had become more and more interested in learning about the history of puppetry. Therefore, I began to research the possibility of establishing a local puppetry museum....

In August 2004 I became a student in the three year Applied Museum Studies program at Algonquin College, graduating in April 2007. The course included a Museum Management class and one of my assignments was to chose a topic for a fictional local museum and draft an annual operational budget. Of course I chose a puppetry museum! The above drawing was made as part of the assignment. It was fun to visualize what a potential puppetry museum might look like. That's my mother and I on the roof holding up the dragon puppet! :)
After I graduated in 2007 (above) I was very fortunate to get a job at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC) working as Researcher and Puppetry Consultant with Constance Nebel, the Curator of the museum's puppetry collection. The timing of my graduation was quite opportune as the CMC was creating a new online exhibit titled The Art of Puppetry, featuring their entire puppetry collection. Eventually, I was given my own access card to the artifact storage room where the puppet collection was kept. Needless to say, working on this project was definitely a dream job!

The Art of Puppetry online exhibit can be viewed at this link: http://theatre.historymuseum.ca/narratives/details.php?language=English

After the project was completed I was retained to work on additional online exhibits which had been undertaken through the Canadian Culture Online (CCO) initiative along with The Art of Puppetry exhibit. Unfortunately however, as CCO had been established under the Liberal government, Stephen Harper's Conservative government opted to play politics with Canada's heritage and put an end to CCO funding. As such in 2010 my entire department was dismissed! It's quite ironic that Prime Minister Harper's legacy will be determined by how well the history books treat him, after how poorly he treated the history books! The Canadian Museum of Civilization's name has since been changed to the Canadian Museum of History.

While working on the online exhibit I learned that the museum's puppetry collection contains several distinct collections from various donors, the most extensive of which is the Ontario Puppetry Association (OPA) collection that was donated in 1994. It was such an immense pleasure to work with the OPA collection, which includes both artifacts and archival materials, as I had been a member of the OPA back in the late 1980s and early 1990s during my teens (shown below). Back then the OPA operated a small puppetry museum, simply called The Puppet Centre, located in Willowdale, Ontario, in the Toronto area. My parents and I had visited the centre on a few occasions, and met the museum's Director, Ken McKay, who had previously authored the book "Puppetry in Canada". 
At the age of fifteen in 1988, I met puppeteer Bob Stutt (Today's Special, Fraggle Rock, Under the Umbrella Tree, Jim Henson Hour, Sesame Park) when I attended his puppetry manipulation workshop at the Puppet Centre (shown above). My puppets Rob the Slob (centre) and Mr. Noodlehead (far left) came along for the trip. After the workshop, Bob Stutt kindly invited me to visit the CBC studio in Ottawa where the TV show Under the Umbrella Tree was recorded, and where I met puppeteers Noreen Young and Stephen Brathwaite.
It had been my understanding that the Ontario Puppetry Association disbanded in the mid 1990's, when the Puppet Centre closed and their puppet collection and archives were transferred to the CMC, however in 2003 I learned that the organization was still active so I renewed my membership. It wasn't long before I volunteered my time to become the new editor for the OPA newsletter, OPAL, and published two issues a year for five years until 2008. Above is the 50th Anniversary issue that I produced for the OPA in 2006, which I'm extremely proud of.
During my time as editor I wrote several articles for the newsletter about both the history of puppetry and the history of the OPA organization. This involved doing research in the archives at the CMC as well as networking with puppeteers. At the time, I had believed that promoting the organization was a worthy initiative. Unfortunately from 2005 onward being involved with the OPA became increasingly difficult and frustrating. 
Considering the potential that such an organization has, and it's obligation to it's membership, I didn't agree with how the modern incarnation of the organization was being governed or the extremely inappropriate lack of transparency regarding the "behind the scenes" disbursement of OPA funding. I felt that the OPA had very much become a click in which OPA members, especially those who didn't attend the AGM meetings, didn't matter one iota to the board. It also seemed that if you were friends with the right person on the board or a "yes man" you got projects approved, but if you weren't you were literally ignored. Frankly, it seemed to me that the board members were only there to feel good about themselves, pat each other on the back, and to have a title after their name so that they could feel important. Meanwhile each year the OPA was accomplishing little of significance, especially in regards to it's mandate as an educational and provincial organization. As I was passionate about the history of the OPA I tried (though it was perhaps foolish) to change the status quo, but instead was regarded as a troublemaker for my efforts. I was also bullied by one of the board members. Meanwhile any notion of inappropriate governance, of which there was ample evidence, was quietly swept under the rug. Indeed, the bar seemed to be set quite low and no one on the board seemed to mind.

As such, I stepped down from the board in 2009 and have since disassociated myself from any future connection with the OPA. With it's unique and remarkable history in Ontario, it's extremely shameful and sad to see what's become of the OPA, and the extent to which the board has left their members in the dark. Although my post 2005 experiences on the board have left me quite disillusioned with the OPA, having more time to work with other community organizations, and on my own puppetry and art projects, is time better spent.
All that being said, some folks might criticize me as being unprofessional for posting such information about the OPA, and that's arguable. However I feel that by not posting this information it can be construed that I condoned what took place, and I certainly do not want anyone to ever have that impression! In essence, I found volunteering on the board of the OPA to be a colossal disappointment, and it broke my heart. Any information produced by the OPA from this point onward about the organization's history will no doubt be a white washed, pristine version of events. It will be completely hypocritical.
Puppets Up! International Festival
Since the inaugural Puppets Up Festival in 2005 I've been active as a volunteer, helping Noreen Young on various occasions at "Arts in the Park" and other events to promote the festival. I've also lent my puppets for displaying in the windows around Almonte during the festival or for related puppet exhibits. The above photo was taken during the 2013 Puppets Up parade.
Presentations, displays and workshops:
Despite how much puppetry my mother and I have done together, unfortunately I don't have many photos with both of us together with the puppets. This one was taken in Quebec around 2000 at a fair in which several theatre companies and artists presented displays of their work for the public. I brought Audrey II from the production of "Little Shop of Horrors" that I was involved with in 1999, as well as my Pterodactyl puppet. I like the fact that the Canadian flags are behind us in this picture. It's very patriotic!

Our puppets have also been displayed in many, many exhibits in a variety of locations, including:
  • Various branches of the Ottawa Public Library
  • Several international puppetry festivals
  • National and regional museums such as the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Nepean Museum, and the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum in Kitchener, Waterloo.
Beginning in the late 1990's or early 2000's my mother Peggy and I began to offer puppet workshops. I had done several puppet workshops on my own since the late 1980's so we knew that they were of interest to people. After some time, we put together a series of craft puppet workshops and listed them on our new website, as well as in flyers that we handed out. The characters shown above are from our Big Mouth puppet workshop. I designed the basic puppet shape and then we both made different characters as examples to use at the workshops. My mother made the two shown above on the left and I made the purple guy on the right. Below are some Egyptian puppets. I made the King Tut and my mother made Cleopatra. We continued doing puppet workshops on occasion through to 2012. Over the years, hundreds of kids have participated in our puppet workshops!

This is a rod puppet from our "Scrunchy Heads" workshop, created by my mother Peggy. It's made with newspapers scrunched up to form the head, hence the title. Below are some "Puffoons" rod puppets that my mother made for another workshop using wooden spoons.

Hope you enjoyed reading about all of these different past projects!

Thanks for visiting!

-Mikey :)

Click here to go to the next page of this blog "John Conway and Uncle Chichimus":

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Originally Posted Online: Feb 2016
Most Recent Update: Feb 2017

Legal stuff: 
Please contact me through my website at www.artellepuppets.ca

The contents of this blog page are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1976, 2016 as detailed below. Use of any material from this blog page for any purpose requires advance permission from the copyright holder, Mike Artelle. Contact information can be found at: www.artellepuppets.ca

Puppet Characters
Guns N' Puppets, Axle Grease, Virgule, Lewis Brown, Morris Laborious, Rob the Slob, Mr. Noodlehead, Mousie Mousie, Hornz the Cow, puppet designs, character names, likenesses, and puppets are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1987, 1996

Various Puppets
Pterodactyl puppet, Frog puppet, Big Mouth workshop puppet, puppet designs, likenesses, and puppets are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1987, 2014

Cartoon and Superhero Character Drawings
Poingo Pig, Spike, Cockroach, Captain Roger Ray Beam, Hornz the Cow, Mikey cartoon character, character designs, character names, likenesses, and art are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1987, 1999

Original Puppet Shows and Stories
The Christmas Wish, The Phantoms Christmas, The Case of the Snowman Toppler, The Chocolate Chip Cookie Boy, Guns N Puppets, Biker Dudes and Dragon Riders, stories, characters and scripts are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1987, 2016

Various Projects
John Conway and Uncle Chichimus documentary video and script © Mike Artelle, 2003

Toy puppets and dolls, designs and patterns TM and © Mike Artelle, 1987, 2015

Artelle Puppets and Pythor Comics names, logos and website contents TM and © Mike Artelle, 2011, 2015

Additional Information
Muppets, The Muppet Show, Jim Henson, Witchiepoo, H.R Pufnstuf, Sid and Marty Krofft, DC Comics, Nightwing, Hawkman, Johan Conway photograph, Uncle Chichimus, Hollyhock, Art of Puppetry online exhibit main page, character designs, character names, and their likenesses are TM and © their respective owners. Ownership of these elements is in no way being implied by Mike Artelle. In these cases only the original artwork or photograph being presented is © Mike Artelle, 1990, 1999

All remaining puppets, dolls, text, stories, photographs, and art presented on this blog page are TM and © Mike Artelle, 1976, 2016

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