In a famous scene in the popular movie "The Sound of the Music," the Von Trapp children enact a puppet show for guests using dancing marionettes. This historic art has been beloved by both adults and children throughout the ages. There are many different types of plans available for dancing wooden puppets, with varying degrees of difficulty in construction.
Marionettes have a long and respected history that dates back to the 15th century. Beyond being used simply for entertainment purposes, these dancing puppets were used to tell true news-like stories to local villagers. In the 18th century, marionettes reached the height of their popularity as they begin to be used for many different purposes. Traditionally carved of a wood called yamane and adorned with human hair, the exact construction plans of marionette dolls was a well-kept secret throughout history. Only artisans and woodworkers knew the secret methods that had been passed down through the ages.
Tools and Materials
Instructions for making wooden marionettes are now available, of course. The materials necessary for carving and constructing your marionette vary based on the complexity of the puppet. Many wooden marionettes are made of bits of softwood scraps--such as white pine--and dowel sticks. The dowel sticks allow the puppet to have smaller details. Additional tools for constructing the body include a fret saw, hammer, chisel, awl, drill, pliers, hinges and weights. Once the body has been constructed, the joints are then connected with strings to a controller, which when manipulated makes the puppet dance.
Simple marionette plans involve a reduced number of joints joined by strings to the controller. Most frequently, these puppets will have joints only on each of their shoulders and hips, so that when the string is pulled the arms and legs move outwards. Since there are fewer joints, the body parts can be carved in eight solid pieces: the head and neck, legs and arms. Pre-manufactured wooden body parts also simplify marionette plans, as the large majority of marionette assembly is carving the many different puppet features.
Complex plans for a dancing wooden puppet require the craftsman to carve or whittle the wood into the separate and many-jointed marionette body parts. Complex marionettes have up to 18 movable body parts joined by pegs, screws and joints. These body parts include two portions of the torso, upper arms, lower arms, hands, head and neck, thighs, knees, calves and feet. Once these pieces are carved, they are assembled together and details such as clothing and hair are added. Then, strings are attached to each joint and then opposite sides of two wood strips that are used as the controllers.
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