PuppetYear #3 – Sheleton

Type: Marionette
Location: Hatfield, United Kingdom
Materials: Seashells, wire, balsa wood, thread, superglue, screw
Tools: Drill, leatherman, needle
Time: approx. 4 hours
Date/s: 05/08/20 – 06/08/20

We had a lovey day by the seaside at Walton-on-the-Naze, and I collected some interesting looking seashells with the thought of making a puppet. Specifically a marionette.

Marionette making isn’t yet a firm staple in the repertoire, and neither is seashell craft (surprisingly), but this was a great first experience of both of those things.

I arranged the shells in the best formation of a skeleton I could using the natural shape of the shells. I toyed with the idea of using clay to build out extra features on the shells – maybe a hermit crab poking out from the head, or extra musculature or features on the body. But the shells had such interesting natural formations; little holes and sweet spirals and protrusions, that I though I could just leave them as they were to create the character of the puppet.

I used a very small drill bit to gently bore little holes at the connecting ends of the shells. I fiddled with the power on the drill quite a lot, because seashells are tougher to drill through than I expected! Also, twice I pushed too hard and broke the shell. Just to get the shells ready took about 2 hours.

I cut small sections of wire and shaped them into loops, threaded them through the holes and connected them to create joins for the limbs.

I took two pieces of balsa wood to make the marionette handle, created a seating for the brace and secured with some superglue and a bolt. I then drilled through in 6 places on the frame, and thread the strings using cotton from a sewing spool.

The fiddliest bit was stringing the puppet, and required a few attempts after I realised I had looped the leg strings and the arm strings to each others frame position. I dabbed a little bit of superglue onto where the string joins the puppet because it kept slipping through the opening of the wire loop. Then I added a hook to the top of the frame so that the puppet can be suspended when not in use.

It’s not the most responsive marionette I’ve ever encountered, but I’m surprised with how decent my first attempt was (particularly as I was working in the medium of SEASHELLS). The puppet is balanced, and I can get some basic movements out of it – bowing and walking. I will say I’m not at all proficient in marionette performance, so perhaps a more skilled puppeteer could get some more nuance of movement from the Sheleton.