Andryn Arithson wearing her goldfish puppets on her hands and on her head

3-D Studio Demo Artist Andryn Arithson

Andryn Arithson will be in the 3-D Studio demonstrating 3-D Animal Puppetry January 20-21, 2018.

The construction of a puppet requires several stages of development....There are elements of sculpture, physics, geometry, painting, and sewing that all come into play.

– Andryn Arithson

Andryn Arithson grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and graduated with a MBA and masters in theatre at University of Colorado Boulder in 2013. During undergrad at University of Colorado Boulder she became interested in building puppets by using found materials that are difficult to recycle, such as neon paper, Styrofoam, and plastic. Andryn co-founded Splintered Light Theatre in 2015 and has built puppets over the years for theatre companies in Denver and Boulder.

Megan Farlow: Can you tell us a little bit about what your demo will be like at the DAM?

Andryn Arithson: I will be building dragonfly puppets to accompany my goldfish puppets. I am designing a "living" goldfish pond installation that will have goldfish, dragonflies, lily pads, and water lilies. I use recycled materials whenever possible and plan to use paper-mache made from old newspaper, found plastics, wire, and paint. I will have a couple of dragonfly puppets in different stages of completion so that visitors can see the many stages of building from start to finish.

MF: Can you tell us how you got into the work you’re interested in?

AA: During college, my friends and I used to throw costume parties often. We became inspired to put some of our creativity on display and so we produced a fashion show. I found that I was drawn to unconventional materials that are often discarded and my imagination led me to create fantastical characters and animals rather than clothing, so I found myself making full-body puppets instead. I made a dragon, a bird, a gigantic fish, among several others. Eventually I began making puppets for stage shows. I still love working with found materials, but have also enjoyed learning about techniques and materials used by others in the industry, such as foam fabrication.

MF: I noticed you have strong interest in puppetry. Can you talk about what draws you to puppets and why you’re interested in creating them?

AA: The construction of a puppet requires several stages of development, and I love that complexity. A puppet needs a strong design in terms of the mechanism (i.e. the way it moves) as well as its aesthetic qualities. They should to be sturdy, yet lightweight, particularly when they are large. There are elements of sculpture, physics, geometry, painting, and sewing that all come into play.

Andryn Arithson making a goldfish puppet
Andryn Arithson making a goldfish puppet. Photos courtesy of Andryn Arithson.

MF: Beyond puppetry, what other work are you interested in?

AA: I am a performer and visual artist as well. I perform contemporary shadow puppetry using found objects such as glassware, kitchen utensils, branches, fabric, and feathers. My drag character is Frederick McGee, owner of Pound Town Demolition and hammer enthusiast. I have recently started writing and performing with Vox Feminista, a feminist theatre troupe. I also enjoy painting and drawing.

MF: What would you say influences and inspires you?

AA: I am always influenced by nature. Even if I am creating a magical creature, part of it is always inspired by something in the natural world, so I look there a lot. I am fascinated by early to mid-20th century painting in Europe and the United States. There was so much changing in the world at that time in terms of technology and industry, and I love the ways that was expressed in visual art. Marcel Duchamp is a favorite artist of mine.

MF: How do you think puppets can enhance a performance, costume, or character?

AA: Puppet characters are not bound by the physical and natural world as we know it. Mythical beings, as well as creatures cooked up in our imagination, can come to life through puppetry. Puppets can be used to represent a character literally, or used as metaphor. There is something trustworthy about a puppet. Humans are very good at filling in the blanks and suspending their disbelief in their presence, which is a delightful way to encourage both children and adults to experience play in their lives.

MF: Lastly, do you have a favorite puppet in any movie, play, or other forms of media?

AA: I am enthralled by the horses in War Horse. The artists at Handspring Puppet Company are incredible. I also have to give a nod to The Count from Sesame Street, because I too enjoy counting things.

Megan Farlow was a studio and artist programs intern in the department of learning and engagement at the Denver Art Museum. She enjoys the museum’s American Indian art collection, especially works by Jeffrey Gibson.

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