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Modern-Day Gepettos Keep Marionette Making Alive

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Puppets may seem like child’s play, but you can’t underestimate the artistry and engineering that go into creating a classic marionette. Mirek Trejtnar could tell you: He’s carefully researched their anatomy, borrowing specialty puppets like skeletons, acrobats, dragons, and more — some over a century old — from museums and private collections. In order to get the proper balance between complexity and mobility, he studies methods of stringing the puppets and arranging their systems of joints.

Trained as a woodworker at the top fine arts high school in communist Czechoslovakia, Trejtnar spent a short stint restoring furniture in Baroque churches, but he soon chiseled out a life as an animator, artist, and now a modern-day Geppetto in the heart of the kingdom of puppets. But unlike Pinocchio’s dad, Trejtnar and his American-born wife Leah Gaffen share detailed instructions for puppet making on their website. Their online readers often come to Prague for popular hands-on workshops. These crash-course apprenticeships end with delightful performances by an international troupe of newbie puppeteers. Gaffen says, “There’s nothing like seeing master carvers work — it’s the best way to learn. The most magic moment is when all the pieces of the carved puppets are put together and the puppet is suddenly alive.”]

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Michelle, or Binka, makes . While at Maker Media, she oversaw publications, outreach, and programming for kids, families, and schools. Before joining Maker Media in 2007, she worked at the Exploratorium, in Mitchel Resnick’s Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and as a curriculum designer for various publishers and educational researchers. When she’s not supporting future makers, including her two young sons, Binka does some making of her own, most often as a visual artist.

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