09 January 2014

Surprisingly in the ACT Heritage Library - Jim Henson's Autograph

Canberrans have varied and far-reaching interests and these are represented in the collections of the ACT Heritage Library.

But even the experienced staff at the ACT Heritage Library were surprised and delighted to find an autograph by Muppet creator, Jim Henson in the collection of Skylark Puppet and Mask Theatre.

Skylark Puppet and Mask Theatre was founded in 1984 by Swiss-born nurse and puppeteer Marie-Martine Ferrari, Australian teacher and puppeteer Shelley McDonald and Mexican-American puppet maker Al Martinez to create puppet theatre that brought together actors, puppets of all sizes, masks and electronic props. Ferrari worked for several years as a Community Artist for Blue Folk Community Arts, and from time to time Skylark was augmented by ex-Blue Folk artist Peter Heffernan and others. Skylark collaborated with Jigsaw Theatre Company on several productions, both within schools and for the general public. Skylark toured its shows throughout Australia, and were Artists in Residence at the Canberra Theatre in 1988 and the Playhouse in 1989.

Skylark also developed smaller shows suitable for children’s parties. Members were also available to conduct workshops on puppets and puppet making, mask making, mime, movement and dance, face painting, clowning, and the various underlying crafts such as woodworking, costume and set design, pottery and fabric painting, as well as personal growth and staff development. Themes included environment, racism, death, adoption, self-esteem and the power of imagination, while the short pieces were often based on European fairy tales.

Ferrari trained with Theatre de la Lune Rouge in Geneva and the commedia dell’arte company Puppi e Frezede in Florence, and in her earlier work often used the pseudonym Papillon. In 1987 she and Shelley McDonald were the only Australians selected to attend master classes by Jim Henson . She resigned from Skylark in 1993, moved to Melbourne and started a new company Ferrari Puppets with Fabian Billerwell. After seven years touring round Australia they moved to Queanbeyan in 2001, working with The Canberra Institute of Technology teaching puppet and mask -making to adults. In 2005 they moved to Tasmania and created a new company Theatre of the Sun.

The Skylark collection was deposited on their departure for Tasmania. Marie-Martine Ferrari died early last year.

We wonder how many muppets like this one by a Libraries ACT staff member, are still in Canberra, made at one of Ferrari Puppet’s workshops?