Not your average puppet show

Dozens of shadow puppets are visiting the Phinney Neighborhood Center.

The exhibit, "The World of Shadows: Shadow Puppets," features dozens of puppets chosen from the Northwest Puppet Center's (NWPC) collection. The free exhibit, in the center's gallery, opened June 1 and continues through June 29.


Many of the puppets on display show characteristics that were important to, or reflected, a culture's sense of identity, morality or history.

In some countries, the puppets mainly represented heroes or villains, while in others they took the form of the trickster or clown. In the past, many used these puppetry performances to illustrate popular ideas or reenact parts of history and legends.

For example, said NWPC executive director Dmitri Carter, in traditional Chinese puppetry, there are four different types of characters: the warrior, the scholar, the clown and the women.

And in France during the late 1800s and early 1900s, shadow-puppet shows became very popular and were known as Chinese Shadow. These puppets were different from the original characters in that they were often transformation figures, puppets that changed and took on various forms and functions - for example, transforming from a person to an animal.

Much of the traditions surrounding ancient puppetry have evolved throughout human history, Carter said. Archeologists have theorized that even cave dwellers might have used shadow puppets, which is a conclusion drawn from their understanding of fire and shadows, he said.

There is lots of evidence, he added, pointing out that shadows (drawn as out-of-proportion silhouettes of the body) have been found in cave paintings dating from prehistoric times.

Shadow puppets are traditionally 2-D figures that are viewed from behind a screen. The idea is not to look at the puppet itself but at the shadow made by the puppet's silhouette.


This exhibit is somewhat different from those usually at the gallery, which "[we thought] would be a lot of fun," said Ann Bowden, development director for the Phinney Neighborhood Association.

"We have had a relationship with the [Northwest Puppet] Center for a long time," she added, so the collaboration seemed a natural thing to do.

Chris and Stephen Carter founded the NWPC in 1986, and it was formerly located in the Phinney Neighborhood Center, 6532 Phinney Ave. N. In 1993 the puppet center moved to 9123 15th Ave. N.E., in Maple Leaf, where it remains today.

"We have a big collection but not much gallery space," said Carter, who feels that the exhibition will be a good opportunity to showcase a portion of their puppet collection. While the NWPC offers puppet shows year-round at the puppet center, no shows will take place at this exhibit; the puppets will be on display only.

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