Of peace and puppets 

Twenty-five Missoulians spanning multiple generations gathered on the lawn in front of the Boone & Crockett Club on Wed., Aug. 13 for an offbeat project—making the kind of giant puppets typically seen in South American street festivals or protests. After a group circle introduction, the gang was split off into smaller groups. One group decided to make a puppet to celebrate deceased Missoulian Tommy the Leprechaun, a much-loved homeless Missoulian who used to dress as a leprechaun and give balloons to children. Another group represented the emotions of fear and anger with two large puppets.

Rick Sherman, an artist at the Shirt Shop in Missoula, says that “anger and fear are the same emotion. Anger is the shield you raise to hide your fear.” Sherman formerly attended an anger management class in which he sketched fearful and angry faces. On this night, he and his group brought those sketches to three-dimensional life.

Other puppet projects included an owl and an angel with a face painted red, white, yellow and black “to honor the four races of the world.”

The workshop was organized by artist-activists Penelope Baquero and Jason Gutzmer, who have taught puppet-making skills to people all over the world. To them, the workshop is more than simple arts and crafts.

“It’s important to recognize that so many people are artists,” says Gutzmer, “and in this age, you have to get a job and do this and that and we’ve stopped nourishing that artistic side. Creative problem-solving comes from the artistic side of the brain. So, for many problems that we have in the world today, if we looked at them in a more creative way, we could solve them.”

Gutzmer says that the puppet art is designed to spread the voices of the artists out to the larger community in a way that inspires creative thinking and action. It’s an ambitious goal, but one that the Missoulians down by the river work toward, one puppet at a time.

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