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Painting Professor Presents Puppets

Neil Di Teresa, Professor of Art, recently displayed a few puppets and several of his paintings relating to Appalachia in the Appalachian Center Gallery.

Neil Di Teresa and his puppets

The Summer Puppetry Caravan was established as a community outreach program. The program was active for about 30 years. Berea College student laborers became the main force behind the workings of the program. Students made puppets, built stages, wrote plays, and performed with their creations during the summer. Di Teresa has a great deal of puppetry experience, but both students and mentor learned from each other and swapped ideas for the Caravan.

When the caravan went into a town, the puppeteers would teach groups of children from the community. The Berea College students would show the children how to turn a paper bag into a working, moving marionette or a stick puppet. The Caravan was always an inter-generational project. Everyone ages eight and up was welcome to participate. Generally, sixty children attended the workshop. These children were divided into groups of fifteen. After the children learned to make their own puppets, they would bring a mountain folk song to life. When the workshop ended, the children went home with their new creations.

There were workshops as well as performances. Students of Berea College worked and trained with the Caravan. They would go to surrounding communities performing about 3 times in one town. After performing they would have workshops for the children in the community. The children, ages eight or older, would learn to make their own paper bag puppets. At the end of the workshop the children would perform a special show for their community.

One of the puppets Di Teresa had designed is named Poogy Wilcox. The name was after one of the student puppeteers’ father. Poogy is a pink clown puppet standing about eight feet tall. His body is connected with Velcro. During the show, the children in the audience put Poogy together to the sound of music. When Poogy was together Neil would come out and try to stand the puppet on its feet. Poogy would fall back down each time. When Neil tried a fourth time, Poogy would come alive. The audience would light up with delight and would resound with their approval. Poogy was designed after Di Teresa’s first puppet which he had made in Kindergarten. He drew the puppet’s body and the arms and legs separately. The teacher helped him cut the puppet out and attach the arms and legs to the body with split pins. That is why Poogy had to be put together.

Di Teresa became interested in puppetry as a child. While growing up in New York City, he would eagerly await the puppet shows in the park. Even if he had seen the show before, he would still faithfully attend each event, fascinated with every show.

Di Teresa was the founder and director of the Summer Puppetry Caravan. Di Teresa graduated from the Art School of Pratt Institute. He also studied at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he received his Masters in Fine Art. His primary elements of expression are watercolors, acrylics, oils, puppets, and graphics.

Di Teresa’s paintings will remain on display until August and are available for purchase.

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