Puppet Power
Blue Hill School’s Celebration  of Puppetry Dedicated to “Mr. Puppetman” Hamabe
By James Straub

BLUE HILL—The population at Blue Hill Consolidated School swelled by dozens earlier this month.

Taxpayers need not be alarmed, however.

The newcomers were puppets, many of them created by the students.

The addition of puppets to the student body was part of the school’s annual Arts Week festival, which celebrated “Puppet Power” this year.

Prior years had focused on international cultures and maritime arts.

Art teacher Margret Baldwin said the theme was selected after students visited the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland last fall.

Approximately 100 students visited the Farnsworth, where they viewed exhibits and performances by Maine puppeteers in a show entitled “Characters in Hand.”

Puppet Power week at the Consolidated School was dedicated to the late Francis Hamabe, a local artist and puppeteer who taught at the school for a time.

Hamabe’s puppets were displayed in the school lobby, as were puppets made by area artists Richard Merrill, Susan Barrett and Mia Kanazawa.

Puppet workshops and performances were given by Waldorf Silk Puppets with Merri Ely and Diane Fitzgerald, the Temple Stream Players and Figures of Speech Theater.

Known internationally as a painter, printmaker and potter, Hamabe was also known as “Mister Puppetman.”

A young tyke in the audience of one of his puppet performances gave the name to Hamabe back in the early 1950s.

The name stuck. Although he was an accomplished artist and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Hamabe continued to get requests for his puppetry until his death this spring.

For many years, Hamabe traveled Maine in a station wagon bulging with puppet stage, props and puppets ranging from grotesque to hilarious.

According to a 1972 publication from the Maine State Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Hamabe’s traveling show became a familiar sight to postmen, school children, truck drivers, gas station attendants and others as he traveled the Maine roads.

The publication tells of one night when Hamabe was staying in a hotel.

“Frank was practicing in his room with two girl puppets, using a soprano voice, when he received a call from the desk clerk demanding that he remove `those women’ from his room or else pay an extra eight dollars a night per person,” according to the article.

“Undaunted, he ran down to the lobby holding his girl puppets aloft and put on a free and convincing performance for the bewildered clerk.”

Given Hamabe’s dedication to children and puppetry, it was appropriate to dedicate Puppet Power week to him, Baldwin said.

Puppets can be entertaining. They also are useful in therapy and as a tool for advocating change.

Baldwin said Susan Barrett’s hand-woven, hand-felted puppets are used in therapy to express feelings and issues a person would not feel comfortable expressing as himself.

“That’s what Puppet Power is all about,” Baldwin said. “It’s used in therapy and used for advocacy of social issues and political causes. Puppeteers feel safe because the puppets get all the attention.”

Students at the Consolidated School worked with the Temple Stream Players to construct puppets and sets for a performance of “Real Food and Fast Food”.

Students also organized a parade of giant puppets from the school to downtown Blue Hill, as well as viewing performances and attending workshops by the Figures of Speech Theater and Richard Merrill.

   

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