By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Students create puppet menagerie

Artist-in-residence Annie Stecker is leading the program, in which every one of the school’s 550 or so students will make a puppet representing a leopard, a dog, Pinocchio or some other character.

Stecker is one of several artists-in-residence in the McMinnville School District this year. The McMinnville Education Foundation pays for artists for each of the district’s six elementary schools.

At Columbus, as at other schools, teachers are tying the art project to other lessons.

Second-graders, for instance, are creating wolves and pigs so they can act out fairy tales. In fourth-grade, students are making Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea to accompany their study of explorers.

“We’re going to make the bodies look like they’re wearing buckskin and fringe,” said the artist, who’s been learning about Lewis and Clark from the fourth-graders.

Kent Svec’s fifth-graders voted to make cats and bears — brown, polar or panda.

“I just like bears, and my dad likes bears,” said Persephanie Wallace. Classmate Lilly Bray added, “Bears are cool.”

Emily Boggs and Gracie Kilgore turned their bears into pandas because they’re interested in the white and black animals. If they can’t have pet pandas, they said, they’ll take the puppet version.

Connor Whitmore, Caden Hawkins and Alexis Sauceda were among those who opted for cats. They like felines because they’re cute and cuddly.

Connor noted members of his family call him a cat at home. “I have cat-like reflexes,” he explained.

The fifth-graders will use the puppets as part of language arts lessons in which students turn chidren’s books into scripts for plays.

Scriptwriting teaches them about using dialogue, giving directions for actions and carrying the story along with narration, Svec said.

He usually has his students make puppets to go with their scripts. This year, they’ll either animate the bear and cat puppets or they’ll make more puppets to fit their characters, using the skills they learned in Stecker’s program.

Under the tutelage of the Salem artist, Columbus students started their puppets in December by making forms from styrofoam balls, short pieces of cardboard tubing and popsicle sticks.

They covered these simple head-and-neck forms with papier-mâché— strips of newspaper dipped in a flour and water mixture. For animals, they added bits of cardboard to form ears of the appropriate shape.

This week, they’re painting the dried heads — brown for wolves or bears, white for polar bears, etc. And they’re making puppet bodies by cutting out felt roughly in a mitten shape, with room at the top for the puppet’s neck.

Next week, Stecker said, they will paint on features, add yarn for hair and pipe cleaners for other features, like noses and claws. And they’ll glue on googly eyes as well — usually the most popular part of the whole lesson, she said.

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