Lens-Artists Challenge #37: History

For this week’s challenge, Patti has chosen History. At first I wanted to write about Riga, the capital of Latvia, whose history begins as early as the 2nd century. But inspired by a visit there, I have chosen a piece of puppetry history instead – an art form very much alive in Latvia.

According to Wikipedia, puppetry is a form of performance that involves the manipulation of puppets – inanimate objects, that are animated or manipulated by a human called a puppeteer. The puppeteer uses movements of his/her hands, arms, or control devices such as rods or strings to move the body, head, limbs, and in some cases the mouth and eyes of the puppet. The puppeteer often speaks in the voice of the character of the puppet, and then synchronizes the movements of the puppet’s mouth with this spoken part.

The earliest puppets probably originated in Egypt, where ivory and clay articulated puppets have been discovered in tombs. Puppets are mentioned in writing as early as 422 B.C.E. In ancient Greece, Aristotle and Plato both made reference to puppetry.

This art form occurs in almost all human societies where puppets are used for entertainment through performance, as sacred objects in rituals, as symbolic effigies in celebrations such as carnivals, or as a catalyst for social and psychological change in transformative arts.

There are many different varieties of puppets, and they are made of a wide range of materials, depending on their form and intended use. They can be extremely complex or very simple in their construction. The simplest puppets are finger puppets and sock puppets. Familiar examples of hand puppets are Punch and Judy. Marionettes are suspended and controlled by a number of strings, plus sometimes a central rod attached to a control bar held from above by the puppeteer.

In Riga, we just happened to walk past the puppet theater, went inside and met – Alexander! A charming young man who showed us around and tried to explain, in broken English, about the theater and the puppets. These special ones behind the glass were handled by him alone. You can see him at work as a puppeteer in the poster shot above.

Some more history of puppetry

Many types of folk art puppetry developed in disparate regions of the world, and some are still practiced today. In Japan, the sophisticated bunraku tradition evolved out of rites practiced in Shinto temples. The Vietnamese created the unique practice of water puppetry, in which wooden puppets appear to walk in waist-high water; this was originally developed hundreds of years ago as a response to the flooding of rice fields. Indonesian shadow puppets are another example of a long-held folk tradition. Ceremonial puppets were also used in several pre-Columbian Native American cultures.

In medieval Italy, marionettes were used in the production of morality plays by the Christian church. The famous comedic puppet tradition of commedia dell’arte evolved in the face of censorship by the church. Later, the plays of William Shakespeare were sometimes performed with puppets in place of actors.

In Sweden there is no great tradition of Puppetry, but it still exists as an art form for small children. In Latvia they have several performances every day. For both young and older children – and for adults as well. Do you have this art form in your country?

Nowadays the Art of Puppetry is experiencing something of a real renaissance all over the world, touching hearts and minds and engaging new spectators of all ages. Puppetry is a unique cultural treasure, which invites you to experience such a magical way of art that cannot be created or substituted by any other form of art. The task of our puppet theatre is to introduce this special kind of theatre arts in such a way, that the wonders of puppetry world would find their home in the heart of every child.

Vilnis Beķeris

General Director of Latvia Puppet Theatre




Finally, some history of the theater in Riga

The early beginnings of the Puppet Theater date back to 1942, when during the war the National Art Ensemble of the Latvian SSR ( Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic) was formed in the city of Ivanov in Russia. From there originates a group of puppeteers, whose shows were watched by evacuated soldiers and Latvian people. On the 4th of October 1944 the National Puppet Theater of the Latvian SSR opened, run by poet Mirdza Ķempe and writer and translator Jānis Žīgurs.


Thank you to Patti for letting us share so many things, events and places of historic interest. Welcome to join in the historic tour! And please don’t forget the tag Lens-Artists so people can find you in the reader!




20 reaktioner på ”Lens-Artists Challenge #37: History

  1. Pingback: Lens-Artist-PC-History – WoollyMuses

  2. Great take
    On the challenge – and in early 1990s I met a lady in Florida who started her own small business as a puppeteer and she ended up hiring three people and got a contract with some county schools – and brought the puppet magic to children! We need more of this today in our tech-heavy world and glad to hear there is a bit of renaissance with it all
    Around the world – and the puppets in your post are artsy and fun

  3. Enjoy the reading, Ann-Christine. The history is fascinating, and it brought me sweet memories of puppetry. Wonderful photos of puppetry!

  4. Your post brought back wonderful memories when I was a child and my sister and I used to put on ”performances” with puppets. It was wonderful! Puppetry is a valuable creative art that must be encouraged and protected as a national treasure. Great post!

    • Thank you, Patti! I think for example the Baltic countries and the Asian part of the world is more concerned about this – preserving older, creative arts.
      How fun you used to practice the puppeteer role as a child – we did too, but only with hand puppets. When my children grew up, they watched The Muppet Show on TV.

  5. In the US, Jim Hensen introduced Muppets into the puppetry world; they have become very successful. Are they globally recognized? I was fascinated to see a Mozart opera performed by marionettes in Salzburg, Austria. I could not believe how the performers did the entire opera with so much expression in those wooden figures.

    • Oh, the muppets were very successful herre in Sweden when my children grew up – don’t know nowadays. They were also on the movies! I agree with the fascination over how the puppeteers manage the puppets and engage us so much that we forget they are puppets…Very skilled people – and it must have been fascinating to see a whole opera! Fantastic! We saw a performance in China once, but it tis more difficult when you don’t have the same language. I saw also a silent show, with music only – that was truly amazing. How the understanding of what is happening is universal.

  6. Pingback: History Has It’s Eye On You – Proscenium

Halva verket är läsarens - så, vad säger Du? As the second half is the reader's - I'd love to have Your line!

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