Lenka Cain Pavlickova graduated from the Art school in Prague in 1992, where she studied graphic design. She found she could express herself artistically, not only in carving marionettes but also in designing and creating costumes. Lenka often searched out interesting materials and hand painting her own silk. In the time she has been creating marionettes, she has been recognized around the world for her fine work. This has led to many articles being written in magazines and newspapers, including interviews for CNN, the BBC and a guest appearance on the 70th-anniversary edition DVD of Pinocchio. She currently lives between Prague and England, which has expanded her knowledge of other cultures and traditions in puppet theatre. This has also been inspirational in some of her latest work.
What first inspired you to make puppets?
The Czech Republic has many traditions, and one of the oldest ones is marionette making. Marionette shows are not only known to fill large theatres, but it has always been quite normal for families to have a tiny stage with small marionettes at home to entertain with. My grandfather did this for me and my sister when we were children. Still today, there are marionette theatres and shops in the centre of Prague, as well as all across the Czech Republic.
Did you start by making glove puppets or marionettes?
My mother used to make clay modelled marionettes; I found it to be interesting, so I wanted to try making them as well. I then wanted to try wood carving and found that I could express myself and my art better through the wood. So even though I stopped clay modelling marionettes a long time ago, I did find that people still wanted to collect my work, only not everybody can afford the price of a wood-carved marionette. So I started making ‘Glove Puppets’, which are not only fun for me to make, they are perfect in the sense that they don’t take up as much time.
How do your puppets differ from the marionettes you make?
The biggest difference is the amount of work and time it takes to make. The Glove Puppets take considerably less time to create than a marionette. Also, the Glove Puppets are made from only three pieces of wood, while the marionettes are made from fifteen pieces. Then there is the price. Since the time to create is substantially different, so are the prices. And lastly, they are quite opposite in their operation; the Glove Puppets are operated from below, while the marionettes have strings and a rocker, so they are operated from above. I take an equal amount of care with both; I have worked very long and hard to build my reputation and name.
How long have you been working at this craft?
After I left art school where I studied graphic design, I started helping my mother with her work. So that means I have been doing this now for over twenty years. My career really took off about fifteen years ago when I started working in wood. It is ironic that I am not a strong person, yet the wood carving that has given me so much success and attention are taking its toll on my body. Who knows when I will need to stop; I, unfortunately, may not last another fifteen years. I suspect that I will need to reduce my workload so that I can continue. Eventually, as I cut back on my work, I may need to only make my Unique Marionettes, and even further into the future, I will ultimately even lessen the amount of Uniques I make. But on the bright side, this means that people who already have my work will then possess a collector’s item. As they become less available, their value will not decrease. In fact, once certain Uniques become ‘retired’, they may very well increase in value.
Where did you learn this skill?
I had a few lessons on the technical side of carving, as well as putting together a marionette to get the best possible balance and movement. I grew in experience and confidence after having spent many hours practising. I would spend so many hours carving wood, only to throw that piece of wood away. Eventually, I developed my own style with things like hands and bow legs-which have become my signature. But of course, I still believe the character is in the face.
What are the challenges in making these marionettes?
I constantly have to think about new characters. The Popular Marionettes are not so bad because I only need to think about their costumes as I repeat those designs. Unique Marionettes are much more difficult because you are dealing with a natural untreated material. The wood sometimes can be very unfriendly containing defects; sometimes the tree had sucked sand through its roots and this makes it difficult to carve. This is trying, as I need to keep my chisels sharp. Whether I am carving a Unique or a Popular Marionette, it is still fifteen pieces of wood, all hand carved and every one of these marionettes needs individual attention to give it the best movement possible.
How long does it take to make your marionettes, as well as your glove puppets?
It isn’t easy to say exactly how long it takes to make one marionette or Glove Puppet as it is quite a long process. Some marionettes take a few weeks, while a Unique Marionette can take a few months. Quite often, people want me to make something very quickly for a present, so because of the variety of my orders and the time it takes individually for each, I have to say that it is difficult to put a timeframe on any one item. At the moment, I am making two marionettes for a client in America, one for Canada and one for Taiwan, all of which were ordered late last year. It is not always like this, but as I work from scratch, I would like to ask for as much notice as possible.
Please walk us through the process required to create your marionettes, including the clothing they wear.
First of all, I need to have an idea in my mind; it can come anytime and anywhere. I then draw a technical drawing from the front as well as the profile, and then I prepare patterns, which I pass to my father in the Czech Republic. He cuts rough pieces from the wood using an industrial saw. When I receive the blocks of wood back (normally fifteen individual parts), I can start to hand-carve them into the integral parts of the marionette. These body parts are connected with screws and leather before they are preserved with beeswax and left to dry. Once dry, I paint the parts with oil paints, and once again, leave them to dry. In the meantime, I create a costume specifically designed for the marionette and dress up the character. Whenever possible, I only use the natural material such as leather, silk, chiffon and cotton. If I can, I like to use recycled material. One of my Glove Puppets, for example, had silk that came from a saree in India, Tartan from a charity shop in Scotland, and velvet and leather from the Czech Republic. My husband George and I also spend time looking around car boot fairs in search of interesting bits and pieces to help make my marionettes customized individuals. We also spend a lot of time,