PHOENIXVILLE - Super-sized puppets will be taking to the streets of Phoenixville this Saturday during the FAME Festival.
Local artist Lynn Miller has constructed a giant phoenix puppet to go along with several other puppets. The puppets rise to at least 10 feet tall. Local volunteers reside in the paper mache costumes during their infamous stroll of Bridge Street during the festival.
"Large puppets and mask-making have been done for centuries by other cultures," said Miller, who also refers to the puppets as "an ancient art form."
The phoenix will be accompanied by an array of Miller's other works of art. Puppets Medusa, Natasha, Big Head and Atlas will be strolling around throughout the festival. Local volunteers, including Miller's nine-year-old son and college students organized by Linda Hytha, will be puppeteering the colorful creations as they roam about town.
These puppets were built by the community last summer in Miller's home studio. Miller is "hoping to do this every year and have more community builds so we can have a whole, big puppet parade."
Miller is manning a table at FAME Festival located in the parking lots behind Bridge Street and Steel City under a tent in the kids section. Her table will offer a learning experience for all ages about printmaking.
The prints will be used as the design for the phoenix's outfit, a toga-like garment. Children will have the opportunity to make handprints using a water-based paint that they can wash off with baby wipes. Adults will get to make leaf prints using a variety of leaves and inks.
Once the decorating is complete, the phoenix will adorn its new outfit and perform in a "Phoenix Rising." The phoenix bird has mythological significance in many cultures. It represents life after death because the mythological bird was burned to ashes before resurrecting back to life. Miller refers to Phoenixville as a metaphor of the phoenix story, with the town representing the infamous bird.
"Phoenixville itself was a booming steel mill, which dried out, representing ashes," said Miller. "But with new businesses and growth, the Phoenix Rising represents the revitalization of Phoenixville."
With an outfit decorated by the community, the phoenix will stroll around the festival with a mystery volunteer behind the cloak. Miller is still looking for a volunteer. While posing in the immense puppet herself, Miller's concoction swayed from side to side. She said the experience was topsy turvy.
"It's supposed to be not that heavy and not that much of a strain to wear, but this one needs work," Miller said.
She expects to have all the kinks worked out for Saturday.
The costumes are made from alternate layers of plastic bags, boxes and newspapers, including old issues of The Phoenix. The towering phoenix was made by Miller in a week, adding new paper mache layers every few days. Miller also uses this process as another metaphor of new life.
"The puppets are magical because they are made out of something people have thrown away and because they're bigger than life," Miller said.
Miller is interested in types of art where she can "make something out of nothing while involving the community."
Miller says the "puppets really come to life and take on a life of their own."
"This one is very high spirited like a horse that isn't broken in yet. Hopefully, I can get it trained by Saturday," Miller said of her proud phoenix.
The actual costumes are fairly light-weight and breathable. The masks are made so puppeteers can see out, but curious kids can't see in. Light fabrics are used so the willing volunteers don't suffer quite as much as the Disney characters down in Florida.
The table adjacent to Miller's will feature puppet making for children. Kids will be able to make paper plate bird puppets of their own after viewing Miller's larger demonstration. A free moon bounce will also be available for the kiddies.
Miller will also have dolls on display at both the Phoenixville Village Art Center, located at 209 Bridge Street, and Benevolent Arts, found on 8 S. Main Street.