Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gus White's Puppets

Gus White was a traveling puppet maker, ventriloquist, and portrait painter who brought a Punch and Judy show to small town America. 

Yesterday, using watercolor and colored pencils. I sketched some of Gus White's one-of-a-kind hand puppets. White carved the heads from wood, painted them, and applied real hair or wool.  

White based his show on the traditional European Punch and Judy, but he put an American gloss on it. His version included cartoon icons of the day, such as Happy Hooligan, along with various ethnic stereotype characters, such as the Irish washerwoman, the Jewish peddler, the proper Englishman, the Indian, and various African-American types, all very typical for one hundred years ago.

In this vintage photo, Gus White is surrounded by his cast of characters. The Irish washerwoman is visible third from the left in the bottom row, and the Jewish peddler is visible (with a fuller beard) in the clump of characters on the right side.

You can read more about the story of Gus White and his puppets here.


Tom Hart said...

I love this! One of my passions as a really young boy was ventriloquism. I read and re-read Paul Winchell's book, Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit - and nearly got bounced from the 4th grade for reading it in class. PW described in detail how to make a dummy, which, naturally would be a second cousin to this type of puppet. Gus White was a true master (whom I have just now discovered, thanks to you). That website is really interesting. It's not a huge surprise to read that he was a talented quick sketch artist and caricaturist.

Erik Bongers said...

I'm sure some of these puppets would no longer be acceptable because they appear to have a racist undertone, and in fact, given the era, may very well have been slightly racist.

But of course it's best to look at these puppets with a naive eye.
...although, given the drawing, I do feel Irish women have good reason to be offended.