The Hand Puppets That Bauhaus Artist Paul Klee Made for His Young Son




klee puppet

My kids used to beg their dad to help out with their impromptu puppet shows. He complied by having our daughter’s favorite baby doll deliver an interminable curtain speech, hectoring the audience (me) to become subscribers and make donations via the small envelope they’d find tucked in their programs.

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Like my husband, artist Paul Klee (1879-1940) loomed large in his child’s early puppet work. To mark his son Felix’s ninth birthday, Klee fashioned eight hand puppets based on stock characters from Kasperl and Gretl — Germany’s answer to Punch and Judy. The boy took to them so enthusiastically that his dad kept going, creating something in the neighborhood of fifty puppets between 1916 and 1925. The cast soon expanded to include cartoonish political figures, a self-portrait, and less recognizable characters with a decidedly Dada-ist bent. Klee also fixed Felix up with a flea market frame that served as the proscenium for the shows he put on in a doorway of the family’s tiny apartment.

PaulKleePuppets

When Felix set out into the world at the age of eighteen, he packed his favorite childhood puppets, while his dad hung onto the ones born of his years on the faculty of the Bauhaus. Felix’s portion of the collection was almost entirely destroyed during the bombing of Wurzburg in World War II. Dr. Death was the only member of the original eight to escape unscathed.

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You can find a gallery of Klee’s puppets here, and a book dedicated to Klee’s puppetry here.

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Related Content:

Tchaikovsky Puppet in Timelapse Film

Puppet Making with Jim Henson: A Priceless Primer from 1969

Bauhaus, Modernism & Other Design Movements Explained by New Animated Video Series

Free: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Offer 474 Free Art Books Online

 Ayun Halliday is okay with puppets as long as she can hold them at arm’s length. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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  • sandra stone says:

    I’m an award-winning poet who has focused on ekphrastic voices of eclectic greats. I’ve a poem about the puppets and wonder whether copyright laws would prevent me from using any one of several groups of puppets for back or front cover of prospective book. Do I write a museum directly? Are fees ever waived? The image may not be large, but it must be full color.

    A time-sensitive reply would be greatly appreciated.
    I have a new website under construction if you wish further information. http://www.sandrastone.com

    Kindly,soonest.

    In regard,

    Sandra Stone, author of Cocktails with Breughel at the Museum Cafe. Winner of two awards.

    The Inmost House: Memory, Making, Journeying, Dwelling.
    One of five finalists for the OR Literary Arts Book Award.
    Also: 2010 winner of PSA Lucille Medwick award for a single poem on a humanitarian theme.

  • greg geisler says:

    The link to the Flickr gallery of Klee’s puppets is not working. 404 error.

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