Wisconsin puppet craftsman makes familiar faces come to life

Howdy Doody and Pinocchio may be the most well-known marionettes in recent time, but the craft of making puppets that move with strings dates back thousands of years. WISC-TV's Mark Koehn found a Madison man who is keeping this ancient craft alive.

Among the items for sale at the State Historical Society's museum on the square are some familiar faces. Marionettes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Liberace, Hank Aaron and other Wisconsin luminaries. They are all crafted on Madison's east side by Ken Vogel.

Growing up with Howdy Doody and Pinocchio, Vogel makes his living making marionettes. He's being doing so his entire adult life.

"I really, really liked doing it, you know," Vogel said. "I got the itch to be creative, I've never been an art student or painted or worked like that before but it was just really a lot of fun."

Most of his craft is self taught, though a good friend did show him how to use paper mache.

"I used a clay mould that I've used in the past but I've covered it up with paper mache with a newspaper soaked in paste and my next step will be to take the paper mache shell off of the head," he said.

Then he patches the halves back together, paints them and puts the puppets together.

"The heavy tube for the trunk of the body newspaper tubes for the arms slightly heavier tubes for the upper leg," Vogel said.

Sewing the outfits and painting the faces are Vogel's favorite parts of this and when he's done, these little characters emerge: Vince Lombardi, Mayor Soglin (who's actually a hand puppet, not a marionette), and Harpo Marx. There's Falstaff and Cleopatra, and his bread and butter: Frank Lloyd Wright. He makes more Franks than any other character.

He can make a puppet of anybody really; all Vogel needs is a few photographs.

And when he pulls the strings, they come to life.

Paper mache and tubes and string. That a little imagination and Madison's very own Geppetto makes a whole world come to life.