Michael McCormick

Of Punch and Judy fame, Albuquerque’s Michael McCormick is a globally lauded puppeteer and collaborated with Sesame’s Streets’ Jim Henson.

AIRED: November 23, 2019 | 0:27:02

Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation ...and Viewers Like You













>>Megan Kamerick: As a puppet maker and a

performer yourself, when you are fashioning raw

material into a puppet, what makes it come alive

and become part of the human drama?

>>Michael McCormick: Well, you are right, because it

is just a pile of sticks and bits and pieces of

fabric and paint, I think the minute a human being

actually touches it when it's a figure, that

process humanizes the object itself.

And there's so many like the Punch and Judy, it's

some of them, you know, intense traditions of

hundreds of years, maybe thousands of years.

Because these have been going on, when you think

about it, it's classic Greek theater, I mean, we

are using these kinds of characters.

You know, somebody said, how did puppets start?

And I said, well we are seating around a fire and

I'm the showman, and I am telling you how yesterday

I encountered, and I picked up this creature. Right?

Okay, puppetry starts.

>>Kamerick: What was it like to go from a small

production like Punch and Judy to working with Jim

Henson at the creature shop and in large

theatrical productions like the Dark Crystal?

>>McCormick: Yeah, that's great, yeah, it was a

severe shock, but there's an enormous amount of

synchronicity, in a Jungian sense, going on

with that whole thing because I had used Brian

Froud's book on faeries that became the most

popular book of its type at the time, and I had

used that book for references for the puppets

I had built that were on the back seat of my car

when Roger Miller saw them and gave me the

introduction to Jim Henson.

I didn't come back for four years.

>>Kamerick: Wow.

>>McCormick: It's really funny because you walked

through the studio doors or even come past the

gate, your total experience, life experience changes.

And it's, for that day, right?

>>Kamerick: Yeah.

>>McCormick: And then you go home, and you have your

dinner and sit there and have a drink, try to come down.

>>Kamerick: Yeah.

>>McCormick: And it, ah.

>>Kamerick: Does your...

>>McCormick: Because you've just spent twelve

to fourteen hours inside this rarefied atmosphere

of pressure, pressure, pressure; and when you

realized that if for some reason your, whatever it

is, isn't working the way it should be you just cost

the production, in the case of Dark Crystal,

about eighty thousand bucks.

>>Kamerick: What was your role in a production that

size as a storyteller?

>>McCormick: I was a puppet builder so that put

me in touch with, you know, all the puppeteers

from Davey Goelz, to Frank Oz to, you know, to

whoever, and try to build the Skeksis to a level

that they will be useable and, what can I say,

agreeable that they weren't drawing blood on

the puppeteer, which is always something sharp

sticking in there, whatever.

And so, when the puppet was in a performance state

then it would go to a stage for a test shot to

see if it was going to be working and sort of

building up to that grand moment, it was, you know,

a spectacular way to come into the industry.

>>Kamerick: What is it like seeing your puppets,

your creations, in those scenarios, in those situations?

>>McCormick: It was great, it was like having your

daughter or son, sort of.

Look I did that!

>>Kamerick: What was it like to work with this

team of artist and with Jim Henson?

>>McCormick: Probably the most dynamic single situation.

I've been working with artists from the time I

was teaching at the Institute of American

Indian Arts in Santa Fe and we were just working

with a wall of talent from T. C.

Canon to just, you know, you name them, just one

genius after another, and there I was in London with

the same situation.

Jim is, was probably the finest manager of artistic

talent that I've ever experienced.

>>Kamerick: Interesting.

>>McCormick: He tuned, it was like a, ultimately

like a well-tuned musical instrument that just

produced what he needed to get done what he needed to

get done, but a...

>>Kamerick: What kind of person was he? What was he like?

>>McCormick: He was very available.

He usually came into the shop at least once a week,

sometimes more.

David Odell, who was the writer, was living in

Jim's apartment or house just across the road from

where our shop was.

And so, he was over there, so we had the writer, we

had Jim, we had Ossie Morris, was, you know, the

quintessential cameraman.

What can I say, it hummed at every level.

>>Kamerick: Sounds like it. Sounds amazing.

>>McCormick: Yeah.

It, you couldn't get away from it. I mean, even.

>>Kamerick: Yeah.

>>McCormick: Even in the shop, almost every day,

every second day, somebody was coming with a new

material to test, to try, a new tool.

We had introduced the Disney term animatronics

to the English trade at that point, the only

reason I could have been there or many of the other people.

It's hard to say, it was like a tsunami of

emotional effect at every level of your body.

>>Kamerick: Why is it important to tell these

stories that you bring to live through the art of

puppetry, these kinds of architypes we see?

>>McCormick: Well, it's good term, I mean, Punch

and hence the characters in his family are in fact

all architypes.

It fills out an area of the psyche, I believe,

that isn't readily available otherwise.

It's a dark side of not only life but of

psychology, it a shadowed side, and...

>>Kamerick: Wait, where these the puppeteers that

you'll, like children in France will go see these

every day?

>>McCormick: And did.

>>Kamerick: Wow.

>>McCormick: For centuries, literally, and

when you look at the behavior you think, ah,

this is a human behavior, and we have sort of been

not wanting to look at it.

Yeah, so, if the, what you want to call it, the

chemistry of the psyche I believe it becomes Punch

particularly because he is such a warped twisted

malformed creature himself.

All of a sudden, the psyche is free to deal

with those aspects of his own twisted nature.

And I, I think it's a, he is a valuable guy.

>>Kamerick: What do you hope to achieve with your

work as you continue to do it?

>>McCormick: Besides having a terrific time.

>>Kamerick: That's always important.

>>McCormick: I think, I want to offer that thing

to American children and adults because it's

appreciated, it's, the thing it's a rolling

double entendres, so two different shows happening

at the same time.

So, the adults get one show, the kids get another

show, but they appreciate, can talk about it, and

that's the thing I noticed about Punch is that it

creates talk between children and parents

because the kids want to know, why did Mr. Punch,

why, you know, immediately, and so the

parents have to sort of flounder in their psyches

to come up with some kind of reasonable answer.

>>Kamerick: When you talk about the shows bringing

together children and parents to talk about an

art form, it's very similar to what Henson did

with his work with Sesame Street and his other creations.

>>McCormick: Yeah.

>>Kamerick: Why is that so rewarding?

>>McCormick: Those joys that are inherent of doing

something like this as a child of sitting on your

bed and talking as any child would to a doll,

only it's okay.

And, you know, that started so early when I

was sort of three and four where the first shows that

I saw during the war in New York, Brooklyn, there

was an Italian troupe that got stuck there because of

the war, and they performed on the lawns and

gardens in front of the Brooklyn Museum, and they

did some incredible things and they were very large

marionettes and that just of course creates, you

know, this mental fervor and it, it just, that,

that level of excitement is just inherent in the

process for me.

It sounds silly that I'm sitting there working on a

puppet or sculpting or something and I'm

experiencing many of those same joys that I

experienced as a child, sort of not just redone,

but revives the same feeling, not a new

feeling, the same feeling gets brought up again

inside my head. Yeah, I guess that's it. Okay.

>>Kamerick: Mike McCormick thank you so much for

coming and talking with us.

>>McCormick: It was an absolute pleasure.


>>It's the wood itself in the work itself.

It's always out there and I always think about it.

Really good to be right in the moment and not have to

worry about other Things.

Just focus on what you're doing at the time and time

seems to fly away.

I see a tree or a piece of wood that's been cut Down;

oh that make a nice box or that make a great bowl.

You have to look for further grain in the wood, there's

different colors different variations in the grains.

My name is Thomas Irven and I'm a wood Artist.

7th or 8th grade or ninth grade and we had a woods

in metals class and I got to turn a clock.

I always remembered it and it wasn't till after I was

working on my master's degree that I came back to

it so just kind of latent back there but it popped

out growing up in Indiana and we had a lot of acorn

trees so that kind of started me doing boxes and

acorns and it's grown from there.

Wood turning is typically done on the lathe it's

kind of like a potter's wheel only turned sideways

so the wood spins on a machine and then you use

sharp tools to kind of carve it out.

Sometimes the wood just will tell you what it

wants to be and I'll just look at it over a period

of time and then eventually it's like that

little piece of wood kind of magically says that's

what I want to be.

A bowl is basically a bead in a cove you have a bead

underneath if you turn it over you'd have a round

bottom that that's a bead if you turn the other way

where the hollow is the hollow is a Cove.

There's really not much in woodturning that is other

than a bead in a Cove and a and a break or a

transition that's basically all there is an eternity.

So if you can master doing that it's not too hard to

do whatever you want to.

In practice it's a little bit harder than it sounds.

Woodturners like what carpenters will just kind

of toss aside when you cut a green tree down you have

these crotch pieces will go cut those off and

they'll kind of throw them in a pile and not use them

as they don't make good straight lumber.

Woodturner's love that.

Emotion comes into it a lot if I'm angry about

something else it's going to show up in the work.

All the emotions kind of come into play can be a

wonderful thing there's a piece in the back of the

shop here that I I made after my father's death

and so I know that's that part of my life that

period of time.

Wood is a it's a living object and sometimes you

think it's still alive when it's flying off the

lathe that you you know but their bark inclusions

and things that you can't see sometimes so you have

to be very careful on what's in there and just

aware of what you're doing.

I hope more people look at woodworking as art but

I'll just keep making what I make and hopefully they like it.


>>John Kascht: There's a conception, and it's a

misconception, that caricature is about distortion.

What makes people think of distortion is that it's

very exaggerated, it's very amplified but there's

a big difference there.

I'm amplifying in the direction of what makes

that person unique.

My name is John Kascht and I'm a caricaturist.

Caricature is not cartooning, it's not

illustration, it's not a comic strip.

Caricature is a very specialized form of portraiture.

Like all portraitists, caricaturists are

interested in nailing the likeness.

What it is an investigation into exactly

what makes a person unique.

You find the things that make you different from

everybody else, and then those things get amplified.

And the more of the nuances that make that

person unique that I can observe and get into a

drawing, the more complete the likeness is and the

greater the recognition on the part of the person

looking at it and they say, "yes, I recognize that person".

I was very much that kid in the back of class

drawing the teachers.

And the thing about me is that I never stopped.

I'm still kind of drawing the teachers or the

authority figures anyway but now it's politicians,

it's performers, that kind of thing.

I've drawn primarily celebrities or notable public figures.

So when I'm drawing an idea that I have, I

usually do quick thumbnail sketches just to kind of

start mapping out the way the piece could look.

I draw on vellum, transparent vellum, so

that if I have something in a sketch that I like,

I'll slide it under a fresh sheet, draw over the

top of it and keep the parts I like, don't keep

the parts I don't like until eventually I've got

the fully realized sketch that I wanna paint from.

I use watercolor and paint in light layers of glaze.

Ideally if I have 16 hours to 20 hours on

something-you know, obviously each piece has

its own requirements-but 16 to 20 hours is a great

amount of time for me for an average piece in my style.

>>Bonnie Byrd: The Waukesha County Historic

Society and Museum was founded in 1914, so we've

got more than 100 years behind us of celebrating

what this region, what Waukesha County has to

offer in the world and what impacts we've

made in the world.

"Making Faces" is our feature exhibition.

The artist John Kascht is originally from Waukesha,

city of Waukesha, graduate of Catholic Memorial High

School just a mile and a quarter down the road from here.

And so a really lovely way to celebrate someone from

this part of the world and to take and appreciate his


The wonderful nature of the work that John does is

that he as the artist gets to retain very often the

original that he makes.

And so he's been kind of sitting on this incredible

back catalog, 30 years worth of work.

>>Kascht: The exhibition here is a collection of

about 100-ish pieces that are my favorites.

>>Byrd: Bill Murray is one of the large-format prints

and we put him kind of front and center right

inside the gallery space as you walk in.

We really start with just in general what goes into

his caricature and portraiture work, things

like body language and also what the process is

to get to a finished product.

And really take people on that journey from

appreciating what this art form can be when it's done

to the expert level that John's able to achieve on

through its multiple iterations and kind of uses.

My favorite piece is the first piece of work he ever sold.

It's a political cartoon that he sold to the

Waukesha Freeman.

>>Kascht: One day I just went down to the Waukesha

Freeman offices with a bunch of drawings of the

teachers, of family members.

And I just went in and asked to see the editor,

'cause I had in my mind that I wanted to do

political cartoons because that's where I was seeing

caricature work.

I think because he was puzzled he agreed to meet

with me, I was 14, and amazingly he said I could

submit cartoons to them.

And in retrospect, I realize he did me a great

favor, a great service there professionally.

He took me seriously at that age.

And I started identifying myself as a professional.

>>Byrd: And to start with that piece and see

everything that's come after that is just this

incredible story of what a lifetime of work can do.

>>Kascht: My favorite things in the exhibition

actually are the sketches because to me that's where

the creativity really is.

The likeness is happening or it's not, and when it's

not, boy, it can be tough.

But then, when I finally capture it, it really

still to me feels like a miracle when that person

is looking back at me from the paper.

With caricature you think of, you know, big nose,

big chin, big ears, that stuff's all part of it,

but so are nuances like a person's particular skin

tone, do they slouch or do they sit up straight, do

they use their hands a lot, are they more

contained and don't reveal much.

All of those nuances convey ultimately who we

are on the inside.

I'm still amazed that how we hold ourselves

outwardly says so much and says so accurately who we

are on the inside.

I feel in some ways I'm trying to learn about

myself one person at a time.


>>Sarah Beth: I would say that my work is fun and

modern It's very bright and colorful and I feel

like it's very real very honest.

I really try to capture the personality and spirit

of my subjects.

>>I never set out to be a pet photographer I came

out it very organically.

I've always been an animal lover and I went to school

for graphic design and through that job, I kind

of got into photography professionally and I

started photographing kids and families and weddings

and discovered that I wasn't really for me.

So I started volunteering with some pet rescues and

that got me involved with other businesses and it

grew from there.

It was a part time thing and now it's full time and

I love it.

(Talking to Dog)

>>Coming into the studio is a very

strange experience for a lot of animals and they do

tend to be kind of excitable or nervous, just

kind of having a routine helps keep the sessions

going smoothly and animals is on a much different

communication level and they're not always going

to do what you want them to do.

(Talking to pets)

>>I love my clients relationships

with their pets, their pets are their children in

a sense and it's such a sweet and a very short

lived relationship which I think it makes them

embrace it a little more because they know they

only have a short amount of time and a big part of

what I do is end of life photography sessions for

terminally ill and elderly pets.

>>Just seeing the relationships that these

people have had.

It's. The best part of what I do is really the owners

interacting and hearing about all of their

wonderful experiences with their pets.

>>Client: We did a photo shoot I think like five

years ago and it was all I remember.

Because then we did our Christmas cards.

Our pets are our kids basically I mean we don't

have children.

We love them.

They're a huge part of our lives.

It seems like it would be unnatural to me not to

have professional photography of our animals.

>>Sarah Beth: Sometimes I think about what I do and

I just have to laugh because I say this is what I do.

I photograph pets and so many people that I meet

are like oh my gosh you have my dream job.

I'd love to do that.

I think from the outside people think that it's

really just playing with animals all the time and

it's so much work.

But the hour that I get to spend with some amazing

animal makes all the rest of it totally worth it.

>>And. I don't know, I can't imagine doing anything else.


New Mexico PBS dot org and look for COLORES under

What We Do and Local Productions.



>>Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation ...and Viewers Like You


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