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September 29th, 2003

Puppetronics

by D. Clark MacPherson

You would think that after living in SoHo for twenty years, the artists that have made this community famous would be well known to us all. That just isn’t true. Chuck Levitan, for example, who had an art gallery on Grand Street until a few years ago, was a talented artist in his own right. The “Art Establishment” did not recognize his efforts to bring unknown talent to the fore, but he was appreciated as one of SoHo’s original pioneers. Unfortunately, rents skyrocketed and Chuck now lives in Florida doing his art while his old space is now a deli. We can’t stop progress, can we? One of his friends, Ronnie Asbell, is someone who knew Chuck very well and was a fellow artist who still lives in the building above his old gallery. And, from time to time when I would see her, we would talk about how Chuck was faring in the Florida Art Scene. She talked about how difficult it had been for him to make ends meet; trying to help budding artists while still hoping to charge enough for exhibiting their art to make the shows work and also pay the rent. Ronnie never talked about her own art and I only found out about it when she gave me her business card. The business card had an amazing photo of huge, magical puppets in wild colors and costumes. Some of them appeared to be about 15 feet tall. Her head poked through the bodies of these giant colorful creatures in the photo.

The business card that she handed me for Puppetronics Inc. led to a discussion about her own art.

She invited me to visit her “studio,” a fourth floor walk-up apartment that leads you into two connected older apartments which house an amazing collection of puppets. There are literally hundreds of these “little people” that line her walls and stand on her floors. There is just about room for a sitting area, bed and workroom/office that share the space with these friendly creatures.

Puppetronics Inc., is her hands-on “Traveling Exhibition of Life-Sized Marionettes.” The marionettes range in size from 2 to 15 feet in size, and each puppet’s hand holds a musical instrument, and is strung up to a control panel. The public is invited to pull the strings and become the puppeteer. She has had over 30 one woman exhibitions in museums throughout the US.

Another version of her exhibitions involves Ronnie’s collection of marionettes, rod puppets and hand puppets collected while travelling in China, Burma, India and other countries. They range in size from 8 inches to 35 inches. And this is a show that is sometimes offered in conjunction with the marionettes.

She also builds and performs giant body puppets. These have delighted children and adults at places like Lincoln Center, The Tribeca Film Festival, The Glenbow Museum, The Central Park Conservancy and many other festivals and special events.

Ronnie also holds workshops and teaches puppetry at St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights, a private school that she praises for dedication to students. Every first Monday in May she holds a huge puppet parade with both her students’ life size puppets and her puppets up Montegue Street.

Her clients range from large corporations to universities, to major museums in this country and abroad. And she has been entertaining children and adults with her long-running installations as well as offering her services to special fundraisers for over twenty years.

In addition to being one of SoHo valued artists, she is a businessperson whose work is a practical example of the “working artist” that has made our community world-famous.

D. Clark MacPherson

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