By Shelby Zacharias
IRRIGON Dogs, cats, pigs and dragons are invading A.C. Houghton Elementary School in the form of puppets.
Sculpture artist and puppeteer William Walther is teaching kindergarten through fourth-grade classes how to make their own puppets.
On Thursday he taught Marilyn Post's third graders how to add detail to their puppets.
"If there's anything I can teach you," Walther said, "it's that every line, spot and dot you put on your puppet will totally change it."
Walther used the white board to demonstrate for the class how one line can make a face look happy or sad.
"It's not magic," he said. "It's optical illusion."
For three weeks, Walther has been teaching the students through the Eastern Oregon Regional Arts Council Artist in Residence program.
"I'm always amazed at how much William gets out of students," said Jane Howell, the EORAC director.
According to Howell, the arts council has offered the Artist in Residence program since 1988. She said the program was started as a way for artists to give back to the community and pass on their skills.
The program has nearly 30 artists offering students in 10 counties the chance to learn a variety of art forms.
Howell believes it is particularly important to offer students in rural areas a variety of cultural opportunities.
"You never know which child is the next great piano player or puppeteer," she said.
At A.C. Houghton, Walther is teaching students how to sculpt using styrofoam to create paper maché sculpture heads that will be attached to a cloth body to create a hand puppet.
Walther, a professional artist for more than 30 years, has been involved with the Artist in Residence program since its early years.
After his demonstration, Walther set Post's classroom to the task of making puppet faces.
He circles the room observing students work and answering questions, all the while keeping his hands behind his back.
"I strive very hard to make this their puppet not mine," he said.
The only time he breaks his rule is to demonstrate to students the use of yarn to make different hair style.
The boys can learn how to make a mohawk, and the girls can make bangs and eyelashes.
Elizabeth Ayala, 9, opts out of the hair demonstration. She's making a chihuahua like her dog, Dixie, at home.
Walther has been a big hit at the school.
"All the teachers and students are just raving about him," Post said. "He's really kept the attention of all the kids."
The is the second time Post, who also serves as the Artist in Residence Coordinator for the school, has been able to watch Walther at work.
The school was able to participate in the Artist in Residence program as a result of a grant from the North Morrow Foundation and the parent club.
For more information about Walther, his art and his puppets, visit CenterStagePuppets.com.