New puppet exhibit at Carlsbad Library is a feast for the eyes and the imagination

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

Alan Cook, founder and director of the International Puppetry Museum in Pasadena, loves puppets so much that he’s collected about 6,000 of them, representing cultures all over the world. For the next few months, you can see some of his treasures at Carlsbad’s Cannon Gallery.

More than 200 puppets from the Alan Cook Collection are beautifully displayed in the gallery that is part of the Library Complex. There are Punch and Judy hand puppets, Indonesian shadow puppets, life-size Burmese puppets, rare Japanese Bunraku puppets meant to be manipulated by two or three puppeteers, Broadway and Hollywood celebrity lookalikes, and a whole company of Chinese marionettes ... and that’s just for starters.

There are probably more puppets on display than you’ve ever seen in your life.

Cook, 79, started collecting as a child, and began his own puppet-making/puppeteering career at age 8, thanks to a WPA (Works Progress Administration) program at his grade school.

“I’ve built this collection on a very small income,” he said. “I was able to buy things when they were cheap. Many of them I wouldn’t be able to afford today.”

Twelve years ago, with the help of a core group of volunteers, Cook started a puppetry museum in a Pasadena church, dedicating it to promoting, preserving and advancing the international art of puppetry. Now heading toward age 80, he has been searching for a permanent home for his collection, and has settled on the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle. But he’s still hoping to find the right place in Southern California.

“Our dream is to find a place here and work in tandem with Seattle. There are certainly enough pieces to go around,” said Collections Coordinator Steve Golden, a former puppeteer who says no one is ever really a “former” puppeteer and has worked with Cook for years.

A special added attraction to the Carlsbad exhibition will be the appearance of Hobey Ford’s Golden Rod Puppets in an extraordinary piece called “Animalia” at the free Family Open Studios event Saturday, Oct. 15.

Ford, an award-winning performer who lives in North Carolina, is famous for his handcrafted foam-rubber “foamies,” realistic animal puppets that seem to come alive in his hands. He teaches nationwide through the Kennedy Center, and has won three Jim Henson Foundation grants and a puppeteer’s highest honor, the Citation of Excellence from the Union Internationale de la Marionette.

Ford’s balletic style of puppetry will leave you and your family enthralled, and you’ll have a chance to create your own animal puppets at the event.

You might even have a chance to talk with Alan Cook about his life and his puppets, which would be an event in itself.

If you go

What: ‘The World on a String,’ on view through Dec. 30

Where: William D. Cannon Art Gallery at Carlsbad City Library Complex, 1775 Dove Lane

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 1-5 p.m. Sundays

Contact: (760) 602-2021,

Special Event: Family Open Studios Plus with Hobey Ford’s Golden Rod Puppets, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. Performances at 11:45 a.m. and 1:15 p.m.