Copies of Milan Klemenčič’s puppets in a contemporary show

Zala Kalan

The vast collection of Milan Klemenčič’s work that is housed in the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre (LGL) encompasses a wide range of props, scenographic elements, and approximately 100 puppets dating back to the period between 1910 and 1940. Most puppets do not exceed 10cm in height, yet they have an immense artistic value, particularly in terms of their details.

Throughout the years, Milan Klemenčič constantly adapted and developed his puppet production techniques. During his initial “Šturje” years (1910–1917), the limbs of his puppets (the legs, the arms, and the head) were sometimes made of paper, but mostly of plaster and treated with glue. The central part contained a brass profile which also served as a joint. “The author would transfer the sketch of the profile onto a brass sheet, carve it, place it in the middle of the mould, and cast it with plaster. Later, the cast would be cut along the line of the brass insert with a chisel and processed further” ( Matjaž Loboda, Milan Klemenčič : iskalec lepote in pravljičnih svetov, Ljubljana 2011, p. 47). The torso, as well as the upper parts of the legs and arms, was made of braided brass. Once assembled, the doll was dressed in hand-sewn clothes with particular attention to detail. Later on, Klemenčič refined this method and started using lead for the production of hands and legs, which made it easier to animate the puppets.

Ljubljana Puppet Theatre, Castle of Owls (2013). Revival of Milan Klemenčič’s puppet show from 1936, written by Franz Pocci
The collection of Milan Klemenčič’s puppets drew the attention of the French artist Renaud Herbin. In a co-production between the Ljubljana Puppet Theatre and the TJP — National Dramatic Centre of Alsace Strasbourg, Renaud Herbin will direct a play entitled “Open the Owl”, which will premiere in September at the Festival Mondial des Théâtres de Marionnettes in Charleville-Mézières.

In order to preserve the invaluable original puppets intact, replicas of the puppets that are kept in the archives were made specifically for the play “Open the Owl”, with some differences in the production methods and materials. The production process of the replicas was dictated by the number and function of the required puppets. The animated replicas match the originals created for the play “The Castle of Owls” (“Sovji grad”) from 1936 to a great extent, whereas the other puppets that will represent the crowd in the play are simpler, as can be seen from the photographs. The chosen materials enabled a faster and simplified production process. Linden wood was used for the torsos, flint for the heads, and lead for the arms and legs. Due to the fact that the “crowd” will not be animated, various joints have also been considerably simplified. Milan Klemenčič used oil paints and egg tempera to colour his puppets, whereas acrylic colours that dry faster were used for the replicas. The clothes for the puppets were made of natural materials (silk, viscose, cotton).

Production of linden wood torsos
Casting flint into a mould
Polishing head casts using various tools
Casting lead alloy into a mould
Lead casts in the mould
Lead casts of arms and legs
Polishing limbs using rasps
Making notches in the casts
Inserting the metal arm joints
Assembling the parts
Selecting the fabrics and preparing the puppet controller
Dressed-up puppets with the fastening hook
Puppet controller with wires
  • The new replicas for the play “Open the Owl”, produced in the LGL workshop, were made under the supervision of Zala Kalan and Zoran Srdić.