‘American Puppet Masters story’ motivates ‘Balloons over Broadway’ exhibition held at The Sullivans

Miniature float ideas created by students on display

Story and photos by Greg Mitchell, FLEACT Yokosuka Public Affairs

June 3, 2014

Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka (May 22, 2014) - The Sullivans Elementary School students, Kira Frank (left) and Ciairene Penaflor (right), both classmates of the gifted and talented program, display their prototype character puppet creation, 'Vexy' to fellow students prior to submitting their idea to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade committee in New York City. Their character was inspired by the book, "Balloons Over Broadway," by Melissa Sweet, and was one of several 'miniature floats' on display as a part of the 'Balloons over Broadway' exhibit held at The Sullivans Elementary School, May 22. (Photo by Steve Parker/released by FLEACT Yokosuka PAO)

Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka (May 22, 2014) – The Sullivans Elementary School students, Kira Frank (left) and Ciairene Penaflor (right), both classmates of the gifted and talented program, display their prototype character puppet creation, ‘Vexy’ to fellow students prior to submitting
their idea to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade committee in New York City.Their character was inspired by the book, “Balloons Over Broadway,” by Melissa Sweet, and was one of several ‘miniature floats’ on display as apart of the ‘Balloons over Broadway’ exhibit held at The Sullivans Elementary School, May 22. (Photo by Steve Parker/released by FLEACT
Yokosuka PAO)

History lessons for all were at hand when the students of The Sullivans Elementary School recently had the opportunity to display their artistic talents during a ‘Balloons over Broadway’ exhibition held in the school’s main lobby area, May 22.

The exhibitions’ name was linked to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade which is held in New York City annually. The purpose of the exhibit was to make students aware of something that is a part of American history.

“We started polling kids and we found out that 95% of them did not know what the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was, so that’s how it all started,” said Pamela Ashley, gifted education teacher of the discovery workshop class at The Sullivans. “I read them the story about Anthony “Tony” Frederick Sarg, who did the windows in front of the store back at that time. It’s about Sarg’s life; marionettes were his specialty. It also talks about the evolution of the balloons created during Macy’s, how they changed through the years.”

Sarg, a German American puppeteer and illustrator, has been described as “America’s Puppet Master,” and in his biography he is also considered as being the ‘Father of modern puppetry in North America.’ Sarg grew up around puppets, heavily influenced by his grandmother’s collection that he eventually inherited. After turning his hobby into a profession in 1917, Sarg teamed up with protégé Bil Baird to design and build tethered helium-filled balloons that were up to 125 feet (40 m) long, resembling animals, for the New York institution of Macy’s department store, involving a number of issues familiar from puppetry. These ‘exhibits’ were entered into the store’s Thanksgiving Day parade, thus beginning his connection with the event.

“The students did research and had to come up with facts that supported what they had found and they had to present it in some way of their choosing; it could have been in powerpoint format for example but, they chose to do a comic strip that told about the (parade) history,” said Ashley. U.S. chain store business Macy’s began the parade in 1924, tying it with America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit, Michigan as being the second oldest parade; the title of oldest goes to the 6abc Dunkin’ Donuts Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, which is four years older. Macy’s has been televised on NBC since 1952, with famous hosts consisting of Dave Garroway (the first), to Betty White and Lorne Greene,to most recently the group of Al Roker, Matt Lauer, Amy Kule and Savannah Guthrie.

Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka (May 22, 2014) - Nintendo Game System's Mario character is one of several miniature floats on display as a part of the 'Balloons over Broadway' exhibit held at The Sullivans Elementary School, May 22. (Photo by Greg Mitchell/released by FLEACT Yokosuka PAO)

Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka (May 22, 2014)-Nintendo Game System’s Mario character is one of several miniature floats on display as a part of the ‘Balloons over Broadway’exhibit held at The Sullivans Elementary
School, May 22. (Photo by Greg Mitchell/released by FLEACT Yokosuka PAO)

For their float concept, students chose to construct mostly with paper mache and boxes, and anything else that they thought would look like their particular characters, or images they wanted portrayed. “They could choose anything that they wanted, something that they wanted to see in the parade,” said Ashley. “Some things have been seen before, but the students changed it up; for example, Snoopy has been in the parade several times before. Some came up with ideas that had never been in the parade.”

Along with Snoopy, of those on display were concepts featuring Nintendo game systems’ Mario Bros, Nemo of Walt Disney’s Finding Nemo and Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, to name a few. “The students also wrote a proposal, which we are going to send to the Macy’s committee,” said Ashley. “They (students) want them (committee) to consider them for a future idea for a float for the parade. Now, I know in my heart of heart that there’s little chance of that but I am an optimist.” Future projects such as Balloons over Broadway loom over the horizon for students to exercise their creativity.

“We do something like this every year,” said Ashley. “We’re doing the invention convention next year where we (the students) are going to come up with our own inventions.”

Ashley is confident that the students will walk away with more than just doing a creative visual. “With America as it is, we live in a wonderful country, built on some wonderful family traditions,” said Ashley. “I want them to believe that if they have some creative ideas, they should have to share them. I want them to know that the sky is the limit.”

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