Last Saturday we gathered with about 150 folks in the cozy barn at The Croft to celebrate wolves, acknowledge their particular struggle and raise money for Oregon Wild’s incredible work protecting wild spaces and those that live there. We performed, for only the third time live, our shadow puppet “crankie” show: “Wolf, Wolf, You Are Home” - made two years ago on a very, very long piece of paper (see below for more details on HOW we made it!) The show is based on the story of OR-7, a wolf who travelled thousands of miles across state lines, traversing highways, skirting housing developments, and evading traps and poachers to find a mate. At the end of the show the audience erupted in a huge collective “OWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!” howl. The energy in the room was electric— for one moment, in sharing that primal howl, we felt like that room full of people had the power to do ANYTHING together. Collectively we raised over $8,000 that night for Oregon Wild, but the money felt like a happy byproduct of the evening. It felt like something else moved in the room. It felt like hearts opened a little, like the tears that were shed softened cheeks hardened by the harsh winds of our collective pain. It was evidence that love for the world and our fellow creatures is in us all, just below the surface. Somehow we need to reconnect with that in order to find the strength to do what we need to do: to heal, restore, protect, preserve.
A LITTLE WOLF HISTORY: Their’s is a dishearteningly familiar story; a species driven to near extinction by humans is slowly brought back by humans, then continually beaten back again by humans, always heavily managed, and drifting on and off of ever-changing lists deciding who deserves protection when. There are innumerable hardships to overcome in order to simply exist: broken up and reduced habitat, encroaching housing developments, impassable interstates, traps, poison, poachers. Like so many other creatures coexisting with humankind in the modern era, the odds seem stacked against them. Indeed, our show and event could have been about any number of other creatures.
We each entered the space with our own set of preconceived notions about wolves, for most of us a slurry of fairy tales, news stories, movie plots, folklore. There is a certain mystery that cloaks the wolf, an elusiveness, and for many, an association with danger. This; from Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men:” Before a wolf was brought into their classroom, a group of grade-school children were asked to draw pictures of wolves. The wolves in the pictures all had enormous fangs. The wolf was brought in, and the person with him began speaking about wolves. The children were awed by the animal. When the wolf left, the teacher asked the children to do another drawing. The had no large fangs. The all had enormous feet.”
Historically, wolves have been vital keystone species, living in the West in abundance. Fur trapping, habitat loss, and eradication campaigns by the cattle ranching industry led to the complete extermination of wolves in the West, with the last wolf being shot for bounty in 1946. In 1995 wolves from British Columbia were introduced into Yellowstone Park, and that population gradually expanded West, but the numbers continued to stay very, very low (in 2015 the population of wolves in Oregon was only around 110, now there are 137 known wolves in Oregon). Wolves still only inhabit 10% of their historic territory in the US, despite the fact that very few cattle are killed by wolves (less than two dozen over the last decade — all of whose owners were reimbursed for their loss by the government), recently there has been a renewed effort by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to kill wolves to appease ranchers. In August 2017, four adult members of the Harl Butte wolf pack in Wallowa County were killed by ODFW, leaving just four remaining adult wolves in the pack. The story is similar in Washington.
WHY WE MADE THE SHOW: In summer of 2017, we helplessly watched as news stories of these beloved wolves being shot, one after another, poured in. When we heard the call from Center for Biological Diversity to support their Predator Defense Fund, we knew we wanted to take action. And in the process of deciding how we might do so, we also gifted ourselves the opportunity to work in an art form new to us — a shadow puppet “crankie” performance. We did two magical shows and then life got busy — very busy: Nina had a baby, we wrote a book together, we continued the daily work of The Far Woods — and the show was packed away destined to sit on our studio shelf for two years. We yearned to perform the show again, we hungered for the incredible experience of sharing our art with an audience in realtime.
Running an online shop and selling our work through stores can feel a bit isolating - but performing had a new electricity; the energy of a group of people, focused in anticipation, cozying up to one another shoulder to shoulder, lights dimmed, candles flickering, embarking on a very analog “experience journey” together. It was our hope in creating this puppet show and event that we are facilitating an emotional connection for folks to the natural world through the arts. We were humbled when, indeed, many people told us they were moved to tears -- a sign that people’s love (and grief) for the world is RIGHT there, just below the surface, a wound, a tenderness. It’s our job as artists to tap into it, reveal it, or help people reveal it themselves, to be vulnerable in our love for the world so that we may find the strength to do what we know needs to be done: to heal, restore, reconcile, protect, preserve.
HOW WE MADE THE SHOW: Music was a huge inspiration for this show — as we mulled over what story we’d like to tell and how, we listened to a favorite song “Beyond the Valley of the Three White Horses” by Andrew Bird and immediately felt the emotional depth and narrative of the song strongly suggested a journey. There bass line part of the song sounded to us like traveling feet, steadily moving forward — there were transitions in the song that felt like natural scene changes — and the feeling of yearning was palpable in the voices and strings. It was the perfect song to use as a framework on which to build the story of a journeying wolf.
A crankie is a box with a open window on one side facing the audience. A long scroll of paper, on which we painted a continuous yet changing landscape, is rolled onto one rolling-pin-like spool and the free end is attached to another spool on the opposite side of the box. One spool is cranked and the paper is rolled onto it, causing the picture on the paper to pass by, across the window. This moving paper is lit from behind, creating a luminous, moving canvas on which to cast the shadows of puppets. The paper for this show is over 100 feet long and was hand-painted painted using India ink, homemade walnut ink, and watercolors. We made a rough draft paper first, planning the images and timing certain moments to synch with different points in the music by cutting and adding/subtracting paper. When we felt it was all worked out, we laid the rough draft out next to the final paper and painted the images directly onto the final, our fingers crossed we wouldn’t make any mistakes and have to start all over again! See photos below for more process shots and behind the scenes pics!