Films capture creative spirits of local sculptor and puppeteer

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Two short films that will be screened Sunday as a part of the Three Rivers Film Festival have local connections in sculptor Thaddeus Mosley, puppeteer Margo Lovelace and filmmaker Kenneth Love. They also have a link to the 2013 Carnegie International.

Ms. Lovelace and Mr. Mosley's achievements have been frequently acknowledged publicly, but Mr. Love's sensitive documentaries reach beyond specifics to illuminate the grace and joy that these artists have contributed to our community. With almost fatherly care, he's distilled countless hours of research and interviews into half-hour profiles of gentility and the creative spirit.

Mr. Love, a nationally recognized filmmaker, will screen and discuss the films beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' Regent Square Theater, 1035 S. Braddock Ave.

The power and musicality underlying Mr. Mosley's sculpture becomes evident in the opening frames of "Thaddeus Mosley: Sculptor" as he chips away at massive pieces of hardwood with heartbeat vitality and regularity.

"The idea is that you see the textures, you see the rhythms, and you see the design in the sculpture," Mr. Mosley, 87, says.

The film debuted last year to an invited audience of 600 at the Twentieth Century Club, Oakland, as the University of Pittsburgh K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program.

Born to a musically gifted family in New Castle, Mr. Mosley joined the Navy and served in the South Pacific during World War II. He attended Pitt and after graduation was a sports columnist and photographer for the Pittsburgh Courier. To support his family, he later worked for the Postal Service, sculpting in the evenings.

The self-taught artist talks about his process, wood sources, tools and influences as varied as Brancusi, African tribal art and jazz. Luminaries such as former Carnegie Museum of Art director Richard Armstrong, now Guggenheim Museum director, and Manchester Bidwell CEO William Strickland, who was mentored by Mr. Mosley, applaud his work and character. The most personally telling comments come from daughter Tereneh Mosley, who says, "My Dad is my hero," accompanied by a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" program clip about dads, and footage of the young Tereneh in her father's studio.

But the ultimate impression is of the forest of sculptures that grow almost organically out of the unleashed spirit of this quiet and humble man.

Lovelace puppet theater

The charming "Margo Lovelace and the Magic of Puppetry," which debuts at the festival, will ring nostalgic to those fortunate enough to have had the Lovelace Marionettes visit their schools during the 1960s and '70s.

Ms. Lovelace, born in 1922, had always been interested in theater, painting, sculpture and music, and they all came together in puppetry, she says. She first encountered puppets in the 1930s when Cedric Head's Kingsland Marionettes traveled from Vermont to perform during the holidays at Gimbels Department Store, Downtown. Ms. Lovelace inherited many of his productions when he retired.

Ms. Lovelace favored production over comfort or monetary gain. It was "never profitable ... but it was a life of joy," she says. Her home and workspace were in an East Liberty warehouse until the early 1960s, when she moved into several houses and garages on Ellsworth Avenue in Shadyside and in 1964 opened the 100-seat Lovelace Marionette Theatre. In 1966 she added adult programming. She closed the Ellsworth site in 1978 after establishing a residence in the Carnegie Museum of Art Theater that continued until 1983.

To educate the public and funders about puppetry, she produced the award-winning films "Museum Piece" and "The Puppet Proposition" in 1975. The cinematographers were Carnegie Mellon University grad Ralph Guggenheim, a co-producer of Pixar's "Toy Story," and David Steidl.

Composer Thomas Glovier was invited to score the music for the current film, played by nine local musicians, something Mr. Love says he wishes he could do more often. "Their art elevates the film to the next level."

Ms. Lovelace discusses puppet types, the crew brainstorms and builds scenery and puppets -- sometimes spending weeks on one figure -- and the camera goes behind the stage during performances. In one archival scene actor David Early, who died in March, interacts with a life-sized puppet. But none of that detracts from the wonder created when the little figures become animated before a rapt audience.

Ms. Lovelace retired in 1985 and donated her puppets and masks to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh. She resides in Englewood, N.J., but returned to receive a proclamation from Councilman Bill Peduto that declared June 24, 2012, "Margo Lovelace Day in the City of Pittsburgh."

"We all need magic. We all need fantasy," Ms. Lovelace says. "And it's that dream world I think the puppets express."

Tickets are $9 through, $10 at the door, $5 for children under 12.

Carnegie International puppets

Ms. Lovelace was the inspiration for the installation "Puppetry in America Is Truly a Lonely Craft," by Carnegie International 2013 artist Paulina Olowska. It includes performance, collage, puppets from the collection of local artist and puppeteer Tom Sarver and a built structure in the museum cafe with two monitors. The installation title is derived from a Lovelace Marionette reviewer who observed that puppets are given life by an artist who is unseen, or presumed invisible.

On the International's opening weekend, a live puppet performance of "Museum Piece (for Margo Lovelace)" was given by local puppeteers Joann Kielar and Kristen Barca. It was organized by Mr. Sarver -- founder of Pittsburgh's Black Sheep Puppet Festival and collaborator with Michael Cuccaro of Puppet Happening -- who constructed the performance's two puppets, which Ms. Olowska embellished. A video of that performance plays continually on the cafe monitors.

Comfort women grieved

Reader Mary Kay Poppenberg emailed a book suggestion after reading an Oct. 30 article about Korean artist Chang-Jin Lee's exhibition at Wood Street Galleries. Her artwork was inspired by the "comfort women" forced to provide sexual services to members of the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II.

"Garden of the Evening Mists," Ms. Poppenberg wrote, "is the story of a Malayan judge who reflects on her young sister who died in a Japanese internment camp and served as a 'comfort woman.' The judge retired and seeks peace by working with the former gardener to the Emperor of Japan on a garden in her sister's memory. The story about the resolution of the pain and suffering shared by the judge and the gardener is masterful."

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: or 412-263-1925.

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