Meet Betsy Falk, the Puppet Artist Behind Hattie the Halloween Hero
Betsy Falk discusses the inspiration and process behind her larger-than-life monster puppet, Hattie.
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Nothing brings us more joy than watching young artists work side-by-side with professional artists. And seeing their collaboration come to life on one of New York City’s biggest stages? Well, that’s just the icing on the cake.
This Halloween, Children's Museum of the Arts teamed up with expert puppet builders Betsy Falk and Richard Gomez of Monkey Boys Productions to construct Hattie (short for Manhattan!), a larger-than-life monster that became the centerpiece of our float in the Village Halloween Parade. A born-and-bred New Yorker just like ourselves, Hattie sprung to life with hundreds of tiny monster “scales” created by kids at our Halloween Party.
Below, expert pupeeteer Betsy Falk discusses the inspiration behind her now-famous Halloween icon and her journey to becoming an artist.
What was your inspiration behind Hattie and how did she come to life?
I designed Hattie in conjunction with my co-workers at Monkey Boys Productions. We were looking for a way to highlight the inside-out part of the theme, and came up with the idea that New York City is like a big monster, filled with people that are each their own little monster. As I developed this character more fully, I was inspired by the various creatures and monsters that I have seen. I love working with fabrics, such as fur and fleece, and I knew that would be a big part of the process. I also tried to let the materials at hand guide my choices. All of the fabrics and paints I used for Hattie were leftovers in our studio from other projects, which helped drive the project toward a more eco-friendly end product!
Describe any memorable experiences of working with children during the workshop.
One of my favorite moments was when one young artist brought up three mini monsters they had made and handed them to me one at a time. As they got to the last monster, they looked at it and said,"this one needs to come home with me." I think all artists can identify with that need — some art is for the world, and some is just for us!
I also remember one family who came up all together — at least six or seven family members, and we posted their monsters in a group. They didn't speak much English, so I don't know exactly what they were talking about, but they were very excited. One of them looked at me and pointed at their monsters and said, "family." It was a beautiful moment as they all took photos together with Hattie and their mini monsters!
Where are you from and what is the arts community like there?
I am from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, and I have always been surrounded by the arts. My parents ran a community theatre program my entire life, and I always took part in it. I can remember many evenings when my dad would be making props or costumes in our living room late into the evening. Our greater community really embraced the arts, and there is a lot of music, dance, and art to be found there.
Do you have a favorite memory of making art as a child?
My favorite memories of making art as a child all center around stitching with my grandmother. She was a professional-level seamstress and taught me how to sew as a child. I would spend an entire week with her every summer so we could sew together. I loved making clothing, stuffed animals, and puppets!
Can you describe a formative experience visiting a museum, gallery, or theater?
The very first piece of professional theatre I saw was Phantom of the Opera. I was absolutely transfixed by the music and the performers, but especially the costumes! Such lavish and amazing fabrics and outfits painstakingly put together and stitched. I was absolutely hooked. Interestingly enough, when I was an adult I worked at a costume shop in New York that was making replacement costumes for the Phantom of the Opera tour, so I got to be a part of making those amazing costumes. It was quite the full circle moment!
What advice would you give to young artists who wish to pursue an art practice?
JUST START! It's so easy to get caught up in doing it "right" that we don't want to even begin. Puppet making, creature creation, and all art practices have to start somewhere. If painting intrigues you, pick up a brush and give it a try! If sewing seems interesting, grab yourself some fabric and some thread and make something. You will only get better through practice, and it's ok to be bad at first. Just start — you never know where it will take you!
How does working with children inspire you?
I have always loved working with children. I actually have a teaching degree and spent many years teaching children in the arts as a dance teacher, art teacher, and theatre director. There is something incredible about introducing children to new concepts and new materials and seeing where their minds go. It's also so much fun to see that spark of understanding and pride when something goes right. Working with children inspires me to try new things and to find new ways of using old materials. It gives me new eyes on my work and helps me to think in innovative ways.
When did you first know you were going to be an artist?
When I was six years old, I got a chance to be in my first show. I knew then that I was destined to be in the arts. I had no idea I would end up working in costumes and puppetry, but I knew that I needed a creative outlet to feel whole. And I still do! I also think it's important to note that someone can be an artist even if they are not doing it full time. Everyone who creates art is an artist — even without formal training, even when they have a "day job," even when they only find time for it occasionally, even when they are not excessively high-skilled. I know I need to create art to feel like myself. And therefore I am an artist.