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Art People: Anne Krauss / Puppet maker

  • Anne Kraus with some of her puppets at Burnett Gallery in Amherst Friday, Nov. 2.
  • Puppet by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.
  • Puppet by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.
  • Puppet by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.
  • Puppet by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.
  • Artwork by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.
  • Artwork by Anne Kraus at Burnett Gallery in Amherst.

The signs in the gallery politely tell us: Please Do Not Touch. But visitors to the exhibit of puppets and dolls on view at the Burnett Gallery in Amherst’s Jones Library will be tempted.

Anne Krauss, the creator of the exhibit, understands.

“I’m assuming they’re going to be touched and that’s fine,” she says.

Her creations wear exquisite clothing — an elegant, slim-fitted coat, a flowing vest, a pair of velvet billowy pants — made out of fabrics that almost beg to be handled. There are cottons, wools, silks, felts and fake furs in deep rich shades of purple, blue, turquoise, raspberry, cream and rust. Solids mix it up with patterns, soft and smooth textures co-exist with those that are crinkly and nubby. Some outfits are embellished with bits of sparkle taken from pieces of bracelets, earrings and necklaces.

But Krauss’ exhibit is more than a showcase for beautiful materials. Each of her puppets and dolls has an expression of its own. Whether whimsical or serious or sweet or a tad scary, each has an air of mystery that invites speculation.

“Time Out,” for instance, shows a boy seated in a chair, holding a book and wearing an enormous fur hat and a scarlet cloak. The name suggests a child who has perhaps misbehaved, but there’s more than that going on. “He’s reading and thinking,” she points out, maybe contemplating what he’s done. “Life throws wrenches at us and we have to re-adjust.” Beyond that, Krauss seems to like the idea of letting viewers make up their own stories about what they see.

Krauss says she’s not always sure where her inspirations come from — and she never knows exactly what the finished piece will look like. “It’s very meditative,” she says of the process. Though small frustrations might crop up along the way, she says the journey “is always joyous.”

A graduate of Syracuse University, Krauss began her career as a textile artist in New York City. Purely by happenstance, she said, she landed a job working for Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. Krauss, who worked on puppets for Henson’s film and TV productions from 1978 to 1981, said it was “a dream job” to work for a man who was as generous and kind in person as his public persona suggested. Henson died in 1990.

Krauss, now 58, became a psychotherapist in 1996, specializing in working with artists and musicians. For the most part, she said, making puppets and dolls has been much more of an avocation than a livelihood —and in fact, some of her creations that visitors to the Burnett Gallery will see are making their first appearance outside her Amherst home.

“It was time,” she said, to get them out into the world. And to let the world meet them.

— Suzanne Wilson

The Anne Krauss exhibit includes digital paintings by the artist. “Embodiments: Digital Paintings, Puppets & Dolls” is at the Burnett Gallery at Jones Library, 43 Amity St., through Nov. 30. Hours are Mondays 1 to 5:30 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sundays 1 to 5 p.m.

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