By guest contributor Amy Anderson
I first discovered Abbey Hambright’s Etsy shop when I was looking for Chicago crafters for my Crafting in the Windy City post. I was quickly taken by her pop culture finger puppets of such celebs as President Obama, Ira Glass, and Willie Nelson. So when she recently put out another batch of her felt crafts, it seemed like the perfect time to follow up and find out a little more about the creative Miss Abbey Christine.
1. How did you get into puppet making? What is your artistic background?
My artistic background is kind of all over the place. I’ve been a maker for as long as I can remember– as a kid, it as writing and illustrating books and drawing cartoon animals for my friends. In high school I got hooked on photography and I studied illustration for a while in college (though now I’m settled on Sociology). I’ve never been much good at sewing, simply because I’m not good with machines and or anything that involves straight lines, but luckily my puppets require neither of those!
I got into making puppets totally by accident. When my nephew was turning two, I thought a set of finger puppets would be a good gift so I stitched up a couple. Unfortunately, he could not have been any more uninterested. I, however, thought they were pretty fun and started sewing more and more animals and monsters. It took a while before I was ready to tackle making people puppets, and my first set, the Royal Tenenbaums, took me hours and hours to make. I didn’t care, though– I was hooked.
2. Did you grow up playing with finger puppets? What makes them special?
I never really played with puppets as a kid. I stumbled upon making them totally by accident, but I really like them because they’re small and accessible and I love juxtaposing this nostalgic throwback toy with unexpected pop culture references. Plus, it doesn’t matter how old you are, they’re super fun to play with and do little voices.
3. Where do you get your inspiration for your puppets?
The best ideas always come completely out of nowhere when I’m not thinking about anything puppet-related. When I’m sketching and find that I just can’t stop giggling an idea, that’s how I know I’ve got something good. But I try really hard to come up with subjects that are unusual and a little cult-ish, the kind of characters you love but don’t find represented very often. I try to portray people who I admire for some reason and or who I think deserve a little more attention than they might be getting. At first I would sometimes question whether this semi-obscure character that I loved would really connect with people, but after the enthusiastic reception some of the weirder puppets have received (Harold and Maude, anyone?), I’ve learned that if I really love somebody and think they’re awesome, other people probably do, too.
4. What has been your most well-received puppet? Which one is your personal favorite?
During the 2008 election I made Obama and McCain puppets that got a lot of attention, but by far the winner has got to be my Ira Glass puppets. It’s funny because when I told my boyfriend about that first Ira I’d made, he was sure that nobody would even know who it was. I told him, “Oh, just you wait. People love Ira Glass.” And I was so right 🙂
My personal favorite, though, that’s a tough one. I’ve really had a lot of fun making custom puppets over the last year or so. I like the challenge of it, especially when I’m making somebody’s family members and I’ve got to work really hard to make sure the likeness is right. It’s also always interesting to see how people want their family portrayed– I did one customer’s brother and sister-in-law in pirate outfits, which was super fun.
5. What’s your current favorite musician and book?
Current favorites are always so hard– how to choose? Lately I’ve been listening to the Avett Brothers a lot. Otis Redding, Rural Alberta Advantage, Regina Spektor, Patty Griffin. Books are hard because I’m in school right now, so leisure reading is kind of on hold. On my own I haven’t read anything that’s really blown me away recently so I guess I’ll fall back on the old reliable, “Everything Is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer, one of my all time favs.
6. What’s your personal motto or mantra?
“The personal is political” is something that I really try to live by. I try as hard as I can in my life to acknowledge that every day-to-day decision that I make has meaning and repercussions that reach far outside my little life. Even in my craft, it’s really important that I think through the representations I am furthering, who I am choosing to focus my work on and why, what sorts of messages I’m putting out in the world, and also the way I’m doing business– am I being as environmentally responsible as possible, am treating people well, etc. There’s a lot of crap out there in the world, and it’s important to me that I do as much as I can to avoid contributing to that.
7. Where do you see your work going in the future?
Its really hard to say! I’m still pretty in love with felt, so I feel like I’ll stick with it for now, and there’s a pretty endless supply of new and weird characters to turn into puppets. I’m just getting started on a new Etsy shop called Little Abbey that will focus on my baby and kid stuff, which I’ve always sold at craft fairs but have kind of neglected online. Other than that, I would like to have enough time to play a little more, make art for art’s sake again– Sometimes I miss making things that aren’t necessarily meant to be sold. I’d also like to expand my repertoire of puppets to include more thinkers, figures from politics and history. My own personal politics are really important to me and I try to use my work in support of people who say interesting and important things, and would like to create more of my own little felt homages to people who inspire me (even if they might not sell as well).
8. What’s your favorite spot/shop/hidden treasure in Chicago?
Oh, there are so many, how can I choose?! I really really love my neighborhood, first of all. I live in Pilsen, which is on the very near Southwest side of the city and there’s always something amazing and colorful and new to inspire me. Plus I don’t have to go far to find lots of treasures– the Textile Discount Outlet is an entire city block building full of every kind of sewing supply you can imagine, and Maxwell Market is perfect for finding that weird and wonderful something you never knew you needed. Pullman on the far south side engages all historical and Utopian tendencies– its an industrial village built at the turn of the century by the Pullman railroad car guy. And I love checking out the Intuit Gallery, which features the work of outsider artists.
About the contributor: Amy Anderson is an Indie Fixx intern and is also a student at Northwestern University. Amy has wanted to be a journalist since she was just 5 years old and she is also into the indie design and crafting scenes as well. In addition to writing the occasional post, she also helps me with a variety of projects.