Puppet Making Class Inspires an Art Therapy Project

Lots of puppets.

Lots of puppets.

A few years ago, artist and art therapist Johanna Hamm interned at the Transitional Living Community (TLC) of Brooklyn Community Services (BCS), a homeless shelter for woman living with mental illness while working towards her master’s degree for Creative Arts Therapy at Pratt Institute. Since graduating, Johanna has received a scholarship and returned to Pratt to pursue her MFA.

I recently met Johanna at the 10th annual BCS Art Show. She was at the event presenting puppets from an art therapy group she facilitated over the last four months with the women at TLC. I had the opportunity to speak with Johanna and learned more about the process of her work with the women at TLC.

Johanna decided that she wanted to combine her past art therapy experience with her MFA studies. She found that opportunity within a puppet class she took during her first semester. Even though most MFA students create their own art, she wanted to focus her project around the work of others.

Johanna originally started the project by meeting with the women once a week. Then her meetings quickly became at least twice a week and sometimes more. The women really benefited from the process. In art therapy the creative process is a highly valuable part of the overall therapeutic experience.


The woman used a variety of materials from plaster, yarn, material, foam, stuffing, sewing materials, and more. Some examples of the women's work is pictured below.

Some of the puppets were completely finished, others were not.

One puppet had a two-sided face. One side had a smile painted on it and the opposite side had a painted frown. This puppet is pictured below. The puppet is positioned with a white smiling face, black head, and red outfit.

Johanna said even though she went to TLC to help the women, they and the overall experience gave so much back to her in return. As I spoke with Johanna, I could sense the appreciation she had for the woman and the experience. It seemed to mean so much to her and she expressed that to me.

I asked Johanna where the inspiration for her work came from, she stated “My inspiration for my work comes from other people…without people, I wouldn’t’ be making art…” From our short time together, I couldn’t help but get caught up in her passion and fulfillment.

As an artist, Johanna’s artwork has been about “making people relate.” She has focused her work around wearable art such as jewelry pieces made for two, like a shared bracelet and other performance pieces. She also makes sculptures. To learn more about Johanna and to see some of her personal artwork visit her website.

Johanna will be presenting the TLC women's puppets at Pratt's MFA Candidate's Show next week May 6-11, 2013. To learn more about the project please visit Paper Plaster People Paint website.