Turning Trash into ‘Active Art’

Pittsburgh’s master puppet-maker creates airport show

By Noah Moore

Published August 12, 2019

Read Time: 3 mins


Artist Cheryl Capezzuti lives by the motto “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

A master puppet-maker from Pittsburgh, Capezzuti served as an artist-in-residence with the Pittsburgh International Airport this summer. As part of her residency, she is taking materials that would otherwise be discarded — boarding passes, bags from stores, cardboard, you name it — and using them to create unique, larger-than-life puppets.

“Every piece here is made out of something from the airport,” said Capezzuti as she cut a plastic bag into the shape of a puppet’s hair the other day in the Airside Terminal’s Center Core. “The boxes that the carpet comes in, for example, came with pointy corners that I made into bird beaks.”

The puppets will be putting on a performance in the airport Aug. 19 and 21, where performers will be dancing and giving movement to Capezutti’s art, which was an idea inspired by her Zumba class.

“This work is about American tribalism, and asking, ‘How do we make experiences that everyone can take part in, that are so joyfully silly that you can’t help but smile?’” she said. “The spirit of sharing is what my work is about, and I am thrilled to be here at the airport.”

In conclusion of her residency, Capezzuti will hold a performance in the airport’s Center Core on August 19 and 21. (Photo by Beth Hollerich)

From buildings to puppets

Capezutti got her start in architecture school, but soon realized it wasn’t hands-on enough for her. She switched to art school and got a degree in integrated arts. After graduation, she worked as an assistant to a Boston puppet maker named Sarah Peet. Capezutti has been a puppet maker ever since, using her architecture training to help construct and sculpt her creations.

Capezutti’s puppets have become well-known in the Pittsburgh area, and she’s using her skills to give back to the community. In addition to running her own studio and teaching, she serves as master puppet maker and creative director of First Night Pittsburgh, a parade held in downtown Pittsburgh each New Year’s Day.

Her creations are not your typical marionettes or hand puppets. Capezutti creates puppets that are worn by entertainers, who bring the fantastic works to life through movement and dance; picture dragons in Chinese New Year parades, for example.

Original music is being composed for Capezutti’s airport performances, which stemmed from the familiarity the area has with her work, said Rachel Saul Rearick, arts and culture manager at Pittsburgh International Airport.

“She actually submitted originally wanting to show her puppets in an art case,” she said. “Whenever the Art in the Airport Advisory Committee Selection Panel met, everyone liked and was familiar with her work, but felt that because they were puppets, they should be active. So we offered her a micro-residency to show her puppets.”

Her micro-residency began in July with a month of interacting with passengers while building her creations, and now culminates with the performances in August. What distinguishes Capezzuti’s art is not only that it is recognizable, but also the way her art moves, Rearrick said.

“Cheryl is taking art off the walls and giving it life,” she said. “Because the airport is constantly moving, it made sense to have this art activation in our space.”

Giant Puppet Dance Show

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