How to Build an Elephant puppet

This semester I presented a project idea to my Sculpture II. class: We would create a huge puppet and present it in the Fantasy of Lights Parade in downtown Wheeling, WV. The four students, Yvonne Barry, Jenny Osler, Robert Peterson, and Joshua Rogers, each submitted an idea. We voted, and the selected design idea was Joshua’s, a Salvador Dali-influenced elephant.

Beginning with a series of sketches, we planned our big puppet. I figured it would take us about eight weeks (one half of the semester) to bring our elephant to completion. We ended up with a twelve week investment in our puppet. Our design went through several changes over the course of the semester, and their were several times we felt we took two steps forward, then one back. We discovered that some of our ideas had to be altered, or totally trashed and re-worked. We did get our elephant finished in time to walk the parade, and the crowds loved it! Our big puppet project proved to be a true learning experience, and walking it through the parade was both exhaustive and fun. Here are just a few of the photos documenting our process:

Putting our ideas down on paper.

We begin building the frame of our puppet.

Robert uses one of our important tools: duct tape!

Here I cut out some connecting devices.

Our elephant's frame takes shape.

Yvonne and Jenny rough-in the head.

Robert and Joshua prepare the frame for the addition of nuts and bolts.

Using an old flag I salvaged from a dumpster, we use it as an inner skin, attaching strips of plastic table cloths as the outer skin.

Robert continues to cover the elephant with the table cloth strips, one strip at a time.

Joshua constructs the tower and coats it with a sealant.


The head of the elephant begins to take shape.

Me, along with Joshua and Robert and our nearly-completed head and trunk.

We take the elephant outside for a test-run.

Test run!

Work continues on the tower.

Finishing touches on the tower.

Elephant dung that will be "dropped" during the parade.

The completed covers that let us become our elephant's "legs".

Preparing the elephant at the parade site.

The elephant crew!

The elephant in action, led by my wife Chris.


Paul Padgett as our elephant dung clean-up man.

Our elephant was a success!

Special thanks to Chris Villamagna and Paul Padgett, along with Jenny’s friend, Christina, for their help in the parade!


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