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Mimi-Pond-and-Wayne-White-at-Wayne's-exhibit
Mimi Pond and Wayne White at Wayne's exhibit

Summer season is upon us, and the museums look to exhibits that help bring out the kids – or just the kid  – in all of us. Mid-June saw several events that kicked the young at art spirit into high gear as Puppets and Robots take the town literally.

Motoko-Kusanagi-Statue-from-Ghost-in-the-Shell
Motoko Kusanagi Statue from Ghost in the Shell

At the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delrey Beach a new exhibit of Japan’s Robot Kingdom opened and runs until September 13th. This unusual exhibition explores Japan’s vast and varied robot kingdom through a large collection of vintage toys, figures, and comics. For the past 50 years or so, cartoons and robots have been an integral component of Japan’s pop culture industry and are explored by a variety of media including toys, manga (Japanese comics), and anime (Japanese animation).

Most take the form of androids, robots that uncannily mimic human form and interaction, mecha, massive robots piloted by heroes or villains engaged in constant galactic battles, and, cyborgs, biological organisms infused with mechanical parts.

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In an unusual twist, healthcare is a driving force in the robotic industry that spills over into entertainment. In the medical field robotic parts have been incorporated in the form of prostheses, pacemakers and cochlear implants.  Japanese companies are also devoting resources to the development of products designed to benefit the health and well-being of the country’s elderly population as well as ill children.

Paro-the-healing-seal-robot
PARO the healing seal robot at the At the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens new exhibit

One of the cuter ones is on display, a soft, snuggling robot called PARO, a furry white baby harp seal that has the ability to soothe by engaging in realistic interactions like wiggling and blinking and making purring type sounds that comfort and form bonds. Japan’s Robot Kingdom exhibit playfully demonstrates how the imaginative interplay between fantasy and science has influenced astounding real-world innovations. Other robots come directly from anime comics, changing form from 2D to 3D.

The Hollywood Art and Culture Center offered up a spectacular twosome in mid-June, as award winning graphic novelist/cartoonist Mimi Pond and her Emmy Award winning artist husband Wayne White took over the Center and the Young Arts Park for a residency, puppet parade, exhibit and reading. Mimi is a cartoonist and a writer, her highest profile work was for The Simpsons, writing the first full-length broadcast episode which was nominated for two Emmy awards. But her real love is being a cartoonist and illustrator, beginning in the early 1980s for publications such as the National Lampoon, the Village Voice, The New York Times, Adweek, and others. She has authored and illustrated five humor books and currently contributes to the Los Angeles Times.

At the Arts Center she read and showed images from her 2014 graphic novel, Over Easy, about her college days and her coming of age waitressing job at a hip 1970s Southern California diner.

Panel from Pond’s Over Easy novel

Panel-from-Pond's-Over-Easy-novelThe book took her many years to create as she hand drew every panel and wrote the story, a process she likes as “it gives me the chance to play writer, art director and editor all at once” she says.

Anyone who has ever had an entry level low paying job can certainly relate, as desperate teenage Mimi dodges creepy customers, attacks towers of dirty dishes, and learns to juggle plates, orders, and personal drama while finding out what real life is (maybe) all about. It’s a bittersweet, endearing read, which Pond read with a sly affection for the hapless young girl she once was.

Pond was lucky, as she made it through her early years with artistic integrity intact and met her future husband White when she attended a puppet show he was putting on at a NY club. Wayne White started as a cartoonist and was offered a chance to turn some of those cartoons into 3D characters. That job soon led to being the lead Emmy winning puppet maker for Pee Wee’s Playhouse in the 1980s, and creating ground breaking music videos for the Smashing Pumpkins “Tonight, Tonight” which was basic painted boards; and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time” that ran constantly on MTV and won him more awards.

Wayne-White-and-Mimi-at-puppet-parade
Wayne White and Mimi at puppet parade

After 25 years of commercial work in the field, White turned his energy to being a full-time artist, making huge puppets of painted cardboard – George Jones and Elvis have been immortalized; and painting over thrift shop images with ironic words and phrases.
Originally from Tennessee, White said “I’ve always had the do-it-yourself approach, I grew up in this blue collar family and didn’t have a lot of toys, so you had to make your own fun. Building forts out of sticks and scrap lumber – that’s where I learned the joy of making something from nothing.” His early puppets were salvaged from street detritus and he basically learned on the job.

White loves history and in honor of Broward County’s 100th Anniversary, he chose to make a huge puppet of its founder Napoleon Bonaparte Broward.

Broward had the unfortunate vision of draining and paving over the Everglades to make the swampy land safe for civilization. White depicts him as a glittering green eyed – and green everything else – monster, with elongated arms that attempt to corral and squash everything in their reach.

The puppet was made during the course of about a week along with several high school students who made puppets of Everglades creatures like manatees, snails, fish and snakes. A grand kick off parade found White playing band leader as the Broward puppet followed the smaller critter puppets while occasionally bonking them on the head. A Brazilian Samba drum band kept the heated beat as the whole show paraded around the park and back to the Center where they will all be on display through August with the paintings.

“I had to burn myself out on the Hollywood system to understand that what I really wanted to do was create my own art in a studio by myself. For my own survival, I had to step back from it all and that’s when I started painting again,” said White. His paintings, reproduced in the 2009 book Maybe Now I’ll Get the Respect I So Richly Deserve” (edited by designer Todd Oldham), represented a major rebirth for White.
It all makes a joyful aural and visual noise, a must see show of summer.

Hollywood Art and Culture Center, 1650 Harrison Street, Hollywood, FL.

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Sandra-Schulman Sandra Schulman is an arts writer, music and film producer. Born in Miami, her work has appeared in Billboard, Variety, Rolling Stone, Ocean Drive, Country Music Magazine, The New York Daily News, News From Indian Country, and Entertainment Weekly. She was an entertainment columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 8 years. She has authored three books on pop culture. She currently lives in West Palm Beach with her blue eyed whippet. Sandra Schulman’s column appears weekly. Contact her at sandraslink@gmail.com.

Puppets and Robots Take the Town with the Exhibit of Japan’s Robot Kingdom at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delrey Beach this Summer of 2015

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