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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Madison marionette man has city on strings

From historical figures to attractive neighbors, anyone could become one of Vogel’s moving works of art
Joey Reuteman
Ken Vogel and his marionettes.

Living among the rising modern apartment complexes of Madison’s east side, marionette maker Ken Vogel manages to keep an old-fashioned art alive.

Vogel, who has fashioned marionettes since the 1970s, sells his creations at various local establishments, including his own workplace, the Wisconsin Historical Society.

From famous characters like Vince Lombardi and Gaylord Nelson to a simple clown, no figure is exempt from becoming a piece of Vogel’s moving art.


He tends to stay true to his home state; he keeps Wisconsin natives Laura Ingalls Wilder, Bob LaFollete and Harry Houdini in his personal collection.

When he first jumped into marionette making, Vogel based the initial puppets off simple stock characters like clowns, girls with ponytails and various animals. He and an old girlfriend began making them for leisure and to sell at art fairs, but over time, Vogel became more invested in the craft until it became more than just a hobby.

“I’m successful in that I loved doing it and we sold a lot [of marionettes],” he said. “The girlfriend is long gone but it became my occupation. I managed to make enough money to support myself.”

With his marionette characters, Vogel goes beyond the monotonous. He’s capable of turning just about anyone into a marionette — all he needs is a few pictures.

But, not all marionette muses are equal; Vogel said the more recognizable someone’s facial features, the more suitable they are to be one of his marionette models.

“Sometimes I see someone and think, ‘God, they would make a perfect puppet,’” Vogel said.

The process of making a marionette usually begins with a clay model that Vogel forms into the shape he wants. Then he covers the model with paper mache and upon drying, cuts the mold in half and waits a few days before painting it. It takes a day to paint the marionettes before Vogel puts them onto an assembly line for sewing, dressing and stringing them up.

But the process isn’t without its kinks — Vogel continually strives to perfect his work. Luckily for him, one of his avid buyers owns a collection of more than 250 of his marionettes. With such a variety available for him to view, he said it allows him to mull over the many dolls’ nuances, leading him to further excel.

“Paper mache sometimes gives them wrinkled imperfections, but I suppose that adds character,” Vogel said. “I do it the way my skill allows me to.”

One of Vogel’s most interesting marionettes is a take on Wisconsin’s own Gov. Scott Walker — a cross between the presidential candidate and Pinocchio. Vogel said when someone mocks the little governor’s pledges, his nose grows.

Currently, Vogel is working on a marionette of presidential candidate Donald Trump. He plans to exaggerate his comb over and dress him up in a suit.

To broaden his appeal this year, Vogel decided to add another location where locals can get their hands on a piece of his art. Aside from Ella’s Deli and his workplace at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Vogel also plans to have a table at the Willy Street Fair this September, where his works will sell for $25 to $60 apiece.

Though Vogel has been doing this for about 40 years, he stays humble and enthusiastic about his local line of work.

“Madison is a great town,” Vogel said. “People are receptive to offbeat art.”

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