The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipniss


About five months ago, Chicago filmmaker Joseph R. Lewis found a house full of abandoned marionettes. This isn’t the beginning of some sort of true-life horror story, but rather the beginning of a remarkable discovery that could change a man’s life forever. On the suggestion of a neighbor, Lewis went into an abandoned Wicker Park apartment and found thousands of intricately crafted marionettes, everything from celebrity impersonations to classic storytelling characters to totally unique creations. A bit of research led to Ralph Kipniss, a master puppeteer formerly of Chicago and now of Michigan City, Indiana, who fell on hard times in 2005 after the death of his longtime partner and after a fire destroyed much of his work and property.

The Underground Multiplex, a local creative hub founded by Lewis and Lew Ojeda and inhabited by a roster of Chicago filmmakers and innovators, decided to take matters into their own hands and save Kipniss’ life’s work. A campaign called “Rescuing The Lost Marionettes of Ralph Kipness” is now in effect, with the intention of raising enough money to reclaim Kipniss’ marionettes, begin the process of restoring them to peak condition, and to commence the creation of a museum and performance space where the work of a master of his given craft can be appreciated by people from all over. Heave was able to sit down with Lewis, Ojeda, and Tyler Pistorius to talk about their discovery, the historical importance of their rescue efforts, the artistry of marionettes, and so much more. You can listen to the interview below, and you can donate to the cause over at their Kickstarter page for the next 12 days and counting.