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Children’s Festival at Academy
features marionettes and more.

 

The Star Democrat Newspaper Article
Easton, Maryland
By: PETE HOWELL, Entertainment Editor

                May 11, 2001                    

EASTON - Perhaps it was Fate that brought puppet maker Debra Hathaway Heath and her family to Easton.

When she and her husband Eric were looking for a place to settle down after a decade on the road, they found an appealing advertisement for a home in a most unlikely publication: The Crafts Report. The house, however, turned out to be in northern Kent County - more rural than what they had in mind. So they looked in Chestertown, then in St. Michaels. But Debra, who is nothing if not intuitive, said neither town felt as though it had a vibrant arts community.

Then they visited Easton. It wasn’t long, she recalls, before "I told Eric, ‘We have to buy a house there’."

And they did. A converted garage on South Street has been home to Dragon Wings Renaissance Era Costume Accessories & Fairytale Dolls and Marionettes since November, and the Heaths are already active members of the local arts community. They’ll display their unique fairytale dolls and marionettes from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Academy Art Museum’s Children’s Art Festival.

Before settling in Easton, the Heaths traveled to Renaissance festivals from Maine to Arizona. In fact, although they are both from New Hampshire, they met on the Renaissance festival circuit. She was selling her costume accessories and marionettes from a shop, and he was an opera-singing pretzel vendor.

"We went out to Arizona every winter," recalls Debra, "then worked our way back East." But now, "Our manager handles most of the traveling and sales, which allows us to focus on production and the creative part." They produce about 600 marionettes a year. The large, 12-string puppets sell for $75 and up, and the small ones, which have four strings - and a spring if they fly - are priced below $20.

"I usually have several projects going on at once," says Debra from her workshop, "Eric does the casting, grinding, and assembly of the resin body parts. I do the sculpting, dyeing, face painting, hair and costuming. . . .Most of our figurines are strung as marionettes at the Renaissance festivals where they’re sold."

Now that they are no longer nomads, "We are always sculpting and building new things," says Eric. He and Debra have created between 35 and 40 different characters. In their workshop, which is filled with multi-hued feathers, they also create Renaissance festival costume accessories - hats, boas and more. Colorfully plumed hats hang from the rafters in swags.

Through their website, www.dragonwings.net, the Heaths sell their creations worldwide. Custom orders are common. Quite a few customers submit photographs of their pets or themselves, and one-of-a-kind marionettes are created - of people, of animals, and of people imagined as animals. The majority of their wares, however, are shipped out for sale at Renaissance festivals in Maine, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and, closer to home, Crownsville.

Before starting Dragon Wings in 1989, Debra spent time as a drywall contractor, artist and jeweler.
"My first jewelry work was very oriental," she says. Hence the name of the company. While living in Hawaii, she branched out into costume accessories, and later taught herself to make marionettes.

"I have a brain that I can’t shut off," she says.

Eric, an alumnus of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, worked as an axe thrower, a piano lounge entertainer, a computer engineer, and a singing waiter on a cruise ship before joining forces with his wife.

It’s only natural to wonder if the Heaths are themselves puppeteers.

"We are," says Debra, "but we’re not performing right now." But it won’t be long.

"We’re currently writing our first puppet show," says Eric, "and are looking forward to performing in the near future." It will be based on the very first marionette they created, Puss ’n Boots. "We want it to be for children," says Debra. "There are so many shows at the Renaissance Festival that are very funny, but the edge is a bit too adult."

For more information about Saturday’s Children’s Art Festival, call the Academy Art Museum at (410) 822-ARTS (2787).

Photo of a Cat marionette puppet in the Heathaway's South Street workshop
The Star Democrat can be found at www.StarDem.com

Thanks Pete!

Debra Hathaway wearing a feather hat and bedecked with ropes of boas

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Debra Hathaway and Eric Heath
Dragon Wings LLC
PO Box 801
Easton, MD 21601
USA

Copyright © 1997-2016 by Eric Heath and Debra Hathaway