Hatter’s creations seen around the world

“I’ve found that puppets really combine everything I love about art.”

Through the web, Philip Hatter '96 has taken his unique art to a global audience. His Web site has had hits from 20 countries and landed him jobs worldwide.

The former studio arts major at Roanoke College designs and builds custom puppets for his clients from his basement workshop in Roanoke. He founded Thistledown Puppets in 2006. Its Web site has led to jobs for the American toy company Hasbro, a film group in Malaysia producing children's DVDs and a British entertainment company as well as puppeteers and puppet lovers in the U.S., Canada and Holland.

"I get lots of inquiries all the time from people who visit my Web site," Hatter says. "Being online has increased my exposure big time."

Each of his puppets takes around 60 hours to design and build. Hatter says his studies of drawing, painting and animation at Roanoke help him create his puppets - each with a life of its own.

Stagecraft professor George Arthur praises his former student's work ethic and says he is "fantastically talented." "His work with Thistledown Puppets is just another variation on his abilities," he says.

While the courses helped, Hatter is completely self-taught in the art of puppet creation and design. When he started Thistledown, Hatter was performing skits at his church with puppets he had designed, and his performances took off from there.

"I've always had an interest in puppets ever since I was a kid," Hatter explains. "I've found that puppets really combine everything I love about art."

Hatter began posting videos of his puppet performances on YouTube. Some of his more popular videos are "Space Trip," a play based on the original Star Trek television series, and "Building the Red Panda," a multi-part tutorial on puppet making. Hasbro stumbled upon Hatter through YouTube and brought him on to do some freelance design work. Hatter developed a couple of prototype puppets for marketing pitches of new toy lines.

Thistledown's performance of "Bull: A Puppet Musical" at the Roanoke Arts Festival last fall was well received and sparked international interest. A British entertainment company, TED UK, has licensed the show and will perform it this year on the island of Crete. The company also is adding a musical score using a director from London, and Hatter will build the puppets.

Working with Hatter in Thistledown are his wife, Jessie; another good friend, and his younger brother Sean Hatter '99, who is a successful painter in his own right. Sean, as one of the actors in Thistledown's performances, does all the voices for each character and helps brainstorm new show ideas.

"To see him find his niche and to pour himself into his art and be successful at it makes me very proud of him," Sean says.

For more on Thistledown Puppets, visit www.thistledownpuppets.com.


By Laura Edelman Hart '06


Released: July 20, 2009