Northwest Puppet Center

Dmitri Carter - Director, Collector, Curator, Performer, Educator

Dmitri with a scroll painted by his father, Stephen Carter. Carter Family Marionettes, Circa 1988.

Dmitri grew up in a professional puppeteering family, Carter Family Marionettes. His parents, Chris and Stephen Carter, are internationally acclaimed puppeteers. He spent part of his childhood living abroad in various countries.  As a result he developed a deep understanding and love for puppetry traditions and history.

After many years of touring, Christine and Stephen Carter established the Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle.  Dmitri is now the Director of the Center. It houses thousands of rare puppets, a small exhibit hall, a reseach library and provides performances and educational programs.


Moving Drops at the Northwest Puppet Center

The Northwest Puppet Center in Seattle, Washington

Although the term "crankie" or "cranky" was coined in the early 1960s by Peter Schumann, cofounder of the Bread and Puppet Theater, scrolling scenery dates back centuries.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, scrolling backgrounds for hand puppets and marionettes  were often called moving drops among many other terms.

Early examples of moving drops with their puppets are extremely rare.  The Northwest Puppet Center has been the recipient of several important puppetry collections. As a result, it houses the largest global collection of puppets in North America, including some moving drops from the early 20th century. 

Chronological Collection of Moving Drops and Crankies from Dmitri!

Below you will find just a few references to and examples of early moving drops used with puppetry.  From there we progress to the later 20th century with moving drops created by the Carter Family Marionettes.  Finally, to the 21st century crankies of today. Enjoy the journey!

1870 - Description of Beauty and the Beast by Holden Marionettes

John McCormick's latest book about the Holden Marionettes. An example of one of thousands of books in the NW Puppet Center's research library.

Early records sometimes survive when the actual drops are presumed long gone.  Here is a description from the early promotional materials of one of England's greatest puppet families:

Next came THE GLADE OF THE GOBLINS, a sub-aquatic scene 'With Fish that have been seen, Fish that have never been seen, and Fish that never will be seen', which was transformed before the audience's eyes by means of a moving panorama cloth on rollers: "PANORAMIC EFFECT AND CHANGE TO FAIRYLAND".


1902 - Revolving Drop with Horse Race Marionettes

Horse race by Mantell Manikins featuring the revolving drop. The original marionettes and drop are part of The Cook/Marks Collection at Northwest Puppet Center.

In 1902 Len Ayres started his troupe in Everett, Washington.  With an interest in magic, Mantell Manikins employed many tricks and effects.  One of these effects was a revolving drop for a horse race.  While the horses jockey for position, the backdrop races round and round.  This technique is perfect for travel sequences and especially races.  Mantell Manikins toured the vaudeville circuit for decades and kept adding new bits, including the addition of Barney Google and Spark Plug tp the horse race around 1922.

1911- Red Rover Panorama Sheets

The Red Rover panorama sheets were donated to the Northwest Puppet Center by Bob Burns.

The effects of the larger stage were adapted for parlor entertainment with toy theatre which became extremely popular in the 19th century and often depicted swashbuckling tales. These penny plain toy theatre panorama sheets were for Skelt's "Red Rover" and the characters remain on the ship deck while they sail away from port. The sheets could be cut out and connected together for a scrolling background or they could be glued to cardboard and slide across the stage.

1921 - Ombro Cinema

Ombro Cinema, 1921. Photo from Wikipedia

The Ombro Cinema toy was manufactured in France in the early 20th Century by Saussine Ed. By moving a strip of acetate with vertical lines, over the panorama scroll with interlacing images, the action creates the illusion of motion.

The box is made from a cardboard type material. The little crank handles are made of bent nails.

There are two story scrolls that came with this box.  One scroll is the story Puss and Boots. The words of the story are printed at the very bottom of the back of the scroll so that it can be read by the person cranking the box. You can hear Dejah Leger interpreting the story (from French to English) as Dmitri moves the scrolls.
The other story scroll is called "Tour of the World".  Filmed November, 2012.

1921 - Ombro Cimema
Ombro-Cinema filmed by Sue Truman, 2012 at the Northwest Puppet Center. Dmitri is cranking while Dejah Leger is interpreting.

1939 - The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz marionettes and scrolling backdrop by Duncan-Mabley Inc., the commercial wing of The Tatterman Marionettes. The Cook/Marks Collection at Northwest Puppet Center.

The Wizard of Oz, the scroll is about 30 feet long and over three feet tall. Produced by Duncan-Mabley Inc., also known as Tatterman Marionettes. Performed at New York's 1939-1940 World's Fair. The Cook/Marks Collection at the Northwest Puppet Center.

1988 - The Carter Family Marionettes

A scene from Babar, painted by Stephen Carter. Carter Family Marionettes. Circa 1988.

With permission by Laurent de Brunhoff, Carter Family Marionettes created two shows based on the beloved children's books starring Babar.  For travel sequences, Stephen Carter painted scrolling drops based on the imagery in the books. The technique of scrolling drops was used in many productions, starting with "Mrs. Twig" in 1974 and "Fundevogel" in 1985.

2013 - The Northwest Puppet Center's First Crankie Festival

Flyer by Elizabeth LaPrelle, 2013.

In 2013, Anna and Elizabeth were going to be breezing through Seattle.  Do you want to have a crankie fest they ask? OMG YES!!  This resulted in the first crankie fest in Seattle at Northwest Puppet Center on February 14th, ❤2013.

The concert featured Anna & Elizabeth, Dejah Leger with her father-in-law Louis Leger and Sue Truman with Skye Richendrfer on Scottish small pipes.  Watch the video compilation below.

2013 - Northwest Puppet Center's 1st Crankie Festival

Thank you!

Dmitri Carter.

Thanks and gratitude to Dmitri Carter for sharing this wonderful information and for all the work he does to preserve puppet history.❤








This page originally created in 2013, revised in 2019. Sue Truman