Mountain View Voice

- March 12, 2010

A dozen vignettes

Scenes from the history of theater come alive in artist's fanciful 'Shadow Boxes,' now showing at CSMA

by Rebecca Wallace

It would be tough to recount the entire history of world theater in 12 shadow boxes, but artist Raquel Coelho does a pretty good job hitting the highlights.

Inside handmade redwood frames, Coelho's dioramas depict crayon-colored scenes from theater traditions in Japan, Greece, India and other lands. Perky clay puppets take center stage, orating and dancing. It's like a festival of visual-art one-acts.

And the Bard gets a box to himself. In "Shakespeare Writes A Play," the puppet playwright has a body made from elegant wine-colored corduroy and hair of crinkly paper. He grasps a giant quill.

The details aren't just whimsy. In the dozen shadow boxes now on display at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, Coelho hopes to capture the fleeting attention of children. Once they zero in on the doll eyes of the medieval actors in the "Middle Ages" box or the pennies that serve as Dionysus' cart wheels, they may be intrigued to learn more about the theater.

The Brazilian artist, who teaches in San Jose State University's animation/illustration program, also creates kids' books. Illustrations of the "Teatro" boxes were published as a book in Brazil, as part of a series that also includes the history of animation and music.

First Coelho wrote the books, then designed them. She then created the boxes and illustrations. It's all done in a cheerful, approachable style. At the CSMA opening reception last Friday, Coelho told a crowd she sees the works as "rustic, not perfectionist," almost improvisational.

Clearly delighted to see all the shadow boxes together again in a gallery, she said: "Here's my family. My 12 kids!"

The crowd seemed pleased, too. One visitor, John Reiland, praised the work for its "folkloric quality."

In creating the shadow boxes, Coelho said, she started by thinking about her favorite aspects of theater: the sense of play, the chance for an actor to become something he's not, the costumes. She incorporated antique hardware, handmade puppets and other items in the boxes.

In "Early Greek Theater," painted cut-outs of people are the focus. One declaims enthusiastically as a chorus of other figures awaits a cue. The diorama is trimmed with plastic ivy leaves and bordered with a proscenium of red and gold ribbons.

Actors' legs are fashioned from red twisted wire in "Theater in Brazil in the 1500s," giving them a playful look. A monk in brown cloth robes teaches, or perhaps leads a rehearsal.

The exhibition also includes a glass case featuring some of Coelho's books and figures used in her animation work.

Coelho has also explored other branches of the arts world, playing viola, studying modern dance and singing with Brazilian-music bands. Looking at her shadow boxes on Friday, she said she wouldn't mind adding another hands-on skill to her arsenal.

"I wish each box had a crank," she said: Viewers could turn it and the puppets could move. She shrugged, grinning. "But I can't do the mechanism — too much engineering."

INFORMATION:

What: Shadow Boxes, an art exhibit exploring the history of theater, by Raquel Coelho

Where: Community School of Music and Arts' Mohr Gallery, 230 San Antonio Circle, Mountain View

When: Through March 28, open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Visit www.arts4all.org or call (650) 917-6800, ext. 306

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