There’s something about puppets that all ages can appreciate, but children especially find joy in the toys that spark storytelling, creativity and just plain fun. Luckily for Northern Virginia families, there is an Arlington store dedicated to all things puppets, called Puppet Heaven, which celebrates a quarter century in business next year. Owner Alban Odoulamy, who formally trained in marionette puppetry and helped create set designs for children’s television programs in his home country of Benin, talks to us about the lasting legacy of Puppet Heaven, below.
Tell us about the history of Puppet Heaven.
I opened Puppet Heaven on April 15, Tax Day, in ’96. The first name was La Marionette, because I am a French speaker and marionette means “string puppet.” After a couple of years, I opened a studio for puppet shows in the same mall and the name was Metropolitan Arts and Puppetry, because I am a painter as well. It was a studio, but I also had space for puppet shows. After that, I think it was two or three years in that space, I opened up Puppet Heaven because a customer came in the studio and asked, “What is this? It looks like a heaven for puppets,” and that stuck in my head. My third space I chose to name it Puppet Heaven. I thought, why not choose a name where people can come in and see all types of puppets?
In your opinion, why do puppets make people happy?
With the children, when they stop at the store, they say, “Mommy, Mommy! Daddy, Daddy! Look at the puppets!” They have all the toys they need at home, but they still love the puppets because it’s something different. It’s not high-technology, but it’s something made by a human being, made by hand. And at puppet shows, even the adults are happy, having fun watching the puppets dance.
What’s next for Puppet Heaven?
The store next door [to Puppet Heaven] has closed. I’m talking with the management to possibly have that space so I can put some more of my paintings and my artwork there, like a gallery. I can put on exhibits, people can have cocktails, look at the art and head next store to Puppet Heaven. I’m planning on that right now.