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From a lecture by Rev. Dr. Winfried Dalferth on occasion of the opening of a Puppets Exhibition in Stift Urach on Sept. 17., 2000.

The Origin of the Biblical Figures in Switzerland

In order to be able to understand the history of the Biblical Puppets in Bad Urach, it is necessary to cast a look on the origin of these Puppets in Switzerland.
The Biblical Figures were developed first by Sr. Anita Derungs OP, a nun living in Ilanz monastery, during the summer holidays 1964. Sr. Anita was then working as a tutor in Ilanz.
The hint at the moveable figures was given by the then President of Graubünden’s Mothers Association, Mrs Fryberg-Candinas. She was dreaming of a Christmas manger with moveable Puppets for the family. Thus the Biblical Puppets originated in the tradition of the Christmas mangers.
Many people have had plans about moveable manger puppets. Some predecessor solutions can be listed. Their flexibility, however, remained unsuccessful because they did not have proper material, e.g., breakable wire.
Sr Anita Derungs began working with a material that was available in every household: electric wires, also sisal-coated wire, rests of cloth and wood. For the puppets’ heads she used
hard foamed cellular plastics and covered them with Duvetyn or velvet. These materials have been in use until today.

From Ilanz to Schwarzenberg

Then Josy Brunner learned about the efforts to form flexible Puppets in Ilanz monastery. She was Head of the Mothers’ House on the Schwarzenberg. This was a further education institution of the Catholic Women’s and Mothers’ Association (FMG). Josy Brunner contacted Sr Anita and was very much interested in the puppets.
These contacts led to a first course on making puppets for the manger as early as 1964 in the Mothers’ House on the Schwarzenberg. The course was tutored by Sr Anita and Josy Brunner. The first course participants were enthusiastic and, during the following years, did a lot to encourage the further development of the puppets. Among those four or five women of the first generation were Beatrice Zimmermann, who later developed the 50 series, and Maria Widmer.
At that time, Maria Widmer was living in Baar. Her husband was a teacher there. She was engaged as a tutor for young mothers in Baar and got acquainted with Doris Egli, who had come from East Germany and got married in Baar.

In 1966, that is two years after Sr Anita had created the puppets in Ilanz monastery, Maria Widmer showed Doris Egli how to create the puppets. On working with the Puppets, Doris Egli came into contact with the other women working on them, too, and went on working on the development of the puppets with enormous zeal. Her training as a designer at the State’s Fine Arts Academy in Stuttgart came in here very helpfully.



Improvement of Material and Separation

Doris Egli’s and the other puppet-interested women’s cooperation did not last for a long time. A conflict arose on material reasons. In the first puppet-courses at that time, the women experimented with a number of different things. Two technical improvements were meaningful:
1. Development of lead-shoes
At first, lead from curtains was integrated into the shoes. Later, printers’ lead was preferred. For that purpose printers’ pegs were fixed on the wire by means of plaster or insulation tape and given a form by means of a special powder.
The first proper all-lead shoes were cast by Rev. Werner Thommen. One coach had contacts to artisan smith Berchtold Frei. He was a trained professional and since 1975 has offered to produce the lead shoes. His son Christoph Frei later took over the making of these shoes. He has been delivering the shoes in all sizes until today.
2. The development of the Clamp
At the beginning, the legs were made of sisal wire and the arms of electric wire. Gradually, sisal wire came also into use for the arms. However, this meant that the two wires could no longer be wound around one another, otherwise the frame would have become to thick around the neck. At first, the two sisal wires were sewed together, but this was a poor hold. The crucial change was made by Doris Egli. Together with her husband Primo, she developed a metal clamp which held the two sisal wires together with the desired stability.
With this clamped frame, Doris Egli went on the market in 1976 with the designation “Original Doris Egli Material”. She was meaning to claim copyright on the Biblical Puppets.
She was unable to enforce this, as too many women had been involved in the development of the puppets. She only succeeded in claiming trademark protection, hence the name “Original Doris Egli Material”, and hence Doris Egli’s interest to have the puppets called Egli-Puppets and not Biblical Puppets.
Doris Egli’s effort for copyrights with the puppet frames has led to a severe conflict in Switzerland among all the women who had been involved in their development. For all of them had contributed their ideas to the development of the puppets completely free of charge. On the Schwarzenberg, several attempts to reconcile the positions were made but failed. In the end, Doris Egli’s copyright claims led to Doris Egli’s complete rupture between the Schwarzenberg and the other puppet interested women.
Since then, Doris Egli continues working with her “Original Egli Material”, the women of Schwarzenberg with their Schwarzenberg puppets.
All this happened in 1976.
Today, the puppets’ frames are produced in the Brändi Foundation in Horw/Switzerland. Meanwhile so many puppet frames are being asked for that jobs for eight disabled people could be created.
The latest essential development of the puppets was the moveable hand by means of a wire loop, as it is being used also with the Association of Biblical Puppets (ABF). This goes back to Elisabeth Zimmermann, who first made this in 1979. Doris Egli has not taken over this idea for her models.

In the course of the years, three sizes of puppets have proven themselves as practical for production and application. They are available in heights of 30, 50 or 70 cm. In the courses at Stift Urach, all of them can be crafted.



Biblical Puppets in Stift Urach

In 1978, Rev. Knoch and his family from Mägerkingen on the Swabian Alb made a journey to Taizé. It was there thy got acquainted with the Marty family from Luzern in Switzerland. They became friends. As Ida Marty had already been giving courses for Biblical Puppets, the Knoch family got acquainted with the puppets, too.
In 1980, Rev. Werner Knoch became the Director of Stift Urach, which is the Centre for Retreats and Courses in the Protestant Church of Württemberg. As soon as the following year, 1981, the first Puppet course was held under the instructions of Ida Marty and Werner Knoch.
From the beginning, Rev. Knoch and Ida Marty did not simply want to offer courses on behalf of the production of puppets. The puppets were not simply meant to be moveable manger puppets but to serve the illustration of various Biblical texts from the Old and New Testaments.
The puppets were very important to Rev. Knoch and Ida Marty as a help to make things understood. So, after some workshop courses, weekends for the application of the puppets made were offered. Thus the participants had their minds free of the making of a puppet and were able to concentrate on the Biblical texts and there transfer to what they mean today.
Between 1981 and 1994, Ida Marty carried through no less than 32 workshop, coach and modelling courses in Stift Urach.
The partnership between the Association of BP and Stift Urach has been existing for 19 years now, which means, almost since the founding of the Retreat Centre Stift Urach (which had been a theological seminar up to that date).
One and a half years after the first puppet course with Ida Marty in February 1983, the first coach course under the direction of Doris Egli took place. She was invited, as she had contributed a major part to the development of the puppets. People hoped to get some valuable new stimuli from her.
Yet, while the experience with Doris Egli as an artisan was impressive, she remained unsatisfactory as a course leader. Therefore, Ida Marty and Rev. Knoch decided to take the training of course leaders into their own hands. As a result, an annual course leaders’ conference and a meeting with Doris Egli, directed by Werner Knoch and Ida Marty were planned.
In the course of the years, more and more course leaders in Stift Urach took over the training courses. As from 1991, Marie-Louise Pöpel and Sigrid Meyer took over Ida Marty’s courses.
When Rev. Knoch went into retirement in 1994, Ida Marty, too, withdrew from the workshop courses in Stift Urach. Rev. Knoch’s and Ida Marty’s cooperation resulted in the booklet “As if you had been there yourself”, holding Biblical stories to live through. It is written by Knoch and was illustrated by Ida Marty.
After Rev. Dr. Udo Hofmann had taken over as the director of Stift Urach, the courses remained a fixed part of the programme. The have in fact expanded.



The Association for Biblical Puppets (ABF e.V.) and Stift Urach

As the puppets found peoples’ undiminished interest not only in Stift Urach, the number of course leaders rose continually, and countless workshop courses for the production of puppets were offered.
In Württemberg, the Puppets have been known mainly under the name of “Egli-Puppets”, as the women were working with Egli-material that Doris Egli had brought with her from Switzerland to the Stift when the meetings with her were held there.
Gradually, the material for the many courses could no longer be provided by Doris Egli. In spite of the creation of some depots, the number of distribution difficulties increased and hence hoarding purchases, which resulted in even bigger difficulties for proper supply.
Meanwhile, some German course leaders, on search for new material supply, rediscovered the Schwarzenberg and artisan smith Christoph Frei. They found, that their material was at least as good as the Egli material, which was the only one known at that stage.
However, among the Egli-oriented course leaders, people were not allowed to use Schwarzenberg material, which was available. After some mediation attempts which failed, Silvia Dalferth, Gabriele Lohner and Marie-Louise Pöpel decided to form an independent association. The ever increasing work with the puppets required a proper basis.
As a result, in April 1997, the charitable Association Biblical Puppets ABF was founded in Stift Urach. The majority of the course leaders at that time joined the newly founded Association.
As a result, Doris Egli withdrew from Stift Urach.
ABF took over the whole range of courses, raised the qualification of the coaches’ courses by means of a detailed material folder and accomplished the workshop courses by courses on the puppets of the 50 and 70 range.
From the beginning, there was a very good and trustful cooperation between ABF and Stift Urach. It is on this basis that the voluminous programme being offered in Stift Urach every year can expand and develop further.
Today, we can recognise with thanks that the interest in the Biblical Puppets enjoys an unbroken popularity, as you will see from just a few figures:
- about 8 courses on Biblical Puppets are held in Stift Urach annually (workshop, modelling and animal workshops and course leaders’ meetings)
- about 153 course leaders offer workshops in Germany and France
- ABF has been growing continually. When the Association was founded, we were just about 30, today there are 258 members.
The areas in which the Puppets are applied are still being expanded. They are applied in Sunday Services, children’s services, kindergarten, religious education, confirmation classes, adult education, exhibitions, the illustration of the texts for Sunday sermons in some local churches, puppet theatres, exhibitions in supermarkets etc.
The popularity of the puppets is also growing over into foreign countries. Courses on the puppets are definitely held in Finland, Luxembourg, France, Austria and possibly other countries. One course leader will soon be active on Iceland. In the most recent trainers’ course in Stift Urach, two women from Chile were participating. They will now begin with some workshop courses in Chiles Lutheran Protestant Church.
We would like to thank Stift Urach for the good and trustful cooperation. We wish it may become possible that the workshop courses in Stift Urach contribute to people finding a vivid access to the Bible and find themselves addressed by the gospel.