What can a child do with such ordinary objects as paper, sticks and glue? Create extraordinary puppets, Brea Gallery director Marie Sofi told the dozens of children gathered recently at the gallery's puppet-making workshop.

All it takes is imagination.

"Wooden spoons, paper plates and newspapers can become clowns or frogs or anything your mind can create," Sofi said brightly, waving a shadow puppet at her young audience. Indeed, within an hour, the children had turned scraps of paper, glue and sticks into a wide assortment of puppets, including horses, alligators, police officers and witches.

"We want to teach the children that you don't have to have a lot of money to be creative--almost any household item can be made into something fun," Sofi said. "You can be anything you can imagine. You want to paint a tree red? That's great."

The hourlong puppet workshops are being offered at the Brea Civic Cultural Center gallery in Brea Mall at 3 p.m. each Thursday in March for children from ages 8 to 12. Children ages 5 to 7 may participate by bringing an adult along. (The cost is 50 cents to $1, and reservations can be made by calling (714) 990-7730.)

Onlooker Nancy McDonnell watched as her 9-year-old, Katie, carefully cut a shape from a piece of paper. "Katie loves anything to do with crafts," her mother said. "She wants to come to all the rest of the puppet workshops. I used to have a little craft business at home when she was a baby. I guess that's where she gets her interest."

After making their own puppets, the children are guided through the Brea Gallery's "Great American Puppet and Marionette Exhibition," which includes about 300 puppets from the collection of renowned puppeteer Alan Cook. The collection, which will be on display through April 4, ranges from tiny finger puppets to elaborate groupings of almost life-size puppets in painted settings.

"The purpose of the workshop and exhibit is to expose the children to visual and performing arts and to encourage them to enjoy cultural experiences," Sofi said. "And it's not just for kids, but for the parents, too. The parents bring the kids and start reading the information about the puppets and explaining it to their children. It's a great exhibit for families to see together."

Brea resident Liz Greenhill agreed. "Our 6-year-old and 8-year-old enjoyed the puppet exhibit much more than we thought they would. Especially the puppet that sold roller-coaster tickets at the Long Beach Pike amusement park. My husband loved it. He grew up hanging around the Pike. He was able to tell the kids all about it."

Other scenarios in the 34 settings include the comical "School for Dummies," a grouping of three life-size marionettes sprawled at actual school desks with one banished pupil seated in a corner wearing a dunce cap. A paper airplane has crash-landed in the snarled red locks of a grinning girl.

A colorful circus ensemble, complete with a trapeze and a seal, is a favorite among the children. "The pink trapeze puppet is the best one," declared 6-year-old Libby Greenhill. Her sister, Katie, 8, said she preferred "the fat lady."

Among the highlights of the exhibit, according to Sofi, is the wedding scene from "Peer Gynt." The scene is from one of the largest dramas ever performed by marionettes. It had 11 set changes, 60 puppets and 12 puppeteers.

Children will have a chance to see puppets in action during a series of puppet shows to be offered Saturday at the Brea Civic Cultural Center's Curtis Theatre in conjunction with the workshops and exhibit. "Punch and Judy" will be presented at 2 p.m., followed by "Holidays Around the World" at 3 p.m., "The Dancing Beanstalk" at 4 p.m. and "Superfrog and the Robots of Blortch" at 5 p.m. Ticket prices for each performance are $1.50 for children, $2 for adults. Series discount prices are available. For more information, call (714) 990-7727.

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