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Puppet artist brings creations, performance to Sewickley Public Library

| Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, 9:01 p.m.
Tom Sarver shows one of his puppets, Hugo Ball, on display at Sewickley Public Library on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Sarver will be holding a puppet show on Feb. 28 at the library.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Tom Sarver shows one of his puppets, Hugo Ball, on display at Sewickley Public Library on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Sarver will be holding a puppet show on Feb. 28 at the library.
Tom Sarver stands with one of his puppets at Sewickley Public Library on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Sarver will be holding a puppet show on Feb. 28 at the library.
Tom Sarver stands with one of his puppets at Sewickley Public Library on Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. Sarver will be holding a puppet show on Feb. 28 at the library.

When artist Tom Sarver was a teenager, he strapped what he described as a sculptural food processor to his head and projected vegetable guts across the room.

“I took a bunch of mother's kitchen appliances, took them apart and transformed them in to different things,” Sarver, 39, said. “I was always making gadgets, but they were never practical.”

His creations have changed over the past 20 years, but he has continued to take a whimsical approach to his art, whether it's intended for an audience of adults or children.

An exhibit this month in the Sewickley Public Library showcases his collection of puppets made from recycled materials. The collection started when Sarver was an art student at Temple University in Philadelphia. He built and posed the puppets for his paintings, which, he said, added a “cartoony” quality.

Sewickley Public Library exhibits curator Randi Morgan said Sarver's creativity and excitement for his art were apparent from the first time she asked to see his puppets.

“He said, ‘Sometimes when I bring my puppets out, I start talking to them,” Morgan said. “I thought, ‘This guy's interesting.'”

He also is prolific.

For two years, Sarver of Kennedy lived and worked in the Tom Museum in Pittsburgh's North Side, a project funded with a Heinz Endowment grant through The Mattress Factory. The house was wall-to-wall installments created by Sarver and other artists. For two years, art enthusiasts toured the house where Sarver worked and slept.

“I've always kind of lived in my art, but I've always been a private person, “ Sarver said. “Opening the doors and letting everyone come in was different.”

Sarver's work is indicative of both his fine-arts degree and understanding of progressive art, said Tirzah DeCaria, co-director of Pittsburgh-based Creative Citizens Studios in Highland Park.

“His work is really accessible and playful, and sometimes speaking to more complicated ideas but not so complicated that you can't connect,” DeCaria said.

Sarver has worked with DeCaria in recent years to help mentor artists and young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities as part of the Union Project. Sarver also is an instructor for the Humanities, Art & Music program at Robert Morris University.

“Behind the Curtain” is the first puppet display at the Sewickley Public Library. Morgan said she curated a similar exhibit that included bobble heads, model race cars and buses.

“I want to show things I think people might not otherwise see,” Morgan said. “Nobody can define art. But I don't care how you define it, as long as people will enjoy it and think it's interesting.”

Kyle Lawson is a freelance writer .

for Trib Total Media.

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