Imaginative alum brings puppets to life

Thanks to online exhibit, pandemic can’t stop Eiler from sharing his love, talent, infectious personality with the world

Alice Scott

Taking+a+break+at+a+holiday+bazaar+on+Nov.+29%2C+Sam+Eiler+poses+with+Kermit+as+he+waits+for+people+to+arrive+at+The+Holiday+Happening%2C+an+outdoor+lighting+celebration+where+he+was+commissioned+to+draw+portraits+at+the+Carpenter+Hotel.%0A

Taking a break at a holiday bazaar on Nov. 29, Sam Eiler poses with Kermit as he waits for people to arrive at The Holiday Happening, an outdoor lighting celebration where he was commissioned to draw portraits at the Carpenter Hotel.

Alice Scott, staff reporter

Through his puppets, Sam Eiler can assume the character of hundreds of Muppets, but he has a clear favorite: Kermit the Frog.

Why? 

“Because he sings about rainbows,” he says.

And when Sam takes on the role of Kermit, he sings about them, too. 

Eiler, a class of 2020 graduate, who currently works as a commissioned artist at Sage Studio, an Austin-owned gallery for artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities. His work spans from many different mediums including drawing, painting, ceramics, and what he is most famous for, his puppets.

He has loved art from a young age, and is largely influenced by his favorite characters from the Muppets and Sesame Street.

[Sam’s puppets] are beautiful artistic objects, but … what makes them magical is getting to hear Sam as he gives them voices and gives them movement.”

— Lucy Gross, Sage Studio co-owner

“Art is my life,” Sam says. “I even watched cartoons on TV and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

His mother Kellie Leifeste has encouraged Sam’s pursuit of his passion, and that support included a recent excursion to Atlanta’s Center for Puppetry Arts.

“In Georgia, they have a puppetry museum,” Leifeste said. “For his 18th birthday, we took a trip, and they have a huge display of Jim Henson’s original puppets, and so he was able to visit the studio, kind of underneath you know, kind of behind the scenes.”

Sam draws on the work of other famous puppeteers which inspires his creative process. But it is his imagination that drives him to continually explore new ways to approach building his puppets.

“When I started watching The Muppet Show and The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz, I just thought I could make one of those,” Sam said. “I usually use a needle and thread, and a hot glue gun, ping pong balls, foam, fleece, felt, wire.”

A skilled artisan, Sam uses a unique technique to create his characters, but according to Sage Studio co-owner Lucy Gross, it has always been his charismatic personality that brings his characters to life and appeals to an audience. She said it is something that became immediately apparent when she presented with him over a year ago.

“Sam is just really cool and confident, and he got on stage and immediately won over the crowd,” Gross said. “He did impressions with his puppets and very seamlessly worked the crowd.”

Art is my life. I … watched cartoons on TV and I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

— puppeteer Sam Eiler

With in-person exhibitions being canceled due to COVID-19, the gallery found its own special way to showcase Sam’s full performance, complete with the energy and life he brings to his characters.

“We decided that we could pre-film him with his puppets and then create an interactive exhibition where people can visit the website and see the puppets in action even if they couldn’t come to a live puppet show,” Gross said. “They are beautiful artistic objects, but I also think part of what makes them magical is getting to hear Sam as he gives them voices and gives them movement.”

Sam Eiler’s puppet party can be viewed online at sagestudioatx.com under exhibitions. 

These photos of Sam and his artwork are courtesy of Sam’s mom, Kellie Leifeste.

 

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Isabella Dietz wrote and published this feature profile of Sam on our Instagram feed as part of our #MacSeniorWall2020 series on May 27.