Tom Sarver Puppets

Tom Sarver broadcasting over Zoom for the Virtual Puppetry Residency Open House Event on March 20th, 2021.

Pittsburgh-based artist Tom Sarver uses a variety of approaches, including puppetry, site-specific installation and events, to create public art projects that focus on community and social interaction. After earning a BFA at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, where he focused on painting, Sarver returned to Western Pennsylvania. He became involved with The Brew House artist Co-op, where he joined a team of artists organizing The Black Sheep Puppet Festival (1999-2008), a national festival of experimental and activist puppetry. Performing at and organizing the various aspects of the festival, including educational activities, exhibitions, outreach and parades, led to organizing other events at The Brew House. These include a Street Art festival and a show of work by local self-taught artists. Sarver’s painting exhibitions, which always featured puppet shows at the openings, began to evolve as well. Puppet shows became inspiration for installation and performance art experiments at The Mattress Factory Museum of Art, Flux, Art All Night and The Three Rivers Arts Festival.

In 2005, Sarver proposed combining his interests in painting, puppetry, community events and interactive art into a live-in museum project at the Mattress Factory Museum of Art. In September of 2006, after receiving a Creative Heights award from The Heinz Endowments, The Tom Museum opened in a row house near the Mattress Factory. Sarver lived in the house museum for two years, continuously adding new work and holding a series of thematic exhibitions (Mixtape, Snapshot, Small Works, Artist Books) that were open to anyone interested in participating. Sarver also had food, artmaking, games, puppet shows and music events for visitors. Temporary exhibitions for local and national artists were held in closets, the dining room and attic, as every inch of the structure was utilized. The project received the first Mayor’s Award for Public Art from The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

While at the Mattress Factory, Sarver held his first Art Olympics event in the museum’s event space in March of 2007. The event featured three teams of artists competing to build installations out of piles of junk as the audience watched. Community participation was encouraged as audience members were encouraged to give commentary on the events and participate in the show. After the pilot event, the project was granted a Seed Award from the Sprout Fund to initiate shows at venues throughout Pittsburgh. Ten Art Olympics events were held between 2007 and 2016.

From 2008 to 2010, Sarver split his time between Pittsburgh and New York City, while working on an MFA at SUNY Purchase. During that time, he traveled throughout Pennsylvania interacting with the fishing community. An avid fisherman, Sarver wanted to record the stories and creative traditions of anglers in his home state. A video documentary, The Fishing Report, was developed and screened in a storefront installation, Sarver’s Bait and Tackle, that was the featured project of The Three Rivers Arts Festival in 2009. Sarver occupied the installation as shop proprietor, drawing fishing maps and holding special events for the duration of the festival.

After graduate school, Sarver continued with a variety of events, exhibitions and puppetry initiatives (Puppet Happening and Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh). In 2013, he worked with several artists and curators of The Carnegie International to develop work for the exhibition. He was invited to collaborate on a team with Swiss artist Tobias Madison to work with a group of children to develop a video installation. He also worked with Polish artist Paulina Olowska to help her realize her vision for a performance and installation in the Carnegie Museum of Art Café. A collection of Sarver’s work (puppets created between 1997 and 2013) was featured in the installation.

In May of 2020, with the global pandemic limiting social projects, Sarver initiated his first online project, Virtual Puppetry Residency (VPR). The initiative began as an educational residency of the Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media, Artists in Schools and Communities Program, and evolved into an international artist residency program. Now in its fourth season, the six-week residency has reached one hundred and fifty participants from twenty countries. The program was designed to benefit puppeteers of all career levels. It focused on strengthening the puppetry community, helping puppeteers to realize their best work and encouraging experimentation. Each season of VPR has culminated with a public online event, inspiring viewers around the world. The program became a springboard for many regionally known puppeteers to gain international recognition. 

Sarver’s current projects include a series of plein air sketches and drawings of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, a series of paintings inspired by memories of Pittsburgh’s South Side in the era of the Black Sheep Puppet Festival, and the development of new puppetry performances. Sarver is a member of the studio community at Radiant Hall, McKees Rocks. He is also a member of Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and Puppeteers of America. 


Solo Exhibitions & Larger Projects 


50 Pittsburgh Drawings at The Pittsburgh Left, SPACE Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Virtual Puppetry Residency, A project for the international puppetry community.


Selected Works, 1990’s through 2017, Eastside Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Art Olympics at Re:New Festival, Pittsburgh, PA


Art Olympic Festival, East Deutschtown, Pittsburgh, PA

Puppet World, Nutting Art Gallery, West Liberty University, West Liberty, WV

Behind the Curtain, Sewickley Public Library, Sewickley, PA


The Occasional Market, 707 Penn Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Queasy, Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, Purchase, NY


Sarver’s Bait & Tackle, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh, PA


Cooking With Sticks, Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, PA


The Tom Museum, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA


Political Gizmology, Slippery Rock University, Slippery Rock, PA


From Puppets to Paintings, AAP Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Dreamscapes, The Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts, New Castle, PA

Selected Group Exhibitions


Group A NOW: Salon 2022, Spinning Plate Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Scribble & Play, Dairy Barn Art Center, Athens, OH

Those Who Teach, Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media, Pittsburgh, PA

OH+5, Art of the Region, Dairy Barn Art Center, Athens, OH


Group A NOW 2021, Spinning Plate Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Juried by Patricia Bellan-Gillen


Small Works Exhibition, Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media, Pittsburgh, PA

Curated by Kyle Houser


The Salvation of Art, Pittsburgh by Pittsburgh Artists, Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, Pittsburgh, PA

Curated by Sheila Ali

Pretty Ugly, James Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


John Riegert, SPACE Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Tiny Art Show, 2015 Bushwick Open Studios, New York, NY


2013 Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA (Collection of 28 puppets made and used in performance between 1997 and 2013, presented within Paulina Olowska’s installation, Puppetry in America is Truly a Lonely Craft).

Curators: Daniel Baumann, Dan Byers and Tina Kukielski

Crowdsourced, SPACE Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: Robert Raczka

The One That Got Away, Brew House, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: Jaci Rice


Small Step, Giant Leap, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA


Reflectons: Homage to Dunkard Creek, Jackson Kelly Gallery, Morgantown, WV

Your Place at the Banquet, Future Tenant Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Pulp Friction, James Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Planet of Slums, Mason Gross Galleries, New Brunswick, NJ

Curators: LaToya Frazier and Omar Lopez-Chahoud

Gulf Oil Disaster Response, Landslide Gallery, Chicago, IL

Curated by The Foster Collective

The Real LR word, Ligne Roset, Park Avenue South, New York, NY

Curator: Omar Lopez-Chahoud

AbstrACTION, The Arts Exchange, White Plains, NY

Curator: Dara Meyers-Kingsley

Five Alive, Mona Rowe Gallery, New York, NY


Faux Show, Richard and Dolly Maass Gallery, Purchase, NY


Pittsburgh Biennial, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA


8 – Hour Drawings, Bowman Gallery, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA

Curator: Robert Raczka


My Space, Space Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: Sharmila Venkatasubban

Tom Sarver and Francis Crisafio, Digging Pitt Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: John Morris


Members Exhibition, Brew House Space 101, Pittsburgh, PA

Annual Exhibition, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: Katherine Talcott

Puppets, Masks and Art in Motion, Artists Upstairs, Pittsburgh, PA

Curator: Tavia LaFolette


AMP, The Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Juried by Tom Sokolowski


Gestures, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA

Curators: Michael Olijnyk and Graham Shearing

Selected Performances


The Farmers and The Bugs, Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh Annual Puppet Slam, WBU Event Venue, Pittsburgh, PA


Joe Magarac Stores, A Puppet Show in Three Parts

Commissioned by The Westmoreland Museum of American Art for their annual Family Day event. With collaborator Michael Cuccaro.  Greensburg, PA


Rip Van Winkle and The Crazy Quilt, A Puppet Show in Four Parts

Commissioned by The Westmoreland Museum of American Art for their grand re-opening. With collaborator Michael Cuccaro.  Greensburg, PA


Flight Out of Time, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Puppetry performance with Michael Cuccaro (2013 Carnegie International programming)


Serra Site for End Times Therapy, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

With collaborators Daniel Baumann, Tobias Madison and Flavio Merlo

Excerpts of Aristophanes’ Peace, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Puppet show with Mike Cuccaro


Digestion, Future Tenant Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Art Olympic Theatre IV, Three Rivers Arts Festival, Market Square,

Pittsburgh, PA (featured festival event)

Art Olympic Theatre III, Union Project, Pittsburgh, PA


Installation Olympic Theatre, Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA

Art Olympic Theatre II, New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA


Global Warming, Art All Night, Pittsburgh, PA (solo site-specific performance)

World Stage, Flux 12, Pittsburgh, PA (solo site-specific performance)

Curator: Sharmila Venkatasubban


Perseus, Medusa and The Magic Frisbee, Fifth Annual Black Sheep Puppet Festival, Pittsburgh, PA (puppetry collaboration with team of ten artists and musicians)



ioby crowdfunding award for Art Olympic Festival


A.W. Mellon Award, Pittsburgh Foundation


A.W. Mellon Award, Pittsburgh Foundation


Seed Award, Sprout Fund

Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Mayor’s Award for Public Art

Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Project Grant

Small Arts Initiative Grant, Heinz Endowments


Creative Heights Initiative Grant, Heinz Endowments



Fallow Grounds for Sculpture Residency, Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center, Pittsburgh, PA


Future Tenant Art Space, Trespass Performance Residency (Puppet Happening project), Pittsburgh, PA


Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh, PA

2007 – ongoing

Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media, School and Community

Programs, Pittsburgh, PA

Exhibitions Curated


The Pittsburgh Left, SPACE Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Future/Present, Group A exhibition at Panza Gallery (juror), Millvale, PA


The Sideways Museum, Window SPACE, Pittsburgh, PA


Obsessions, SPACE Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA


Lascaux to Garfield, Irma Freeman Center for Imagination, Pittsburgh, PA


Binding Forces, Works by self-taught artists Dorothy Williams and Doug Hill, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Pittsburgh, PA


From the Inside, Works by self-taught artists Steve Smith, Robert Wright and Dorothy Williams, Brew House Space 101, Pittsburgh, PA


What It Is, Brew House, Pittsburgh, PA (street art festival and exhibition included over forty artists and musicians; co-curated with Alexis Covato)


Dorothy Williams and Steve Smith, Top Notch Art Centre Oakland, Pittsburgh, PA

In the News

Toth, Greg, “Today marks opening of 27th annual…” Leader Times, Kittanning, PA, August 5, 2021

Oestreicher, Amy. “GIVING VOICE TO UNTOLD STORIES: Why World Puppetry Day Matters.” Broadway World, March 12, 2021

Klimovich Harrop, Joanne. “Brighton Heights man connects puppeteers to perform virtually during pandemic.” TRIB LIVE, December 11, 2020

O’Driscoll, Bill. “Pittsburgh-Based Virtual Festival Features Puppets (And Puppeteers) From Around The World.” 90.5 WESA, December 11, 2020

Lynn, Hannah. “International Puppet Festival brings together artists from around the world.” Pittsburgh City Paper, December 9, 2020

Yaniv, Etty. “Artists on Coping: Tom Sarver.” ART SPIEL, May 3, 2020

Klimovich Harrop, Joanne. “Puppet Slam in Pittsburgh features marionettes, giant puppets and more.” TRIB LIVE, October 14, 2019

Heyl, Eric. “Upper St. Clair Students Collaborate With Area Artists.” Patch Media, June 6, 2018

Fleegle, Erika. “Neu Kirche celebrates public art initiatives…” The Northside Chronicle, September 3rd, 2015

Thomas, Mary. “Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center opens Saturday.”Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, August 25th, 2015

Morgan, Daniel, “Puppet World takes over the Nutting Gallery.” The Trumpet, West Liberty University, April 4, 2015

Brennan, Lissa. “WINDOWSPACE.” Pittsburgh City Paper, March 25th, 2015

Mohan, Nina. “26 Ways Pittsburgh Ruins Your Life”, BuzzFeed, March 4th, 2015

Shaw, Kurt. “Sideways Museum at Space.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 25, 2015

Larson, Kyle. “Puppet artist brings creations, performance to Sewickley Public Library.” Trib Total Media / Sewickley Herald, February 18, 2015

Brennan, Lissa. “Artists Explore Their Obsessions at Space.” Pittsburgh City Paper, January 15, 2015

Examiner.com. “Tilt Your Way Into the Sideways Museum.” January 10, 2015

Shaw, Kurt. “Obsessions at Space gallery in Cultural District.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, December 17, 2014

Shaw, Kurt. “Tom Sarver, The Occasional Market.” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 11, 2014

Raczka, Robert. “Marketing Strategies.” Pittsburgh City Paper, May 21, 2014

Thomas, Mary. “Art Notes: Carnegie International gears up for second half.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 14, 2014

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “Carnegie Museum of Art presents puppet programs for adults & children, January 14, 2014

Griffin, Jonathan. “2013 Carnegie International.” Art Agenda, January 7, 2014

Contemporary Art Daily, “Carnegie International.” October 22, 2013

Russeth, Andrew, “The 2013 Carnegie International in Photos.” Gallerist NY, October 8, 2013

Turri, Scott, “Crowdsourcing Creativity.” artHOPPER, August 2, 2013

Shaw, Kurt. “The Public Helped…” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, July 31, 2013

Raczka, Robert. “The artists of Keystone West…” Pittsburgh City Paper, January 9, 2013

Piechocki, Renee; Zorch, Laura; Hansen, Kate. “Pittsburgh Art in Public Places.” Office of Public Art, 2013

Hodara, Susan.  “Celebrating Artists Who Keep the Action in Abstraction.” The New York Times, May 7, 2010

Thomas, Mary. “2009 Turned International Spotlight on Pittsburgh’s Art Scene.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 6, 2010

Nelson Jones, Diana. “A wee alley, a world stage.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 16, 2009

Crawley, Dave, “Fish Artist.”  KD Country, KDKA, CBS Broadcasting, Pittsburgh, June 12, 2009

Shaw, Kurt, “Faux bait shop hooks Three Rivers Arts Festival visitors.”  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 10, 2009

Thomas, Mary.  “Tom Sarver goes fishing for ideas at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 4, 2009

Puppetry International, “40 Under 40, Quick Takes on Young Masters World-Wide.”  Spring and summer, 2009

Raterman, Missy. “In Pursuit of Puppets: A Pittsburgh Romance.” Creative Nonfiction, Pittsburgh In Words, 2008

O’Driscoll, Bill. “The 10th Annual Black Sheep Puppet Festival,” Pittsburgh City Paper, October 28th, 2008

Brennan, Lisa. “The Black Sheep Puppet Festival celebrates its 10th season.” October 23, 2008

The Dominion Post, Morgantown, WV.  “3 teams of artists face off in challenge.” October 11, 2007

Diehl, Dawnlyn. “From Puppets to Political Activism.”  Pittsburgh Metropolitan, March / April 2007

O’Driscoll, Bill. “Muses and Monsters at the Black Sheep Puppet Festival.” Pittsburgh City Paper, October 9, 2006

Machosky, Michael. “Brew House toasts Black Sheep Puppet Festival.” TRIB LIVE, October 12, 2006

Ganster, Kathleen, “His home, his work, His museum.”  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 24, 2006

Shaw, Kurt.  “Puppet Master.”  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 7, 2006

O’Toole, Christine.  “The Tom Show.” Pittsburgh Magazine, September 2006

Hundt, Brad.  “At the Tom Museum, it’s all about an artist named Tom.”  Washington Pennsylvania Observer-Reporter, September 8, 2006

Shaw, Kurt.  “Personal Space.”  Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 13, 2006

Knepp, Gregory M.  “Space Crafts.”  Pittsburgh City Paper, April 2006

Mickens, Julie and Mull, Heather. “New Visions, Old and Young. Self-taught Artists Dorothy Williams and Steve Smith at Top Notch.” Pittsburgh City Paper, December 2003

Venkatasubban, Sharmila.  “Small, Good Things.”  Pittsburgh City Paper, December 25, 2002

Thomas, Mary.  “Bright Images, “home” assemblages light up galleries.”  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 13, 2001