She approaches art with an open heart. The same goes for her creatures.

Pilgrim Heidi Kambitsch is the founder and creative force behind both Open Heart Creatures -- "custom body puppets of Columbus, Ohio, cheerleading life through performance and improv," in her own words -- and Open Heart Art LLC, a puppet theater and studio at 17 E. Tulane Road in Clintonville.

The theater space, a relatively new development, and was the scene of an adult puppet show March 29.

Yes, adult -- the opening act was billed "Alien Sex" and featured Kambitsch and fellow Open Heart Creature performer Sarah Weinstock writhing around inside a large, bright red bag, eventually emerging wearing alien masks. Later, Kambitsch said, a naked woman simulated giving birth on stage.

So it was rated R, to say the least.

"With this particular show ... I just got the feeling that these are my people and I wanted to be involved," said Weinstock, who lives in Olde Towne East. "I think for adults, putting on a mask is a great way to explore the unexplored aspects of oneself.

"I think Heidi is sort of a magnet for people who are interested in puppetry. Now that she has a theater and a space ... there's actually a home base for these people. We're all weirdos in our own life and we're kind of flocking together."

Jessica Gore, a former Northland resident who now lives in Clintonville, got to know Kambitsch six or seven years ago.

"I just think her creative outlet is unlike any I've ever worked with," Gore said.

A classically trained dancer, Gore said embracing the sort of free-form expressionism involved in both Open Heart Creatures and Open Heart Art was a challenge.

"One thing I think is special about it, when I hear puppet show, I think children ... and it's taking it to this place where it's for adults, has adult content," Gore said. "We're talking about political things. We're talking about social things. I think it's very cool that we're using these puppets as a vehicle for us to explore our feelings."

Bradley Williams of Westerville and his hand puppet, Porridge, served as the masters of ceremonies for the March 29 show.

He got to know Kambitsch after videos of him performing with Porridge online were brought to her attention.

"She saw some of those and said, 'Who is that guy? I've got to meet him,' " Williams said. "She's kind of my fairy puppet godmother."

Kambitsch, who lives in Clintonville, was born in Pittsburgh, the daughter of traveling musicians.

"My dad's guitar case was my first bed," she said.

Kambitsch now uses the velvet lining from that case to carry around her smaller puppets.

After her parents divorced when she was 3, Kambitsch lived with her father in the Dayton area. It was her stepmother who decided the little girl should be called "Heidi" instead of "Pilgrim," though the latter is listed on her birth certificate.

Kambitsch studied at the Columbus College of Art and Design, after which she went to work for a decade with Columbus Public Health, providing art therapy for children in 14 different schools. During that period, she became known as the "Puppet Lady."

"People have shoe fetishes; I had a puppet fetish," she said.

In 2008, Kambitsch created Open Heart Creatures, whose troupe performs at events such as Comfest and during Gallery Hop in the Short North.

Open Heart Art, she added, is an outgrowth of that.

"As my work grows, it's just a natural, organic response to create a space specifically for that," Kambitsch said.

"I went to the first puppet show she did about a year ago," Williams said. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is happening. This is a group of people who appreciate this kind of art.' It really expanded my boundaries for what a puppet show could be."

For more information, visit www.openheartcreatures.wordpress.com.

kparks@thisweeknews.com

@KevinParksTW1