DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Puppetry Now at the Smithsonian

Puppetry is one of the oldest types of performance art in America. Now, at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, a new exhibition traces the history of the subject from colonial times to the TV shows of today.

Early American hand puppets
The earliest traditions of puppetry were established by immigrants from Great Britain, France, and Italy who traveled from town to town putting on street and park performances. In the early 20th Century, puppets and their puppet masters became an integral part of vaudeville stage performances across the country.

In the 1930s, Edgar Bergen and his sidekick Charlie McCarthy brought the idea of puppetry to the new media of radio. In 1969, Jim Henson and his staff brought the Muppets to the children's show Sesame Street. With Kermit, Oscar, and the beloved duo of Bert and Ernie, puppet popularity encountered an explosion which continues to today. In fact, it was the donation of 21 of Henson's most beloved creations to the museum in October of last year which paved the way for the current exhibition.

The California Raisin made sure they were heard through the grapevine in 1986
The exhibit, which delights youngsters of all ages, examines puppets from the beginnings of America until today. Included are examples of:
  • Asian shadow puppets
  • hand puppets
  • marionnettes 
  • paper puppets
  • ventriloquist's puppets
  • finger puppets 
  • stop-motion puppets and
  • Muppets
But no matter what the type of puppet is used, the art of puppetry really depends on 3 factors: a puppet, the imagination of a manipulator, and an audience willing to suspend belief and accept the puppet as "real."
Youngsters who get excited about the exhibit, can indulge their puppetry fantasies at the special gift shop

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