The Ballard Institute’s new exhibition Red Gate: Pauline Benton and Chinese Shadow Theater in the United States, an exhibition of rare Chinese shadow figures from the collection of Pauline Benton, curated by Stephen Kaplin and Kuang-Yu Fong of New York’s Chinese Theatre Works is now open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m.
Pauline Benton was one of the revolutionary innovators of American puppetry in the early 20th century; but rather than creating her own western-style puppets, Benton brought the performance of Chinese shadow theater to the United States in the 1920s and 30s–one of the earliest cross-cultural presentations of Chinese performing arts for American audiences. Benton’s Red Gate Shadow Players performed across the country for popular as well as exclusive audiences, bringing Benton’s own particular hybrid version of Chinese shadows to audiences unfamiliar with Chinese culture.
The Red Gate exhibition features classical Chinese shadow figures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as figures Benton commissioned from Beijing shadow puppet craftsmen in the 1930s, depicting not only traditional characters and scenes, but also contemporary Chinese life and images from popular American children’s books. The many photographs of Benton and her work document how this unusually gifted woman created modern links to Chinese shadow theater culture, influencing the course of puppetry in the United States to this day. The exhibition also features video recordings of Benton’s version of the classic White Snake, and hands-on areas where museum visitors can try out traditional and contemporary shadow theater techniques.
Pauline Benton was a noteworthy pioneer in the transmission of global culture in the U.S., and Red Gate: Pauline Benton and Chinese Shadow Theater in the United States marks the first extensive exhibition and overview of her work. The exhibition will be open until December 16, 2012.