“Strings, Rods, Robots: Recent Acquisitions” Showcases Global Puppet Traditions and Innovations

Kathpulti Marionettes from Rajasthan, India

Puppets from around the world representing several centuries worth of global traditions, as well as as cutting-edge hybrids of puppetry and digital technology, make up the rich array of performing objects on display in the Ballard Institute’s new exhibition Strings, Rods, Robots: Recent Acquisitions.


Jim Henson’s “Wizard of Id”

The exhibition, curated by UConn Art and Art History graduate student Lindsay Simon, showcases an exhilarating diversity of puppets from around the world recently donated to the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry.  Strings, Rods, Robots exhibition brings together ancient puppet traditions and Modernist innovations, with objects ranging from Vietnamese water puppets, Persian ritual marionettes, and Javanese shadow puppets to 1930s Alabama marionettes, department store automata by Ellen Rixford, a lifesize robotic marionette by French media artist Zaven Paré, traditional Egyptian shadow puppets, a Dada-inspired marionette by Australian artist Sally Smart, a spectacular Danish toy theater, and a stunning array of global puppet forms collected by John E. and Marilyn O’Connor Miller.

Electronic Marionette by Zaven Paré

These visually striking–and sometimes startling–juxtapositions reveal the contemporary world of puppetry as a fecund and florid network of hybrid culture, where centuries-old traditions of epic, religious, comic, and political puppetry performed with wooden, cloth, and leather figures rub shoulders with mechanical or electronic puppets made of plastic, metal, and glass.  And yet, despite these fascinating contradictions, the old and new puppets continue to reveal to us what is happening in our societies, with insight, humor, and wisdom.