The popular Frank Ballard: Roots and Branches exhibition at the Ballard Institute has re-opened for the season, with many new additions to this rich review of the wide-ranging puppet forms that influenced the work of the founder of UConn’s puppetry programs. Roots and Branches features the work of significant American puppeteers of the early, mid-, and late-twentieth century whose work Frank saw while growing up in Illinois: Martin and Olga Stevens, Tony Sarg, Jero Magon, Rufus and Margo Rose, and Romain and Ellen Proctor; as well as contemporary puppeteers from across the country, including Ralph Chessé, the Kungsholm Miniature Grand Opera, Bil Baird, Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin, and the Turnabout Theater; and Ballard’s own contemporaries and colleagues, including Sidney Chrysler, Jim Henson, Dick Myers, Basil Milovsoroff, George Latshaw, and Peter Schumann.
The exhibition also features Asian and European puppet forms that also influenced Ballard’s understanding of puppetry, including Javanese wayang kulit shadow puppets, Chinese shadow theater, Sicilian marionette theater, and Javanese wayang golek rod puppets.
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.
King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, from the UConn production of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”
An exhibition featuring puppets from the University of Connecticut’s 1996 production of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is now on view at The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, and will be on display until March 5, 2012 . The exhibition, presented by the Ballard Institute, UConn’s Puppet Arts Program and the Mark Twain House, also features original illustrations for Twain’s novel by Dan Beard, rare editions of the book, an international collection of posters for the various films based on the 1889 novel, and design sketches for the 1996 puppet production, which was directed by Jerry Krasser and Bart Roccoberton
The Connecticut Yankee exhibition is part of the year-long “World of Puppetry in Hartford” project the Ballard Institute and the Puppet Arts Program have undertaken with the generous assistance of the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation and Ballard Institute Advisory Board member Judith Zachs.
Click here to see See Susan Dunne’s review of the exhibition in the Hartford Courant.
Puppets from the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry are currently on display at the lobby of the Nathan Hale Inn & Conference Center on the UConn Campus in Storrs. The puppets include a handpuppet Devil used by the Ridiculous Theater’s Charles Ludlam in his Punch and Judy shows, a Czech Kasparek marionette used in family household theaters, a German handpuppet from a 19th-century Kasperl set, and San Francisco puppeteer Lewis Mahlmann’s rod puppet Judith from his 1960s production of Bluebird.