Past Exhibitions

“Army Ants and their Guests: Works Inspired by the Carl and Marian Rettenmeyer Collection” and “Immaterial Remains: Can You Preserve a Shadow?”, October 17, 2019-February 9, 2020

In collaboration with the AntU project through UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, the Ballard Institute presents Army Ants and their Guests: Works Inspired by the Carl and Marian Rettenmeyer Collection to celebrate the Rettenmeyer army ant collection. AntU is a UConn endeavor designed to involve a variety of academic disciplines to engage a broad audience in the wonders of the complex biological systems of army ants and their hundreds of associated “guests”. The idea was borne out of an award from the National Science Foundation to preserve and curate the Carl W. and Marian E. Rettenmeyer Army Ant Guest Collection. Army Ants and their Guests will feature ant and insect puppets from Rufus and Margo Rose’s Ant and the Grasshopper, and toy theaters created during a two-day community workshop inspired by the AntU project, as well as an array of specially commissioned new works by puppeteers from around the world, including Sirikarn Bunjongtad, Sarah Frechette, Honey Goodenough, Dirk Joseph, Stephen Kaplin, Monica Leo, Tarish Pipkins, Poncili Creacion, and Miss Pussycat. This project was made possible through an award from the National Science Foundation.

The Ballard Institute will also present Immaterial Remains: Can You Preserve a Shadow?, curated by researcher, theater artist, and practitioner of Chinese shadow puppetry Dr. Annie Rollins. As the practice of Chinese shadow puppetry navigates survival in situ, the traditional shadow puppets are dying by the thousands: neglected to ruin, strung up, misunderstood or framed in permanent silence in the name of “preservation”. Soon, these static shadow bodies will be the only traces of the living form that remain. Immaterial Remains captures the vision of a ghostly Chinese shadow puppet future with ethnographic documentation, artifact exhibition, video projection, and creative explorations of shadow preservation. The exhibit opening will feature a live performance/lecture by Annie Rollins.

Annie Rollins is a researcher, theatre artist, and practitioner of Chinese shadow puppetry, studying as a traditional apprentice since 2008. Rollins has received a Fulbright Fellowship, the Confucius Institute Joint PhD Research Fellowship and a Canadian SSHRC Doctoral Fellowship for her research. She completed her dissertation in Concordia University’s Interdisciplinary Humanities PhD program on the transmission of traditional Chinese shadow puppet-making methods. Recent venues for exhibitions, lectures and performances include the Art Institute of Chicago, the Montreal Botanical Gardens, the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, the Virginia Fine Arts Museum, the Linden Center in Yunnan, China, and the Rietveld Academie in the Netherlands. Annie has published articles in Puppetry International, Asian Theatre Journal and Anthropology Now. Rollins recently launched the first English language comprehensive Chinese shadow puppetry site at Annie Rollins will also present her talk Chasing Ghosts: Ten Years with the Shadow Puppeteers of China as part of the 2019 Fall Puppet Forum Series on Dec. 5, 2019 at 7 p.m.

Both exhibits are on display through February 9, 2020.

“Living Objects: African American Puppetry”, October 25, 2018-April 7, 2019

The Living Objects: African American Puppetry exhibition at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry is an event of national significance focused on an important but often overlooked aspect of American culture: the work of African American puppeteers. Bringing together puppets, performing objects, masks, and media work by over twenty different puppeteers from the late 19th century to the early 2000s, Living Objects: African American Puppetry will redefine our sense of American puppet history. Exhibition co-curator Dr. Paulette Richards writes: “since their arrival in the Americas, African people have animated objects in a rich variety of forms and contexts. Despite the prohibition by slaveholders on the creation of figurative objects reflecting an African-derived worldview, African Americans nevertheless animated objects to represent their experiences and identity.” Living Objects: African American Puppetry, Richards adds, will “highlight the work of contemporary African American artists while contextualizing the evolution of African American object performance.”

Living Objects: African American Puppetry is co-curated by Dr. Paulette Richards and Dr. John Bell. Dr. Paulette Richards is an Atlanta-based teaching artist. She holds a Ph.D. in French Civilization from the University of Virginia and currently serves as a docent at the Center for Puppetry Arts’ Worlds of Puppetry Museum. Dr. John Bell is a theater historian, puppeteer, and Director of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. He is also an Associate Professor of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut.

The Living Objects: African American Puppetry project also includes workshops, forums, performances from Oct. 2018 through April 2019, including a Living Objects Symposium and Festival at the Ballard Institute Feb. 7-10, 2019, which will bring together scholars, performers, students, and the general public to discuss, watch, contemplate, and enjoy the many different aspects of African American puppetry. This project is presented as part of the African Diaspora, an initiative organized by the UConn School of Fine Arts, which celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the UConn African American Cultural Center. Additional exhibits and events are ongoing throughout the 2018-2019 academic year. For more information, visit

For more information about the Living Objects exhibit and related events, please contact Ballard Institute staff at 860-486-8580 or

Grand Opening of “Spiffy Pictures: Adventures in Television Animation” and “Frank Ballard into the 80s” on 7/14

The Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut will present the grand opening of its new exhibitions Spiffy Pictures: Adventures in Television Animation and Frank Ballard into the 80s: Babes in Toyland, The Blue Bird, and The Fantasticks, on Saturday, July 14, 2018, with refreshments at noon followed by a free tour of the new exhibitions at 12:30 p.m. All events will take place at the Ballard Institute, located at 1 Royce Circle in Downtown Storrs. The exhibition will be on display through Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018.

Spiffy Pictures: Adventures in Television Animation celebrates the work of UConn School of Fine Arts alumnus David Rudman, his brother Adam Rudman, and Todd Hannert, whose Spiffy Pictures company has created award-winning productions for PBS Kids, Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, Disney, Comedy Central, and other media channels. The exhibition features Nick Jr.’s Jack’s Big Music Show, and Disney’s Emmy-nominated Bunnytown. Including over 50 exquisitely crafted Spiffy puppets and fascinating backstage footage, Spiffy Pictures offers exciting insights into the magic of contemporary puppet production for television.

Frank Ballard into the 80s: Babes in Toyland, The Blue Bird, and The Fantasticks features three productions by the UConn Puppet Arts Program’s founding Director Frank Ballard: the 1903 Victor Herbert operetta Babes in Toyland; Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1908 symbolist classic The Blue Bird; and the 1960s Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks. Marking a departure from Ballard’s early focus on string marionettes, these late-career shows combine actors with puppets of all sizes and forms, constructed from such novel materials as polyurethane foam.

In addition to the exhibition opening, and as part of our Summertime Saturday Puppet Show Series, Tuckers’ Tales Puppet Theatre will perform Peter Rabbit Tales at the Ballard Institute Theater at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. For more information about this performance and to buy tickets, visit

If you require an accommodation to attend an event, please contact Ballard Institute staff at 860-486-8580 or at least five days in advance.

“American Puppet Modernism: The Early 20th Century,” February 22 – July 1, 2018

American Puppet Modernism: The Early 20th Century celebrates the puppet revival that developed across the United States in 1920s and 30s. Inspired by the European avant-garde; Asian, African, and Latin American performance; the vibrant culture of American cities; and the possibilities of such new technologies as film; puppeteers, artists, and writers decided that puppetry was an ideal medium for representing modern life. From cross-country touring shows to giant inflatable street puppets, avant-garde operas, and other ground-breaking innovations, Americans rediscovered and redefined puppetry in ways that still guide the form today. American Puppet Modernism: The Early 20th Century, curated by Ballard Institute Director John Bell, includes works by Tony Sarg, Margo and Rufus Rose, Ralph Chessé, Marjorie Batchelder, Martin and Olga Stevens, Bil Baird, Frank and Elizabeth Haines, Alexander Calder, the Yale Puppeteers, the Federal Theater Project, and Hazelle Rollins.

UConn Avery Point Exhibit: “Sailors, Sea Creatures and Strings: Maritime Puppets from the Collections of the Ballard Institute,” 10/11-12/17

UConn Avery Point, in collaboration with UConn School of Fine Arts and the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut presents Sailors, Sea Creatures and Strings: Maritime Puppets from the Collections of the Ballard Institute in the exhibition space located on the second floor of Branford House at UConn Avery Point. UConn Avery Point is located at 1084 Shennecossett Road, Groton, Connecticut 06340. The exhibition will be on display through Dec. 17, 2017.

In a special guest exhibition at UConn’s Avery Point campus, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry presents Sailors, Sea Creatures, and Strings, an installation of puppets performed in popular maritime tales. The exhibit features marionettes, rod puppets, and set pieces from late UConn Puppet Arts Program founder Frank Ballard’s productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore (1989) and Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung (1980). The exhibit also highlights marionettes created by famed Waterford, Connecticut puppeteers Rufus and Margo Rose from their celebrated 1937 production of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. The exhibition’s curator, Matt Sorensen, a UConn Puppet Arts graduate student and the Ballard Institute’s graduate assistant, will lead a tour of the exhibition at the opening reception.

Exhibition hours will be Thursday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. from Oct. 12 through Dec. 17, 2017. Admission to the exhibition is free.


“Mascots! Mask Performance in the 21st Century,” 10/19/17-2/11/18

The world of mascots is one of the most vibrant and active areas of contemporary mask performance in the United States. With their combination of costumes and over-life-size head masks, mascots are stunning symbolic representations of professional, college, and high-school sports teams, companies, and other organizations. Through their performances at sporting events, parades, theme parks, street corners, and other venues, mascots represent powerful ideas of community, team spirit, and organizational identity. The Ballard Institute’s Mascots! exhibition will examine the creators, history and social context of mascots in North America, and bring together exciting examples of contemporary and historic mascots ranging from the collegiate level with UConn’s Jonathan the Husky, Big Jay and Baby Jay from the University of Kansas, and Lil’ Red from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, to famous major-league mascots including the Boston’s favorite mascot; Winger, the former mascot of the Washington Capitols; Clutch from the Houston Rockets, the Famous San Diego Chicken, and more.

“Banners and Cranks: Paintings and Scrolls in Performance”, February 23-June 11, 2017

Cantastorias and crankies are forms of sung picture story-telling that trace their origins to 6th-century India. These paintings mounted on sticks, flipped over and revealed, or unfurled on scrolls and moved by means of a crank are performing object precursors to the popular puppet traditions of many countries. Despite the prominence of new technologies in popular culture, an innovative dynamic engagement with the simple mechanical cranky and cantastoria has blossomed among young puppet theater companies, activist educators, folk musicians, visual artists, playwrights, and students who infuse this old form with diverse new content and bold variations in technique.

“Frank Ballard’s Marionette Modernism: ‘Peer Gynt’ and ‘The Love for Three Oranges'”, October 22, 2016-February 12, 2017

Frank Ballard’s Marionette Modernism: Peer Gynt and The Love for Three Oranges will be a striking exposition of Frank Ballard’s life-long passion for the artistic possibilities of string marionettes as it emerged in his spectacular versions of two modernist classics: Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, with music by Edvard Grieg; and Gozzi’s The Love for Three Oranges, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev.

“The Bureau of Small Requests: Puppetry and Animation of Laura Heit,” April 23-October 9, 2016

The Bureau of Small Requests includes multiple examples of the masterful small-scale puppets and objects from Laura Heit’s varied repertoire of performances, films, and installations. A West-Coast-based artist whose work has crossed many disciplines, Heit has deep roots in puppetry and animation and all things miniature. After studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and London’s Royal College of Art, Heit co-directed the Experimental Animation Program at the California Institute of Arts before moving to Portland, Oregon, where she teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. The Bureau of Small Requests features artworks and objects from puppet productions and films Heit has created over the past 15 years, involving toy-theater stages and shrines, matchbox-sized puppet shows, and the unheralded work of women paleontologists of the 19th century. As part of the exhibition, visitors will experience Two Ways Down, a multi-media installation covering the walls of the largest Ballard Institute gallery with mechanized moving shadows and figments of digital animation. The Bureau of Small Requests will be on display through October 9, 2016.