Past Exhibitions

Shadow Puppets

Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry

On display August 4-December 17, 2023

Tradition and Revolution in Indian Shadow Puppetry, curated by puppeteer and University of Connecticut graduate student in the Department of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies Rahul Koonathara, celebrated the spectacular South Indian shadow puppet traditions of Tolu Bommalatta and Tholpavakoothu, as well as recent innovations reflecting the changing nature of the form. For over thirteen generations Indian puppeteers have performed myths, customs, and rituals based on two Hindu epics, The Ramayana and The Mahābhārata. In recent years new variations in design, construction, and content have re-shaped traditional performances, which in many cases have shifted from temple performances to secular locales and included new subjects such as the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, and the animal characters of the Panchatantra, as well as contemporary social and political themes. Please note this exhibit contains some nudity.


Myths, Legends, and Spectacle: Masks and Puppets of Ralph Lee

On display January 26 - July 9, 2023

For over 60 years, Ralph Lee had created masks and puppets for wide-ranging theater and dance projects and public celebrations that highlight vital elements of the creatures, characters, demons or deities performed. This exhibit features a variety of masks, puppets, and giant figures from Ralph Lee’s robust career as Artistic Director of the Mettawee River Theatre Company, as well as collaborations with dance and theater companies, such as the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, The Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center, and Jean Erdman’s Theater of the Open Eye. The exhibit includes masks and giant figures that appeared in the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, co-founded and directed by Ralph Lee for its first 12 years. Throughout his work there are many references to times gone by, as well as expressions of our essential connection with the natural world.


Swing into Action: Maurice Sendak and the World of Puppetry

On display July 7-December 2016, 2022

Although Maurice Sendak was not a puppeteer, he understood the nature of puppetry's never-ending fascination with objects, images, movement, music, and text, and how the creation of those combinations with a collaborative team of artists can make puppets come alive. This exhibition, created in partnership with The Maurice Sendak Foundation, looked at the various ways Sendak designed, collected, and collaborated with puppets and puppet productions, from his childhood days making mechanical toys with his brother, to his collections of Mickey Mouse memorabilia, his inventive collaborations with puppeteer Amy Luckenbach, his puppet designs for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Mozart Opera Goose of Cairo, and the way Sendak’s book inspired Sonny Gerasimowicz’s creatures for Spike Jonze’s film Where the Wild Things Are. 

Learn more here


puppet exhibitPuppetry’s Racial Reckoning

curated by Dr. Jungmin Song
On display May 28-October 30, 2021

This exhibition aims to foster conversation and understanding about the complexities of race, prejudice, stereotypes, and systemic racism by presenting puppets from around the world. The exhibition examines fantasies of the East and misrepresentations of African Americans used in puppetry in relation to social and cultural constructions of race, and asks how fabricated differences affect the actual lives of people. Historical puppets from the Ballard Institute’s collections are juxtaposed with work by contemporary artists such as Kara Walker, Alva Rogers, Michael Richardson, Kimi Maeda, Akbar Imhotep, and Garland Farwell. Puppets from Asia representing different races and ethnicities offer viewers an understanding of race and racism in wider global contexts. Exhibiting puppets from the past in the here-and-now provides an opportunity to learn from past misrepresentations, consider the extent to which such negative images remain in circulation, contribute to the fight against systemic racism, and discuss possibilities for a more inclusive future.


Shakespeare and PuppetryShakespeare and Puppetry

Curated by Dr. Jungmin Song
On display February 29, 2020-February 7, 2021

Shakespeare and Puppetry presents exciting and thought-provoking examples of the many ways puppets and objects have been used to interpret the works of the greatest playwright of the English language. This exhibition introduces new perspectives about how dramatic characters are fashioned, and how “things” can be cast in dramas. Shakespeare and Puppetry includes work by Bread and Puppet, Forced Entertainment, Tiny Ninja Theatre, Jon Ludwig, Hogarth Puppets, Little Angel Theatre, Fred Curchack, Great Small Works, and Larry Reed.
View virtual exhibition here

Aladdin on horseback Magician Sultan of Bagdad Aladdin Princess Aladdin’s Mother Djinn

Paul Vincent Davis and the Art of Puppet Theater

On display February 29, 2020-February 7, 2021

A vibrant, colorful, and thought-provoking exhibition of work by one of the United States’s most dynamic 20th-century puppeteers, Paul Vincent Davis and the Art of Puppet Theater celebrates the career of the long-time Artist in Residence at Boston’s Puppet Showplace Theater. Paul Vincent Davis’s award-winning productions have ranged from the joyous fun of fairy tales, folklore, and clown circus to works by Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw, and Samuel Beckett. Paul Vincent Davis and the Art of Puppet Theater will present puppets, props, and stages from such spectacles as Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp, Rumpelstiltskin, Here Come the Clowns, and Bingo the Circus Dog, as well as Richard III, and Shakes versus Shav.
View virtual exhibition here.

Army Ants and their Guests: Works Inspired by the Carl and Marian Rettenmeyer Collection

On display 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. Army Ants and their Guests features 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. 

Annie Tools on display

Immaterial Remains: Can You Preserve a Shadow?

Curated by Dr. Annie Katsura Rollins
On display February 29, 2020-February 7, 2021

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.
View virtual exhibition here.

It's Always Pandemonium: The Puppets of Bart Roccoberton

It's Always Pandemonium: The Puppets of Bart Roccoberton

Curated by Matt Sorensen
On display April 27-September 29, 2019

It’s Always Pandemonium celebrates the ongoing puppetry career of Bart. P. Roccoberton, Jr., from his touring days performing with his troupe the Pandemonium Puppet Company; to his founding of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s Institute of Professional Puppetry Arts; and now, to his work building puppets and puppeteers as Director of the UConn Puppet Arts Program. It’s Always Pandemonium features over 60 puppets, masterfully designed and crafted by Bart Roccoberton, his Pandemonium collaborators, and countless UConn Puppet Arts students under his guidance.
View virtual exhibition here.

Living Objects: African American Puppetry

Curated by Dr. Paulette Richards
On display October 25, 2018-April 7, 2019

Living Objects: African American Puppetry focuses on an often-overlooked aspect of our culture: the work of African American puppeteers. This exhibition brings together puppets, performing objects, masks, and video by over twenty different puppeteers from the late 19th century to the early 2000s, and features work by such artists as Nehprii Amenii, Brad Brewer, Ashley Bryan, Edna Bland, Garland Farwell, Susan Fulcher, Cedwan Hooks, Akbar Imhotep, Dirk Joseph, Tarish Pipkins, Papel Machete, and Yolanda Sampson. "Since their arrival in the Americas,” Dr. Richards writes, “African people have animated objects in a rich variety of forms and contexts to reflect an African-derived worldview and represent their experiences and identity." Living Objects: African American Puppetry will help redefine our sense of American puppet history. 

View virtual exhibition here.

Spiffy Pictures: Adventures in Television Animation

On display July 14-October 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. history. 

View virtual exhibition here.

Frank Ballard into the 80s: Babes in Toyland, The Blue Bird, and The Fantasticks

On display July 14-October 7, 2018

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.

View virtual exhibition here.

American Puppet Modernism: The Early 20th Century

On display February 22-July 1, 2018

This exhibit 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 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.

View virtual exhibition here.

Sailors, Sea Creatures, and Strings: Maritime Puppets from the Collections of the Ballard Institute 

Curated by Matt Sorensen
On display October 11-December 17, 2017
At the Alexey von Schlippe Gallery at UConn Avery Point

In a special guest exhibition at UConn Avery Point, 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.

View virtual exhibition here.