More Than Muppets: Puppets of All Sorts Have Arrived in Wenham

"PuppetPalooza" is the newest exhibit at Wenham Museum - featuring modern pop culture puppets with foreign and historical puppets through January.

Everywhere Jane Bowers looked in recent month, she saw puppets.

That’s probably because Bowers, curator of exhibitions at , was getting ready for the museum’s latest exhibit, PuppetPalooza, which opened last week. It runs through Jan. 16 in the Thompson Gallery.

“Every time I watch TV I realize there are a lot of puppets on TV and in commercials,” Bowers said in a recent tour of the new exhibit.

The exhibit officially got going on Sunday with an . Other puppet –oriented events will include a show titled “Dr. Doohickey's Monster Machine” by Puppeteer Brad Shur on Nov. 6 and "The Elves and the Shoemaker" by the Magical Strings Puppet Troupe of Beverly on Jan. 8.

The exhibit combines plenty of information to inform and educate adults and children alike, with a chance for children to put on a puppet show of their own. Each Wenham Museum exhibit combines looking and touching.

“We always provide an opportunity for there to be something to touch,” Bowers said, adding that those opportunities in PuppetPalooza include a hand puppet and a wearable dragon. “We’ll have a big basket that will have all sorts of puppets in it.”

The exhibit traces puppet from the primitive beginning thousands of years ago to Big Bird and Kermit of today.

“Puppets have been around for literally 30,000 years,” Bowers said.

But not all of the puppet history goes back that far. A looped video with clips from well-known puppets includes Howdy Doody, Mr. Rogers, The Muppet Show and Sherri Lewis and Lambchop.

Puppets such as the Muppets will be well known to visitors. But there is also velum puppets from India and shadow puppets from Indonesia. Other sections of the exhibit are devoted to shadow puppets, finger puppets, marionettes and hand puppets.

Many of the puppets in the PuppetPalooza exhibit are rare and it is uncommon to see so many of them in one place all together, she said. Some of the puppets are commercially made while others are artisan made.

Many of the puppets came from , the Puppet Free Library (which supplies the puppets for the First Night parade) in Boston, Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry in Connecticut, Behind the Mask Studio and You and Me Puppets.

“A very large percentage are on loan from puppeteers, theater troops and others,” Bowers said.

The Ballard museum at the University of Connecticut is named after Frank Ballard, arguably one of the world’s most famous puppeteers. His puppet “Queen of the Night’ is a marionette that is one display and is quite possibly the most impressive puppet include in the exhibit.

“You can see how talented and skilled you have to be to operate it,” Bowers said.

There’s lessons of all ages in the exhibit, including one big message: “Puppets can say things that you can’t say as a human,” Bowers said.

Puppets have often been used to make political statements, Bowers noted, pointing to Bread and Puppet Theater from Vermont.

“We didn’t go there,” she said.

Bowers credited the museum’s costume curator, Lindsay Jerrett, with pushing for a puppet exhibit.

“This was Lindsay’s idea,” Bowers said. And Bowers and Jerrett had a helping hand putting together the exhibit from Endicott College intern Duncan Meyst.


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