CURRENT MUSEUM EXHIBIT AND MUSEUM HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE COLLECTION
ABOUT THIS NEW PAGE
These pages are provided as new avenues of access to the VPM's collections and to provide some back stories about exhibits and specific objects in the collection. The curator plans to periodically update this page with new examples. The VPM changes exhibitions about 4 or 5 times a year. Visitors to this website are encouraged to share their thoughts, and questions as we share this journey together.
“ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE”
...is an exhibit celebrating the diverse styles and types of puppet stages found around the world. The Valentinetti Puppet Museum has a number of examples, toy, model, and functional in the collection. The exhibit also includes a few photographs of historic stages that no longer exist, and some not represented in the collection.
All the World's a Stage, was intended as the 2020 holiday exhibit, at the VPM, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced closure of the museum just as it was installed. It has been decided that the exhibit will remain on display for several months after the museum is able to reopen and life returns to more normal.
MODEL SHADOW (WAYANG KULIT) STAGE
WITH THREE MINIATURE SHADOW PUPPETS
Miniatures: Duryudana, Kayon or Guananga, & Semar
A new addition to the museum's holdings is this model of a Wayang Kulit shadow stage from Java, Indonesia with three examples of shadow puppets. Wayang is the Indonesian word for puppet and in this case wayang kulit meaning Javanese shadow puppet theater. Typically wayang is performed by itinerant performers often hired to perform at celebrations in homes marking special events. Stages were constructed to be easily assembled and taken apart. The dhalang or puppeteer sits behind the lighted screen with puppets arranged beside him and surrounded by musicians and assistants. A banana tree log would form the base into which the puppet control rods would be inserted when not in use or motion. Traditionally the dhalang were men. Only recently have women been accepted in the role of the dhalang. Also traditionally the audience members were separated by gender. Men sitting in front of the screen and women behind the screen with the musicians and dhalang. Today this largely is no longer true.
The stories told by the wayang kulit are derived from various sources such as the Indian Mababbrata and the Ramayana, the East Javanese Prince Panji cycle and later Muslim stories. The oldest cycles deal with ancient pre-Hindu history of Java. Later versions the epic heroes have been changed from their original context and appear in new purely Javanese fantasies.
The miniature Kayon puppet shown with the stage is an important feature having great spiritual powers and is used to bless the four sides of the playing space at the beginning of a performance. It represents the 'Tree of Life' and has birds and animals scattered among its branches. Although not included in this exhibit the VPM is proud to have an example of this puppet type. Exhibited above the model stage in this case is an example of a performance sized figure of KUMBAKARNA, a great patriot and warrior of the Ramayana, illustrating the power and vibrancy of wayang kulit and the scale of stage puppets.
In 2003, Wayang puppet theater was designated by UNESCO as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
University of Washington, Seattle
While the SHOWBOAT THEATRE no longer graces the Portage Bay shoreline of the University of Washington, it played an important role in the University's Drama School program, including puppetry, and in the life of this puppet museum's name sake, Aurora Valentinetti. Built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1938, this replica of a Mississippi riverboat served the University and Seattle theater community for 56 years before being torn down. Costs of restoring the building far exceeded the costs of removing or renovation, and it was finally demolished in 1994.
From these early war years in the 1940's until her retirement in 1992, Aurora devoted 50 years to the teaching of the art of puppetry and children's theatre at the University. From her performances on campus and across the state, to her early TV puppet shows, to life size puppets of “Everyman” exhibited at the Washington D.C. Puppet Conference, and the legion of students that have passed through her class room and stage, Aurora has been an important figure in the world of puppetry. In 2019 Aurora was awarded the University of Washington's Distinguished Teaching Legacy Award at a ceremony on campus. On July 14, 2021, Aurora Valentinetti celebrates her 100th birthday!
As a major performance venue on campus, the Showboat served as an important stage for both live and puppet performances. Theater luminaries, such as Lillian Gish, performed there. Among the University's famous Drama alumni that graced this stage were: Frances Farmer, Ella Raines, Robert Culp, and Chet Huntley. The University Puppeteers mounted many plays on the revolving stage. Attached is a program copy for RUMPELSTILTSKIN, performed on this stage in 1947, and directed by Aurora Valentinetti. Included in this current display, along with photos of the Showboat and puppet program, are three puppets created by Valentinetti around the same time as the Rumpelstiltskin performance. Two of these are Punch and Judy, created in the early 1940's, and included in WWII war bond appeals sponsored by the Seattle Italian community. Some of these performances took place in the public plaza in front of the Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle. Poor Judy's nose shows much abuse from years of torment.
ARCADE STAGE – COIN OPERATED
Built for Pelham Puppets Ltd., England. ca. 1971
Animated display stages of various sizes, often with mechanical operations and sound effects, were designed and made for Pelham Puppets Ltd. Starting in the 1960's and distributed in businesses around Great Britain and abroad, each stage provided a platform to showcase Pelham puppets for sale. This stage was acquired by a donor in Canada around 1985 and was prominently displayed in his Everett, WA business office prior to its presentation to the Valentinetti Puppet Museum in 2016.
This animated stage was created around 1971 under the direction of David Leech, a Pelham historian, who at the time was working for Pelham Puppets assembling stages. When exported abroad, because of their size and weight, stages were sold outright to Canadian, U.S., and other foreign buyers. The stage settings were created with many themes. The setting of this stage represents a “Village Square.” Other themes included: “Country Pub”, “The Castle”, “Santa's Workshop”, and the “Hostelry.”
The photo (see insert) shows the motor driving the mechanical action and the sound system provided by 8-track tape system. Young readers will need to research the recent history of recording technology to learn what that is. When the stage was sold to a North American buyer, its electrical and coin systems were converted to conform to U.S.-Canadian standards.
The stage is populated by Pelham puppets dating from the 1980's, and are as follows: “Singer” (playing a guitar), “Pinocchio”, “Iz the Ostrich”, Girl, Boy, “Mitzi” (girl), Boy with articulated mouth, “Giant”, “Gretel”, “Hansel”, “Witch”, “Cat”, “Wolf”, “School Master”, “Clown”; hanging out of a second story window is a doll figure of a man.
To collectors of Pelham Puppets, I can highly recommend David Leech's book – Pelham Puppets (Crown Collector's Press Lts.), 2008. In my view Leech has set a very high bar in what a collector/historian would like to see in the history of a commercial puppet maker.
Pollock's Toy Theatre
England, ca. 2nd half 20th century
This colorful toy puppet stage was published by Pollock's Toy Theatre and Toy Museum in London. The stage includes 4-stage flats and curtain for the play 'Aladdin'. (See photograph) It also includes a multi-figured palanquin puppet group from the same play with its attached metal clip on control rods.
In researching the history of the Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop, it was found that in 1826 a stage production of 'Aladdin' was performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, London. It is presumed that this stage proscenium and stage flat designs are copied after the Theatre Royal proscenium and the 1826 stage production of 'Aladdin'. It is believed that the Pollock's Toy Shop is still in business, serving up a wide variety of stages and toys from historic stages and productions.
Toy puppet stages like this with printed designs on paper, have a centuries long history in England and Europe. Printers throughout Europe were engaged in printing the stage designs and puppet characters. People were able to purchase sheets with multiple flat designs, etc. Some were available already colored, others were plane and the purchaser would color their own.
Puppets, like the one shown with this Pollock stage example were made of paper, much like paper doll figures we are familiar with today. Others might be more three-dimensional like the matchstick figures one can see with the vintage French toy stage (first page of this series).
The art of the toy stage and set designs is still highly acclaimed and collectors seek out old and new examples. In some communities, collectors gather together to display and perform with this intimate theater form. The VPM is pleased to have a number of stage flats believed to be designed by the Danish printer, Alfred Jacobsen in Copenhagen. Selections of these have been displayed at the VPM in past years.
Toy Puppet Stage
French, ca. 1880-1900
This elegant toy puppet stage came into the museum's collection in 2010 as a gift. In addition to the stage and its rural landscape and distant building stage drops, there was also a separate drop of an interior scene. Upon its arrival, and examination of the stage structure, it was discovered that the paper strips glued to the back corners of the stage box were coming loose.
Careful lifting of the paper exposed writing on the underneath sides (click here for a photograph) identifying the maker of the drops and stage: Nouvelle Imagerie d'Epinal, Lith. Olivier-Pinot, Edit. a Epinal, depose P.V., Nouveau Theatre Portatif a Rainures. Further research identified the stage drop and flats as: Maison de Campagne (Country Estate), No. 805
Included with the stage donation are these 8 rare matchstick puppets, measuring about 2 ¼ to 2 ½ inches in height. The costumes of the male figures suggests their occupations: (l. to r.) gentleman, crusader, judge , lawyer. The top row of female figures have yet to be identified. Inserted in the tops of each head is a small nail. A bit of wire remains attached to some, indicating that the puppet figures were controlled from above by a single wire. Much research and conservation work remains to be done to preserve these fragile figures.
The curator and VPM hope to share this information with the world through the internet, creating a conversation about puppets and puppet history, and to share information with one another. It is hoped that you will help support the VPM with your dollars and your time so we can continue to share our treasures with the community.