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. 

CLOWNING AROUND

 

The VPM's spring exhibit “Clowning Around” is an exhibit in collaboration with Collective Visions Gallery artist Christopher Barnes and his clown themed art show “Clownin' Around.”  The VPM exhibit, selected from its collection, explores the meaning of 'clown' as it has evolved over the last 200 years.  Several puppet examples illustrate famous circus clowns such as “Bozo” and “Bimbo.”

 

The exhibit also takes a look at some clown themes that today might be considered as inappropriate and demeaning such as the Mexican 'town drunk', 'race', or the circus historic exploitation of dwarfism or extreme height, etc.  Exploring the new exhibit may give one a chance to examine personal attitudes and prejudice and how these impact our views and actions today.  Clowns and comedy are an evolving expression, whether narrowly or broadly defined. 

 

Hopefully these colorful and engaging figures can help brighten your days and bring a bit of joy in these days of COVID recovery.

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Model: Kabuki Theater

Stage model of the National Kabuki Theater, Japan

Model: American, ca. 1960's

Created by E. Kayuma, a University of Washington student in the School of Drama

The Marshall Campbell Collection, NWC.Th.002

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 Ranking with Nō (Noh) and Kabuki as one of Japan's foremost stage arts the Bunraku puppet theater is a blend of sung narrative, instrumental accompaniment and puppet drama. It emerged during the early Edo period (ca. 1600) when puppetry was coupled with Johruri a popular 15th century narrative genre. The drama plots are historical in themes and the plays are set in feudal times (as suggested by the three figures on display above) and contemporary dramas exploring the conflict between the affairs of the heart and social obligations. Three puppeteers, visible to the audience, are required to manipulate each Bunraku puppet. On an elevated platform, the narrator recounts the action, while musicians provide accompaniment. The narrator (tayu), plays all the characters, male and female, using different voices.

 All three of these Japanese stage arts, Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku, have intertwining similarities, music, plots and performance styles. Historically they were always performed by men, playing and speaking both male and female voices and roles. Today women are beginning to be accepted and included in the performance of Bunraku. All three, Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku are also designated as UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. To see an American adaptation of Bunraku style of puppet construction and performance here in the NW, you are encouraged to contact the Seattle puppet troupe: Thistle Theatre,(Jean Enticknap,director). info@thistletheatre.org and for their performance schedule, etc. visit their website: www.thistletheatre.org .

 

 (Ongoing research is seeking biographical information on the maker of the stage model—E. Kayuma. Anyone knowing about this individual is invited to contact the Valentinetti Puppet Museum.)

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ANGKLUNG (percussion instrument)

with 8 pitches (octave)

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 The angklung is a musical instrument in West Java, Indonesia. It is included in this series on puppet stages as it represents an important part of the puppet performance, especially in Asian cultures where music is as important as speech. Made of bamboo tubes of varying sizes on a bamboo or wood frame, the tubes are carved to have a resonant pitch when struck (or shaken) and are tuned to octaves, similar to Western handbells, sometimes heard in churches and musical organizations. The base of the frame is held in one hand, while the other hand shakes the instrument causing a repeating note to sound.

 

 The angklung is known throughout the world, but it originated in what is now West Java and Banten provinces in Indonesia, and has been played by the Sundanese for many centuries. The angklung and its music have become an important part of Sundanese communities of Java and Banten. Playing the angklung as an orchestra requires cooperation and coordination and is believed to promote the vales of teamwork, mutual respect and social harmony.

 

 In 2010, UNESCO officially recognized the Indonesian angklung as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, and encouraged the Indonesian people and government to safeguard, transmit and promote performances; and to encourage the craftsmanship of the angklung.

Puppet Theater Traveling Stage

ca. 1940's

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 This portable marionette stage was created for Josie Robbins (1913-1982) well known puppeteer and teacher in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The stage was given by Robbins to Aurora Valentinetti, who later passed the stage on to Marshall Campbell, founder of Evergreen Children's Theater. Campbell restored the fabric curtains and black skirting panels. The stage was easily transported, assembled and taken down for quick performance transaction, in and out of class rooms, etc.

 

 Josie Robbins performed extensively throughout the Puget Sound region and Washington. In addition to performing Robbins wrote a number of booklets on the art of making puppets and was engaged in teaching puppetry to scouting groups, schools, museums, etc. Robbins was instrumental in helping to organizing a Northwest chapter of Puppeteers of America.

 

 The stage setup you see today is for a performance of “Hansel and Gretel” with puppets by Hazelle Inc. of Kansas City, Missouri. Hazelle Rollins, a Kansas City puppeteer, began manufacturing marionettes in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. She was joined in the venture by her husband John Woodson (Woody) Rollins. Together they operated one of the most famous puppet factories in the United States for some thirty-four years. At the time of her death in 1984, Hazelle was revered as a noted authority on puppet and marionette design manufacturing. The stage backdrop for Hansel and Gretel was painted by Marshall Campbell (1941-2013).

 

Puppet publications written by Josie Robbins:

SPOOL MARIONETTES / By Josie Robbins. Illustrated by Joyce Baltes, 1950, 1952

PAPER BAG PUPPETS / By Josie Robbins. Illustrated by Anna Scott Jennings, 1952, 1953

FINGER PUPPETS / By Josie Robbins. Illustrated by Marjorie Rhind, 1954

PIONEER PUPPETS / By Josie Robbins. Illustrated by Anna Scott Jennings, 1955

BE A STORYTELLER / By Josie Robbins. Illustrated by Ora Moan, 1958, 1970

MODEL SHADOW (WAYANG KULIT) STAGE

WITH THREE MINIATURE SHADOW PUPPETS

Miniatures: Duryudana, Kayon or Guananga, & Semar

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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.

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SHOWBOAT THEATRE

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.

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 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!

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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 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. 

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