Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Manufacturing Marionettes

There’s a wonderfully intriguing new marionette display in Strings Attached, created by AmeriCorps Museum Educators Annie Blazejack and Zachary Orefice.

Annie and Zack were introduced to the Museum’s collection of antique marionettes when they photographed and created a digital catalogue of nearly 100 puppets, props and memorabilia handcrafted by Providence puppeteer Betty Huestis and donated to the Museum before her death.

Fascinated by the collection, Annie and Zack sought out some of the rarely seen pieces – the unfinished puppet parts! – and challenged themselves to find a way to include them in an exhibit. “Because the pieces are part of the collection, we asked ourselves how we could share them with visitors,” Zack explained.

The result is 9 to 5, a whimsical factory scene that reimagines Betty Huestis’s creative process. A crew of clown employees staffs five marionette-making stations, stuffing and sewing the puppet pieces as they travel down the assembly line before embroidering features and clothing and stringing the marionettes on the factory floor.

Annie and Zack were intrigued by the idea of creating a more contemporary setting, one that wouldn’t have been used for the marionettes in the 1950s but that remains true to their origins. Small details like the wall of time cards enhance the feel of the factory environment. Annie and Zack acknowledged that there are so many parts of the collection we often don’t share because there isn’t the right context – not only these leftover legs and heads but also some characters that might be viewed as offensive today, removed from their historical context.

But, according to Annie, the puppet parts “are objects that you can find context for. They’re not the first things you’d think of to use in a display … It’s unusual but it still reveals something true and interesting about the whole collection.”

Their exhibit is truly an imaginative way to showcase some of these little-seen parts of the Huestis collection. Look for 9 to 5 over the next few months and let us know what you think!

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