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Detroit Institute of Arts Unveils New Hand, Shadow, and String Puppet Gallery
Tin Man, Mombi the Witch, Jack Pumpkinhead, Tip, Guardian of the Gates, Burr Tillstrom, late 1940s.
DETROIT, MI.- Some very important puppets (VIPS) went on view, when the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) unveiled a new permanent gallery featuring hand, shadow, and string puppets from the museum’s Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection. The collection comprises more than 800 puppets, and the array of puppets on view will change every six months.

Rare 18th-century American and Italian hand puppets and iconic string marionettes, including the original Howdy Doody—used in the 1940s during the early years of broadcast television—are included in this opening exhibition in the new puppet gallery.

“Our puppets have long been a favorite with the public and we are pleased to have a selection of them on view in time for the holidays,” said Graham W. J. Beal, DIA director.

The first exhibition features three different sets of puppets: rare, early 18th-century Venetian puppets such as Capitano, a military captain, and Pantalone the merchant; puppets from the birth of television, including characters from the book The Marvelous Land of Oz and the original Howdy Doody; and the iconic Punch and Judy, comedic puppets from 18th-century New England.

The puppets are displayed in innovative cases with programmable lighting that can create unique scenic effects to fit the mood of each puppet group, allowing original stages and backdrops to also be on view. The 300-seat Lecture Hall was retrofitted with new stage equipment that enhances live puppet performances.

“We’re excited to have our puppets on view for the first time in 10 years,” said Larry Baranski, director of public programs and puppet curator. “The new gallery gives us the opportunity to bring out old friends, such as The Marvelous Land of Oz characters, and to show the public the great variety and diversity of our outstanding collection. We are also looking forward to presenting more puppet performances, as they are always popular with visitors of all ages.”

McPharlin was a Detroit resident and prominent figure in American puppetry during the early 20th century, most notably as an author and founder of the national organization Puppeteers of America.

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