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Strings Attached: The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets

September 28, 2013

The Columbus Museum of Art recently organized an exhibition of over a century of Czech puppets, highlighting the history, artistry and culture of the craft. From the exhibition text: “With more than 140 puppets and related set designs, masks, and costumes, dating from the 1850s to the present, Strings Attached explores the rich history of puppetry in the Czech Republic and its influence throughout the world. Through touch-screen monitors, exhibition visitors can view a sampling of productions and watch puppet-makers at work. This exhibition is organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, the College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University, and the Arts and Theatre Institute, Prague.”


Josef Soukup, Young Aristocratic Lady and Aristocrat from Ceske Budejovice, early 20th century

“Since the late nineteenth century, Czech artists have been fascinated by the creative possibilities of puppets. Artists in opera, ballet, dance, drama, and film— who are not originally puppeteers—have used puppets to enhance their artistic expression. The use of string puppets by contemporary artist Petr Nikl and stop-motion filmmakers Jan Švankmajer, Jiří Trnka,  and Jiří Barta (all of their work is included in the show), and many others, demonstrates the increasingly vibrant legacy of traditional Czech puppetry. These and other European artists have influenced stop-motion animated filmmakers the world over including, Americans Tim Burton and the Brothers Quay. In addition to film techniques incorporating puppetry, Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas (1993) and his latest film Frankenweenie (2012) and the Brothers Quay The Cabinet of Jan Švankmajer (1984) and The Street of Crocodiles (1986) reflect the dark, gothic quality that permeates many, popular Czech puppet and stage productions. Judging from the success of contemporary Broadway productions such as The Lion King (1997), Avenue Q (2003) and Warhorse(2007), Americans are embracing puppetry just as their Czech counterparts have done for centuries.”

P1170970Jiri Prochazka, Genie, Princess, Prince from Scheherazade, 2003

P1170969Jiri Barta, Prince Charming, Forget-Me-Not-Doll, Subrt, Mucha Teddy-Bear from Toys in the Attic, 2009

P1170924Frantisek Vitek, Kai and Gerda from Snow Queen, 1967

P1170916Karel Kobrle, Faustus, Kasper and Four Devils, Water Sprite and Hercules, 1913

P1170903Artist Unknown, Stage Decoration, 1920-1930

P1170898Hanus Folkman, Farmer’s Wife, Prince, Aristocrat, king, Queen, Prince, Mr. Franc, 1921

The exhibition was on view from March 8 through August 4, 2013 at the Columbus Museum of Art.  Learn more about the exhibition here.

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