Marionettes, Giant Puppets Grace The Ballard Stage at UConn

Two new exhibitions, entitled “Masters of the Marionette: Rufus and Margo Rose” and “Reed and Light: works by Anne Cubberly,” featuring marionettes and gigantic puppets exceeding 12-feet opened at the Ballard Institute Saturday in Storrs Center.

Cubberly’s exhibit displayed puppets twice the size of an adult and demonstrated how these figures were built using reed, paper, fabric and re-purposed materials. The exhbition highlighted reed as an incredibly light material that can be easily manipulated, especially when wet.

The puppets in Cubberly’s exhibit are attached to a harness, which can be worn by a puppeteer like a vest. Due to the lightweight nature of reed, the puppet puts very little stress on the puppeteer in spite of the large size.

“Masters of the Marionette” is an exhibit displaying the work of Rufus and Margo Rose, a couple who toured during the 1930s and then moved into motion pictures. The exhibit highlights those decades, spanning from their early cross-country tours of the 1920s and the new technologies of film and television. Hannah Kennedy, a second year graduate student majoring in art history at UConn, curated the exhibit and received help from Fred Thompson, who studied under the Roses and knew them personally.

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of archival material,” Kennedy said while addressing the crowd present for the exhibition opening, “It was my goal to combine the puppets and archival material of Rufus and Margo Rose.”

Following the opening remarks of Kennedy, a brief demonstration from John Bell was given via a Pinocchio marionette built by the Roses for the performance of “Pinocchio.” Bell, Director of the Ballard Institute of Museum and Puppetry and an Associate Professor of Puppetry, showed all those in attendance the mechanism behind making Pinocchio’s nose to make it longer or shorter.

Marionettes were not the only feature of the exhibit, but also letters between the married Margo and Rufus. Also on display was video from the Ballard Archives of performances wherein the marionettes now on display were once performing. In fact, some of the Roses most famous performances were filmed in their own home where the Roses had their workshop.

Concluding the afternoon, Thompson gave a final demonstration. He displayed marionettes from a show about mice aboard Noah’s Arc being chased around by a large cat. There were three puppets, all of which had either small or large versions, though not all versions were present as they had been damaged in a fire.

The puppeteer shared how the Roses influenced his interest in puppetry and provided some of the couple’s personal history.

“I saw a puppet show in the late forties of the Roses and I was then and have been in the throw of puppetry since,” Thompson said as he took to the stage with some of the Roses work. “If I ever wanted to write a book on the Roses, it’d be two chapters. One would be entitled ‘And then the phone rang’ and ‘I wonder what’s ahead.’”

Paul Spirito, the Puppet Arts Technical Supervisor, commented on the exhibits, saying, “The beauty of these exhibits is that they show the history of puppetry, where it is now and where it is going.”

Both exhibitions at the Ballard will be on display through June 28.

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