Museu da Marioneta brings to life one hundred pieces from the reserves to tell its many stories

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More than a hundred examples of the ancient art of puppets, moved by wires, sticks or gloves, left the reserves of the Puppet Museum in Lisbon to tell the stories of their culture in an exhibition that opens on Friday.

Usually seen only by the museum’s conservators, who care for and recover them, these are some of the puppets, most of which have never been exhibited, from a collection accumulated over two decades, and which can be seen by the public until October 29.

“Puppets are not inert objects. They were created to take action and tell stories, so their musealization is very complex”, noted the museum’s director, Ana Paula Rebelo Correia, during a visit for journalists to the new exhibition, before the opening.

This is the first time that the Museu da Marioneta has presented an exhibition with pieces from its collection of around 5,000, and those chosen – including three portable theaters and a shadow theater – originate from Europe, Africa and Asia, made between the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Entitled “A Outra vida das Marionetas – Coleções das Reservas do Museu”, the new temporary exhibition was set up in the former church of Nossa Senhora da Nazareth, currently the performance and temporary exhibition room of the museum founded in 2001 in the Convento das Bernardas, under the supervision of the Empresa de Gestão de Equipamentos e Animação Cultural de Lisboa (EGEAC).

Opening the show – whose scenography is by the artist António Viana – is a Shadow Theater created by Heiner Knappe (1929), realized in the 1970s in East Germany and presented in 1980, consisting of a wooden set representing a city and seventy pieces, including puppets and props, in cut wood with acetate applications.

The play performed in this theater was an adaptation of “The Shadow” by Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), first published in 1847, and the theater was designed for four actors who manipulated the rod puppets and the props corresponding to each of the scenes behind a fabric frame.

“The museum has a very strong connection with Portuguese and foreign puppeteers, especially from Europe”, Ana Paula Rebelo Correia pointed out, noting that for this reason donations have appeared from several countries, one of the most recent from the collection of Michael Meschke, Swedish puppeteer 93 years.

This donation of a set entitled “Swedish Songs” includes three string puppets, made in 1953 by Meschke, and whose manipulation “is complex and involves moving nine strings through a wooden crosshead so that they can perform the maximum number of gestures, with the greatest realism”.

Michael Meschke was born in 1931 in Germany. In 1939, to escape the war, his parents emigrated to Sweden, where he received his artistic training.

In 1958, he founded the Marionetteatern Company in Stockholm, which he directed for 40 years, becoming an international reference. In 1973 he founded the Stockholm International Puppet Museum.

“When he made contact for the donation, Michael Meschke always referred to the puppets as ‘my children’,” the director said.

Close to this set is another donated by the family of Henrique Delgado (1938-1971), “a unique case in the study of puppetry in Portugal”, according to Ana Paula Rebelo Correia, recalling that, throughout his short life, the puppeteer developed an in-depth research work that remains a reference for the knowledge of puppet theater at national level.

“He was also a creator of puppets, especially glove puppets, and made a fundamental contribution so that other countries would know the work of Portuguese puppeteers, through research and international contacts,” she said, questioned by Lusa.

In the 1960s, Henrique Delgado was one of the founders of Robertoscope, a company created with Henrique Trindade and which was part of the Casa do Pessoal da Companhia das Águas where he was an employee, having later founded and directed the Lilipute Theater, with puppets that he himself conceived and built, where the plays now exhibited were performed.

Throughout the exhibition, sets from other European countries, such as the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy, and also from other continents, from countries such as India and China, with a millenary tradition of this art, appear.

Out of the boxes, drawers and cabinets of the reserves, some original pieces – such as a portable theater made from a chair – or others with more sinister stories, such as the set of pieces created by German soldiers during the Second World War, as part of a puppetry course that took place in the barracks where they were and on the battleship Prinz Eugen, come back on stage for the exhibition.

“The use of puppet theater as a means of Nazi propaganda became recurrent, in parallel with radio or cinema, from 1938, when the Reich Institute for Puppet Theater was founded,” explained the museum director.

Due to the low cost of the productions and the possibility of itinerancy, the easy relationship with all audiences and the use of humor and well-known popular narratives to instill the intended ideology, the puppet theater had great expansion on the German war front.

Throughout the centuries, puppets – whether erudite or popular – have been the only way for many people to have contact with the theater, telling stories of everyday life or the divine, making social, political and religious criticism.

Although the tradition declined after the advent of radio, film and television, the life of these plays is being restored by the growth of tourism around the world, according to the director of the Puppet Museum.

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