The Puppets Have Arrived exhibit

“The Puppets Have Arrived!” is an extraordinary exhibit of Chinese puppets on view through September 26 at the Fleet Library at RISD. The puppets in the exhibit are part of the Ella V. Bowering Collection which was augmented by Judith Funkhouser, Rhode Island School of Design class 1963, her daughter.  Anyone who knew Judith at the time of her studies at RISD will not be surprised that she has pursued her passion for sequential images and for all things Chinese.

Descriptions of puppets included in the exhibition:

Shadow Play Puppets – 1st Floor
Using shadow puppets the puppeteer is able to bring to life fables and fantasies of old China.  Shadow puppets are cut outs from treated donkey skin, painted with translucent dyes hinged by thread which are manipulated by thin metal rods.  When held close to a white curtain with a strong light behind they cast mysterious to entertain the audience.

Hand/Glove Puppets – 1st Floor
Puppet master wore the puppets on their hands like gloves using their fingers to control the puppets.  It required years of training to develop flexible and strong fingers.

Wood Rod Puppets – 1st Floor
The puppet heads are carved from camphorwood and fitted on to wood rods.  Some of the puppets feature moving eyes and or mouths that open and close.  The puppeteer manipulates these features and the puppet’s arms using thin sticks.  The puppet heads and costumes may be refined or rustic.

Metal Rod Puppets – Mezzanine
These puppets feature molded heads and elaborate costumes.  They are supported and manipulated by metal rods.

Puppetry in Pieces – Mezzanine
Display showing construction of marionettes and costumes including carved camphor wood painted head, as well as woven bamboo torso, wood hands and feet, reinforced costume, a bamboo control board, misc. hats and props.  When assembled the puppets are perfectly balanced.

The puppet heads are carved from camphorwood,  It is then covered with paper and plastered with filtered loess pulp, a loosely compacted yellowish-gray deposit of windblown sediment with the constancy of clay,  and polished.  A puppet head is not finished until it is painted in colors, spread with wax and fixed up with hair, beard, moustache.  Other decorations may then be added to define the character.  All headgear in the traditional drama are generally called helmets.  There are four kinds of helmets: crowns, helmets, scarves and caps or hats.  Crowns are usually used for kings, helmets for officers and scarves are used as plain caps, either soft or hard.

Marionettes “The Monkey King Troupe”- 2nd Floor

The exhibit features Qing Dynasty puppets, made of wood, bamboo, string and fabric.  With the exception of the Monkey King puppet, which has been given a new crown, robe and pole, the troupe is as found.  “Opening the eyes”, a special ritual of applying to the pupil a drop of blood drawn from the beak of a chicken, was most certainly performed on these marionettes.  When not on stage, puppets’ heads were always wrapped in their own sheath to hide them from sight of wandering spirits and incidentally, to protect the delicate painted head.  Perhaps this is why they are in such good condition, especially considering the tumultuous times they have passed through.  Now after having been packed away for many years, these puppets are once again on stage and they’re lovin’ it!

Ella V. Bowering Collection, Fleet Library, Judith Funkhouser, Puppets

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