Lambrecht Screens Film on ‘Puppetry and Politics’

Woodcut print of Pete Seeger by Mary Walton

Winifred Lambrecht (Senior Lecturer, History, Philosophy, + the Social Sciences) will screen her short film Puppetry and Politics in 1939: The Vagabond Puppeteers at Esopus Public Library (128 Canal Street, Port Ewen, NY) on the 18th May and then at the Sandywoods Center for the Arts (43 Muse Way, Tiverton, RI) on 17th June 2016. After the film Lambrecht will take part in a Q&A session.

The film tells the story of four young New York artists, Mary Walton, Jerry Oberwager, Pete Seeger, and Harriet Holtzman who traveled through upstate New York in the summer of 1939 as The Vagabond Puppeteers. Their initial aim was to help rural farmers obtain electricity, but they soon realized that the true issue was the price of milk, which was so low that the farmers were producing it at a loss. They became active in the Dairy Farmers Union campaign of milk strikes by adapting their puppet performances to support the message of the strikes, entertaining the pickets, and preventing the delivery of ‘scab’ milk to the processing plants.

Jerry Oberwager making clay puppet head on the road; puppets were then molded in papier mâché

The story is told largely through interviews with Oberwager and Seeger who describe the origins of their political puppetry in the youth workshops of 14th Street in New York City, “We wanted our efforts in the arts and music to have some meaning to people.” said Oberwager reflecting on the origins of his work. They converted a 1929 Oldsmobile into a mobile stage and made a cast of 22 papier-mâché puppets. During the tour they lived largely on the donations of the upstate farming communities, “It was an exciting summer, and I remember when we got back to New York somebody saying ‘You may not have made any money, you may not have reached tens of thousands of people, but you did it, that’s the important thing. It is easy to talk about things, but doing them is the important thing.'” said Seeger.

Milk Strike, New York State, puppetry, Winifred Lambrecht