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Pulling Strings: the Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann

The complete collection of hand carved wood marionettes created by Guvstave Baumann in the collection of the New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe will be on display.

Santa Fe, NM, January 01, 2009 --( New Mexico Museum of Art News

Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann

January 30, 2009 through May 10, 2009

After a lengthy and extensive restoration process, the marionettes carved by Gustave Baumann in the 1930s will be on view beginning January 30, 2009 through May 10, 2009 at the New Mexico Museum of Art in the exhibition Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann. Nearly all the puppets had to be restrung, leather joints had to be replaced, costumes had to be restored, and touch-ups to the paint were required. This will be the first time in forty years that the original puppets have been on public display.

The Baumann’s living room was the site of the early marionette performances. Gus, as Baumann was called, and his wife Jane wrote the scripts with Jane making the puppets’ costumes and helping perform the marionettes with the assistance of friends.

Since the performances often referred to local characters and events their popularity spread beyond their circle of friends and family. For years the larger community of Santa Fe was invited to attend performances just before Christmas. The marionette performances grew in renown and were moved to St. Francis auditorium and other public venues. The last public performance of the original marionettes occurred in 1959.

In the manner Baumann carved, painted, and articulated the puppets, he gave each one their own personality. A puppet with many moving parts could suggest activity, Freckles and Wart, for example; and by giving Miguelito the burro fewer moving parts the puppet seems to have a solid, steady character. The marionettes vary a great deal in size because they represent a wide range of people and animals (and even a dancing banana tree). The largest are about 24 inches tall and the smallest about three inches.

Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) learned his wood-carving skills after his family emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1891. At sixteen, Baumann apprenticed in a commercial printmaking shop in Chicago to learn the trade. Eager to know more about fine art, he enrolled in 1905 in the Royal School of Arts and Crafts, Munich, Germany, where he practiced and perfected his printmaking skills. Baumann demonstrated his ability in wood carving at this time when he produced a Bavarian village complete with hand-carved toys representing the townsfolk.

In 1918 Baumann moved to Santa Fe and worked in the basement of this museum on his woodcut prints – for which he is perhaps better known. After his marriage to the singer and actress Jane Henderson in 1925, and the arrival of their daughter Ann in 1927, Baumann and his family in 1931 began to create their marionette theater. Intended in large part to entertain their daughter and friends, the marionette theater became an important part of their creative lives.

After Baumann’s death in 1971, his wife Jane and daughter Ann, gifted the marionettes, stage materials, and related items to the New Mexico Museum of Art. In addition, they and other Baumann supporters donated a vast selection of Baumann’s prints, paintings, and drawings to the museum, making the collection the largest in the world.

The museum continues the nearly eighty year old holiday tradition with marionette productions in St. Francis auditorium just before Christmas for the public. The marionettes used are exact replicas created so that the Baumann family’s gift to Santa Fe and the world can continue to be enjoyed in what has become a New Mexico custom.

Exhibition curator Tim Rodgers, Ph.D. said, “Working with conservators to restore the marionettes and other materials has been very exciting. To see the marionettes ‘live’ again has been quite rewarding. And to view them showcased in their proper homes has given me a deep appreciation for the artistry of Baumann and his family.”

Performances of the replicate marionettes will take place the first Sunday of each month during the run of Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann. The first puppet performances are Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Visitors will be able to view a video showing excerpts from past marionette performances and the complex conservation work that was done to get the marionettes ready for display. In addition to the staged marionettes, Pulling Strings will present prints and paintings by Baumann that are part of the Museum’s collection of more than 2,000 works by the artist. Baumann’s works produced in New Mexico that relate to the theatrical performances of the marionettes will be emphasized.

The Women’s Board of the Museum of New Mexico will host an opening reception for Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann on Friday, January 30, 2009 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and the public is welcome.

Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann is the New Mexico Museum of Art’s contribution to the Museum of New Mexico’s 100th celebration.

Media Contacts
Tim Rodgers, Ph.D., Chief Curator

Steve Cantrell, PR Manager
505-310-3539 – cell

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Contact Information
New Mexico Museum of Art
Steve Cantrell

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