Back in spring 2013, I spoke at the Business History Conference in Columbus, OH. Of course, I investigated the local museums and was thrilled to find out about an exhibition of Czech puppets at the Columbus Museum of Art.
Puppet theatre was a way for Czechs to express their culture and traditions while under the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century. Puppeteers could travel from town to town, sharing folk tales and traditions. In the 20th century, puppetry evolved into animation, inspiring filmmakers like Tim Burton.
The Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague created an exhibition incorporating different types of 19th and 20th century puppets: Strings Attached – The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets. Columbus was the only US stop, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the exhibition.
The puppets were used to enact classic tales from Shakespeare, the Bible, or universal folk tales like Pinocchio.
Surreal or grotesque puppets explored the fantastic aspects of Czech culture, also seen in Kafka’s writings and other art forms.
A number of devil puppets were also on display. Remember these are devils with the small “d”, not the Biblical Devil with a capital “D”. The pictures can’t show the detailed craftsmanship and vibrant colors in the original puppets. The faces were incredibly evocative. In the hands of a master puppeteer, the movements must be equally compelling.
As to the Museum itself, I am a fan of local art museums. The Columbus Museum of Art was surprisingly small, given Columbus’ size. The collection is a mini-version of a large city art museum: some Europeans, some Americans, a few Old Masters, and some photography. The special exhibitions are the real value of the Museum, ranging from artist retrospectives to provocative themes like “In _____ We Trust, Art & Money.”
If you are in Columbus and have one or two hours for culture, check the exhibition schedule. The museum is located in the heart of downtown but can be tricky to find. My cab driver had some difficulties, which is why I always travel with a map and directions. You will have to walk a couple of blocks back to a main street to grab a cab back to your hotel.