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Puppetry Collection:

A Preliminary Inventory of the Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Title: Puppetry Collection
Dates: 1800s-1980s (bulk 1880s-1950s)
Extent: 5 document boxes, 120 oversize boxes (osb), 14 oversize folders (osf), 2 rolled items, 1 unhoused object (approx. 80 linear feet)
Abstract: The Puppetry Collection consists of just over 100 puppets and marionettes representing puppetry traditions from around the world, supplemented by research material on puppetry such as photographs, posters, clippings, theater programs, and manuscripts.
Call Number: Performing Arts Collection PA-00057
Language: English, Arabic, German, French, Italian, and Russian.
Access: Open for research. An appointment is required to view marionettes, puppets, oversize rolled posters, and other three-dimensional objects. Access to the tent (tamboodi) in box 106 is restricted due to preservation concerns; a digital image is available.



Acquisition: Assembled by Theatre Arts staff from various collections including Albert Davis, Messmore Kendall, and W. H. Crain. Additional gifts and purchases, 1968-1992 (R 9623 and others), Gift, 2012 (12-05-009-G).
Processed by: Carolyn Roark and Helen Adair, 2004; Helen Baer, 2014; Eric Colleary, 2016
Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


The Puppetry Collection consists of just over 100 puppets and marionettes representing puppetry traditions from around the world, supplemented by research material on puppetry such as photographs, posters, clippings, theater programs, and manuscripts.
The collection is arranged into nine series: I.Turnabout Theatre/ Yale Puppeteers, circa 1930s-?; II. Punch and Judy Puppets, circa 1880-circa 1885; III. Paul Clemens Marionettes, circa 1902-circa 1960; IV. Kathputli Rajasthani Marionettes, undated; V. Karagoz Shadow Puppets, 1959-1992; VI. Javanese Wayang Golek Puppets and Wayang Kulit Shadow Puppets, undated; VII. Other Puppetry Traditions, 19th century-1980s; VIII. WPA Puppet Plays, 1937-1938, undated; and IX. Nancy Renfro Puppet Collection, undated.
The Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles was a performance space operated by the Yale Puppeteers. The company originated at the University of Michigan, and began touring in 1927. Series I. Turnabout Theatre/ Yale Puppeteers, circa 1930s-?, includes two marionettes for Amphitryon 38 and three for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, supplemented by photographs, transcribed lyrics and tablature for music, and other materials. The material in this series was transferred from the UT Drama Department and Curtain Club Collection.
Series II. Punch and Judy Puppets, circa 1880-circa 1885, consists of seven hand-carved puppets created for the Swift Brothers touring tent show which toured Texas, Oklahoma, and Illinois until 1956.
Paul Clemens was a vaudeville actor who toured on the Chautauqua circuit. Between 1930 and 1960, he designed puppets and wrote playlets to suit the puppets he made, touring with a company. Series III. Paul Clemens Marionettes, circa 1902-circa 1960, consists of 62 marionettes and assorted pieces of puppets, supplemented by photographs, theater programs, a travelling case, and other materials. Clemens’s stepson, David Overton, presented the material as a gift to the Harry Ransom Center in 1970.
Series IV. Kathputli Rajasthani Marionettes, undated, consists of a set of 33 traditional kathputli marionettes, supplemented by props, a backdrop tamboodi (tent), and other materials. The marionettes, which include most of the characters used in traditional Rajput plays, were purchased in 1982 from Anila Mehta (R 9623).
Series V. Karagoz Shadow Puppets, 1959-1992, consists of four boxes of leather puppets and scenery. The puppets, which were built by Metin Özlen, a well-known Karagoz puppeteer of Istanbul, are a set of characters for "The Witches." Each puppet has a paper label attached to the back identifying the character or character type, and the maker’s name and dates. The scenario for the play is as follows: Two rival witches respectively have a son and daughter, who are in love but have quarreled. Each of the lovers complains to the other’s mother. The two witches hold a contest during which several people are transformed into animals. The figures in this play are Karagoz; Hacivat; Celebi, the man and evil-turning son of Witch 1; Zenne, the woman and donkey-turning daughter of Witch 2; Karagoz as donkey; Hacivat as goat; son of Hacivat as frog; son of Karagoz as turtle; Witch 1; Witch 2; a house; a screen ornament. The acquisition of these materials may have been facilitated by Joel Sherzer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin.
Series VI. Javanese Wayang Golek Puppets and Wayang Kulit Shadow Puppets, undated, consists of four wayang golek puppets and three wayang kulit shadow puppets. The Javanese puppets were purchased from Ifan Kyrle Fletcher. The wayang kulit shadow puppets are from Jogjakarta, are made of dried buffalo skin and cane, and are painted.
Series VII. Other Puppetry Traditions, 19th century-1980s, contains materials documenting a variety of puppetry performers, companies, and traditions.
Series VIII. WPA Puppet Plays, 1937-1938, undated, contains scripts for 29 puppet plays created for and possibly produced under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project, an initiative sponsored by the U.S. Works Progress Administration. The material in this series was transferred from the University of Texas Extension Library Collection.
Series IX. Nancy Renfro Puppet Collection, includes 26 hand and finger puppets plus associated materials such as patterns, original design drawings, and notes. Nancy Renfro (1937-1993) was an artist, puppeteer, and educator who established her own puppetry business, Nancy Renfro Studios, in the 1970s. During her puppetry career she wrote books about puppetry, taught puppetry workshops from the 1970s through the early 1990s, and sold mail-order puppets and puppetry books through her company. A selection of her puppets was donated to the Ransom Center in 2012.

The Ransom Center Library includes a number of printed plays for puppets and marionettes. The Ransom Center is also home to the Stanley Marcus Sicilian Marionette Collection, and the Joel Sherzer Collection of materials relating to international puppetry festivals from 1980s-1985. The W. H. Crain Costume and Scenic Design Collection includes toy theater prints, circa 1830-1850. Issues of Puppet Teaching News Bulletin, published by the Works Progress Administration, are located in Performing Arts Periodicals. Given the interdisciplinary nature of puppetry, additional materials can be found interwoven in the Pantomime Collection, Theatre Biography Collection, Circus Collection, and Joseph Ward Circus Collection. Additional material pertaining to Nancy Renfro’s career in puppetry may be found in the Nancy Renfro Papers and Art Works, located in the Art Collection.