Monday, March 12, 2012

Puppets and Dolls: Not Always Playthings

In the Czech Republic there is a custom among many families to keep a set of handmade puppets from generation to generation. This custom began as far back as the Middle Ages when stone cutters who worked on the cathedrals would come home and, for recreation, carve puppets from wood that resembled the figures they created in stone. Many of the puppets had extra large noses and bulging eyes, because such exaggeration of features was necessary for them to be seen perched in the soaring ceilings of the churches. Through the years puppet shows became a staple entertainment in Czechoslovakia.

But during the German occupation these shows took on a new role. The Germans ruthlessly censored all forms of theater, but they overlooked the puppet show, thinking it too insignificant for their attention. How wrong they were. The Czechs used these shows to boost morale, nationalism, and patriotism among their people. The shows were even used as vehicles for transmitting important messages to members of the resistance which was very active during the German occupation.

Another example of dolls being put to a serious purpose, took place in New Hampshire in the 1940’s. A woman, Frances Glessner Lee, from a wealthy and prominent family, had time on her hands and she became an accomplished miniaturist. But she was not an ordinary miniaturist. Fascinated by crime, she reproduced crime scenes from homicides reported in the newspapers. The corpse was always a doll rendered in realistic detail. Somehow the New Hampshire State Police heard of her work and decided to hire her. They used her reproductions of crime scenes to train rookie policemen in the art of observation — a skill of great importance to policemen and detectives. She was made an honorary Captain of Police for her contribution.

Finally, just recently I read about a new use for puppets in this country. There was a court case that was closed to the press and all media coverage was forbidden. The usual custom in these cases is to hire a court artist to record the events for the public. In this case the news media tried something different. They had puppets made of all the major characters involved — defendant, lawyers, judge, jury, etc. — and performed scenes from the trial on television. The program was an instant hit, drawing a large audience. Maybe this will set a precedent for future trials.

Robin Hathaway

1 comment:

  1. Robin, this affirms one of my favorite quotes... things are seldom what they seem..
    T. straw