Center for Puppetry Arts

A few weeks ago, I happened to have a free day in Atlanta. I drove up to Peachtree Street–the main one, not the hundred other ones scattered around Atlanta–and fired up my iPhone. I looked for interesting locations nearby.

My eye fell on a dot labelled “Center for Puppetry Arts.” One long walk later, I pushed open the double doors, walked over to a ticket booth, and bought a ticket to a unique museum.

As a kid, I loved the Muppets as much as anyone, and felt my mind blown by The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. But at some point during my early teen years, I grew more interested in how puppets work. I remember watching with hunger a behind-the-scenes clip on the complex Viking “In the Navy” sequence from The Muppet Show, seeing how they rigged the ship and positioned the puppets to achieve specific visuals.

Then I started using a puppet on my YouTube reviews, to my viewer’s surprise and delight. Folks loved it. People respond to puppets.

But enough about me. The Center is a large facility, also including a full-scale theater, while the museum itself is relatively small. The museum consists of three main areas: one big section devoted to puppets on TV (mostly the Muppets), another smaller room devoted entirely to The Muppets and Jim Henson, and a small warren of rooms displaying puppets from around the world.

The Muppet areas had the most immediate appeal. We all grew up with these characters. Besides describing several major puppet TV shows, the museum had examples of the puppets themselves: Big Bird from Sesame Street, Red and Mokey from Fraggle Rock, Sir Didymus from Labyrinth, and even Kermit the Frog. Sadly, the lettering accompanying these treasures, while expansive and helpful, was often faded or missing many letters.

As interesting as this was–Jim Henson built a vast body of work–the puppets from the rest of the world most intrigued me.

I entered that section of the museum through a heavy door, into an empty room. From there, I entered a closet crammed full of puppets. Several of these puppets were controlled by motion-sensitive sensors, so that moving through the room triggered them to turn towards me and chatter. It was one of the creepiest experiences of my life.

Beyond this was a more traditional museum space, wandering through displays of puppets from the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It seems that every country has developed a distinct puppetry tradition.

Did you know Vietnam has a tradition of intricate puppet shows…performed entirely in pools of water?

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