SIUE’s Proctor Puppets collection exhibited at SWIC Schmidt Art Center

The SIUE Museum Studies department has opened the “Proctor Puppets: Showcasing Amusement” exhibit at Southwestern Illinois College’s (SWIC) Schmidt Art Center on the Belleville Campus. The exhibit opened on Nov. 1, 2012, and will be at Schmidt until Dec. 14.

Hand puppets from Proctor Puppets collection

Hand puppets from the Proctor Puppets collection

The exhibit was organized and put together by Associate History Professor and Museum Studies Program Director Dr. Laura Milsk Fowler and the graduate students in  her Foundations of Museology (HIST 580) class with help from University Museum Director Eric Barnett and his graduate assistants.

The Proctor Puppets are a collection of puppets from the early twentieth century that belonged to and were often crafted by puppeteers and St. Louis natives Romain and Ellen Proctor and their daughter Mimi. The SIUE University Museum has been in possession of the puppets since they were donated to the University upon Mimi’s death in 1991.

Puppets in the collection include the traditional Punch and Judy hand puppets, marionettes of classic fairytale characters like Hansel and Gretel and the Three Little Pigs and puppets representative of eras of American history, like Adolf Hitler and Mussolini as well as a Welfare Dollar character from the Great Depression.

The exhibit additionally has a display of rare Asian shadow puppets that the Proctors possessed and tell a much different and equally fascinating story to the visitor.

Ellen and Mimi Proctor had both worked with SIUE students, showing them the skills of puppetry, which led to the collection being donated to the University. Fowler felt that, with the University having so much information about the Proctors, the puppets were a good choice for the class’ exhibit.

“For this exhibit, we worked with both the Museum and the Proctor collection at the University Archives,” says Fowler. “This was a good collection to work with because there was a lot of documentation available, in addition to the puppets themselves.”

Going through the documentation was challenging for some of Fowler’s students, considering the sheer volume of it.

Hansel and Gretel marionettes

Hansel and Gretel marionettes

“The most challenging thing about planning the exhibit was getting through all of the archival materials to find information that we would want to include within the exhibit,” says Museum Studies student Deanna Lally.

While sifting through information was a challenging aspect of putting the exhibition together, choosing a venue for the exhibition was less taxing, considering how often and how well the University has worked with SWIC’s Schmidt Art Center.

The Schmidt Art Center has had a longstanding relationship with SIUE’s University Museum and Museum Studies program. The University has worked with the Schmidt Art Center for many years, and the Proctor Puppets is the seventh exhibit that SIUE’s Museum Studies students have displayed at Schmidt.

“Since there are limited exhibition spaces on campus, the relationship with the Schmidt has suited us well,” Fowler says.

The Schmidt Art Center, in turn, is pleased with the artifacts that the Museum Studies and University Museum brings. Schmidt’s Curator and Facility Coordinator Nicole Dutton feels that the Proctor Puppets collection conveys an interesting story to its visitors.

“The SIUE students did a wonderful job of providing the viewer with the context of the puppets’ historical time period and culture, some of which includes The Great Depression, World War I and II, Punch and Judy, and shadow puppets of Indonesia.  The installation of these puppets was a kind of artwork in and of itself,” says Dutton.

Fowler’s graduate students all worked hard to master the art of installing the Proctor Puppets. One of her students, Megan McKinzie, feels that learning this art and gaining essential skills was the most rewarding through the whole experience.

“What was most rewarding about this experience was learning the process of how a museum displays things and all of the details that accompanies an exhibit,” says McKinzie.

The students and faculty involved in putting together the exhibit can also feel rewarded by the positive reception of the exhibition that Dutton has noticed in just the short time it has been up.

“We’ve had visitors of all ages visit this exhibition, and I have enjoyed watching their reactions.  They all bring their own perspective to these puppets,” says Dutton. “You can see how the children are fascinated with them (especially the marionettes with strings) and how the seniors seem to have their own nostalgic moments…They love the characters, and they are amazed at the craftsmanship and technique.”

Everyone from SIUE and its surrounding communities are encouraged to visit this exhibit, as after its closing on Dec. 14, the Proctor Puppets will go back into storage at the University Museum.

The Schmidt Art Center is a free exhibition hall open to the public Monday through Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Schmidt is closed on Sundays and during college holidays.

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