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Nancy Staub Puppetry Research Library Tour Report

by Stephen Sherman

On Friday, June 16th, SLA-Georgia Chapter toured the Nancy Staub Puppetry Research Library at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Midtown Atlanta.

Worlds of Puppetry museum at the Center for Puppetry Arts
The Center was founded by puppeteer Vincent Anthony, who had toured with the Nicolo Marionettes out of New York. In the mid-1960s, Anthony had decided to move away from the crowded city and partnered with Mitchell Edmonds to create the Vagabond Marionettes. Together, they traveled throughout the Southeast and presented shows for several seasons at the Woodruff Arts Center. At the same time, Anthony developed a vision of a center that would promote puppetry through exhibitions, shows for adults and families, and community-based workshops. In 1978, Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog were on hand to cut the ribbon as the former Spring Street Elementary School became the permanent home for the Center for Puppetry Arts and Anthony’s vision became a reality.

Selection of muppets from Sesame Street; part of the Jim Henson collection at the Center for Puppetry Arts

Kayla Wirtz, Museum Collections Manager, guided the group on a tour of the Center’s print and physical collections. Kayla manages the Center’s library, institutional archives, and collection of puppets from around the world. Her duties include working with the Center’s exhibitions staff to design appropriate displays and materials for the museum. The Center is continually rotating items between storage and display as exhibits change and items are brought back for preservation. Kayla also accessions new items, as the Center receives between 15-20 batch donations each year.

Nancy Staub Puppetry Research Library at the Center for Puppetry Arts
The Center’s Nancy Staub Puppetry Research Library includes over 1,100 global puppetry books and more than 1,300 puppetry-related periodicals. Archival collections include Nancy Staub’s Global Puppetry Collection, Standwell (The Little Players) Collection, Marjorie McPharlin Collection, Thom Fountain Collection, Puppetry Guilds and Festivals, and the Center for Puppetry Arts Collection.  In addition to print collections, the library also houses film collections with recordings of the Center’s own performances, global films, and commercial movies that include puppetry. The library is open to researchers by appointment and the collection is cataloged locally using PastPerfect.

Books on a shelf in the Nancy Staub Puppetry Research Library

What makes the Center truly unique is its collection of around 4,000 puppets from around the globe. The Center is the largest puppet archive in North America and one of only three institutions housing collections from Jim Henson (the other two are the Smithsonian and the Museum of the Moving Image). Kayla took the group on a behind-the-scenes tour of the puppet storage and archive, which included many familiar characters from film and TV. Kayla described how the Center’s recent 15,000 square foot expansion has dramatically increased her capacity and the space available for collections. Prior to the renovation, she was often working in an area no bigger than a closet, but now has ample room to work with items. The Center’s performance space has also been enlarged, along with the classrooms and other staff areas. While the Center’s exhibition space can only accommodate so many items at a time, part of Kayla’s work with the puppetry collection involves photographing items for the new online collection. This initiative is just one example of how the Center is looking to expand its audiences in the future.

Selection of Muppets from the Jim Henson Collection at the Center for Puppetry Arts
For more information on the Center for Puppetry Arts, visit Puppet.org.

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