Friday, November 9, 2007

Jeffrey Woodward: INSTITUTE OF ARTS

Whenever I visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, when I tire of taxing my mind and my eyes with contemplation of Cezanne’s portrait of his wife, Hortense, or Botticelli’s Resurrected Christ, or even the rather grandiosely didactic but celebrated Detroit Industry mural by Diego Rivera, I relax by visiting some of the rare puppets on display that make up a part of the Paul McPharlin Collection.

McPharlin was probably the premier American authority on puppetry in the first half of the 20th century, a highly skilled puppeteer and puppet-maker himself, and founder of the Marionette Fellowship Troupe during the Great Depression years in Detroit. He also authored The Puppet Theatre in America, still considered a standard reference in the field. Unfortunately, McPharlin died in 1948 at the young age of 45.

It is no small thing to master an art, even if that art is rarely appreciated. So, again, I visit McPharlin’s collection, the puppets carefully suspended under glass, looking now at an exquisite Chinese marionette, now at a rare French clown or even at one of McPharlin’s own original and delicate creations:

for the marionette
deprived of its falsetto,
a dream of dancing
by Jeffrey Woodward
Detroit, Michigan
first published in Lynx XXII:2, June 2007

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