Marionettes are strange things. The most complex type of puppet, they are carved from wood, jointed and controlled by a “manipulator” who works the strings from above the marionette's head. The movements of marionettes are otherworldly; never purely realistic, they evoke the sense that nothing is completely within one's control. A master manipulator takes years to develop his or her skill, as does the craftsman who carves the forms. Gustave Baumann was both.
A contemporary work, “A Party for Papa Gus,” was written specifically for this exhibition and will be performed the first Sunday of the month through May. Many of the works center largely on life in New Mexico, recalling tales of Pecos Bill, Tia Sucia and Doña Mala, and the pueblos of San Felipe and San Isidro. Other stories are more exotic, creating imaginary islands and charmed characters believed to be based on the Baumann family's inner circle. A video of a 1994 re-created performance of “The Folk Legend of San Isidro” will also be shown for the duration of the exhibit.
Pulling Strings is a rare show, one that offers a glimpse into New Mexico’s past through the work of an old European art form. In a time when nearly everything is easily archived for perpetuity, the careful reconstruction of Baumann’s art is itself precious; not an echo, but a retelling.
The opening reception for Pulling Strings: The Marionettes and Art of Gustave Baumann will be held on Friday, Jan. 30, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. For hours and admission prices, go to mfasantafe.org.