“Puppetry is such an integral part of Chinese culture,” said Collections Assistant Susan Doss, who has examined and documented the collection since the museum received it in April. “I don’t think you can have a complete Chinese exhibit without having puppets.”
To help kick-off the new collection, the Berman is celebrating Museum Day on Saturday with free admission and a make-and-take puppet activity for children.
At two centuries old, the Berman’s puppets are still young compared to the history of puppetry in China, which has been a popular method of storytelling for thousands of years.
The Chinese use puppetry to tell the stories of folk legends — 1,500 years before Disney thought up “Mulan” — and it is a serious form of storytelling, not just to entertain children. The stories have morals and share history with new generations.
The puppets themselves are pieces of art: carved wooden faces, hands and feet attached to wicker bodies. They are garbed in brightly colored clothing, most of which is hand-painted and embroidered. Some of the puppets brandish weapons. The priest bows his head, and the dragon dances along.
“Most puppets are based on Chinese folk stories, mythology, that sort of thing,” Doss said. “The Chinese could tell a character by their face, colors, what they wore.”
The colors of the clothes are important, Doss said, because each color represents something different. The puppet with the green mask “wouldn’t have been a nice guy in the story,” Doss explained, because green represents impulsiveness and violence, someone with no self-control or self-restraint. The warriors often wear red, which symbolizes bravery and loyalty.
Only about half of the 110 puppets that were donated — mostly marionettes, but some rod puppets as well — will actually go on display, because some are too damaged. Eighteen puppets, including a monkey and dragon, are on display now, and will be replaced by a different set of puppets in about six months.
Free Museum Day activities
Representatives from the Atlanta Center for Puppetry Arts will be in the Berman Museum auditorium from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday manning a “puppet factory” and assisting children in the creation and manipulation of a souvenir shadow puppet.
There is no charge for admission to the museum or the puppet activity that day, but supplies for puppets are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Anniston Museum of Natural History is also celebrating Museum Day on Saturday with free admission and activities for the family with the theme “It’s Fun Being Green.” Throughout the day, patrons can enjoy:
• A plant sale on the Natural History Museum lawn, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
• Kidzpartyzone water ball activity on the lawn, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
• Live animal programs in the auditorium, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
• Launch of the new Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail at the Anniston Museum Bird of Prey trailhead, noon.
• A ticket is required for the water ball activity, which can be earned by bringing a qualified recyclable product (a list of qualifying products will be posted at www.annistonmuseum.org) or by visiting a learning station on the grounds.