On the Road Again - 9/15/2015

When old friends meet, especially after a long absence, they look forward to a reunion filled with sunshine and warmth, laughter and love, and the gentle tug of someone pulling their strings.

“Pull my strings, pleeeese,” said Paco, a marionette that travelled all the way from Taos to greet the Baumann puppets at the New Mexico Museum of Art before the original Baumann marionettes left for Indiana.

“Pull my strings, too,” said Lola, Paco’s partner.

Taos based puppeteer Cristina Masoliver did just that: manipulated her marionettes strings artfully so Lola and Paco could perform their comic puppet show, called Flamenco, before an enthusiastic audience, of both young and old gathered in the museum. After the performance, Paco and Lola met some of the Baumann puppets, old friends of Cristina’s.

The performance also celebrated Gustave Baumann and New Mexico, an exhibit of one of New Mexico’s favorite artists on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe now through December 27th.

Even though the original Little People, which is what Papa Gus called his marionettes, will be in the Midwest, there will be a performance of Teatro Duende. The Museum of Art’s Annual Holiday Open House will be held on Sunday, December 20, at 1:00 p.m. WITH THE BAUMANN PUPPETS.

Can the Little People be in two places at once? The answer is yes. Here’s how they do it.

Gustave Baumann was introduced to puppetry as a child in Germany, where he was born. When he first came to the United States, Baumann lived in Chicago, then Indiana, then New Mexico where he lived a long and prosperous life. Over his long career, Baumann established himself as a master in America’s woodcut revival. Baumann’s woodcuts, prints, paintings are considered masterpieces of fine art.

In 1931, Baumann crafted his first puppet right here in Santa Fe. Originally, Baumann and his wife Jane created the marionettes and the shows to amuse their daughter, Ann. Because they were so wildly popular, the performances moved from the Baumann’s living room to larger stages throughout the nation. The marionettes final performance, with the Baumann’s pulling the strings, took place in 1959 here the Museum of International Folk Art. By then, Papa Gus had crafted some sixty five marionettes.

The performances were missed. In 1993, the marionette theater was revived as part of a Gustave Baumann retrospective at the Museum of Art. That how Cristina Masoliver, known in Taos as the “Puppet Lady,” became involved.

Like Papa Gus, Cristina, originally from Spain, came to love puppets as a child growing up in Europe. “It’s my passion. It’s what I do. I’m a puppeteer,” Cristina said.

Once she moved to Taos, Cristina formed Los Titiriteros, a puppet company, which made her the perfect puppeteer to assist with the revival of the Baumann marionettes. “I felt very honored to play with the originals. It was so fun to have all of Baumann’s original backdrops and furniture. We had access to everything. We were making full length shows. It was a lot of work, but it was excellent work.”

Concerns surfaced as well. “It was decided that the original marionettes were too fragile. So we were hired to make replicas.” Cristina said.

Christine and Taos woodcarver, Muria Love, began to replicate some of Papa Gus’s Little People. “It was very hard to make the replicas. Muria would carve them. I did the dressing. Matching the clothes was challenging, and I did the stringing, also challenging,” Cristina recalled.

But their hard work paid off. “After we finished, Gustave Baumann’s daughter, Ann, told us she couldn’t tell which puppets were the originals and which ones were the replicas,” Cristina said.

With the original marionettes stored safely in the museum, the replicas took the stage, creating joy whenever they performed especially during the holidays. Cristina moved on as well, creating Paco and Lola and writing her own shows. Indeed, she is a Taos treasure, one of those selfless individuals who share their artistic gifts to enhance others’ lives. In addition to her work with Los Titiriteros, Cristina worked with the ArcTisTics Theater program in Taos, where she assisted human actors - some disabled, some not – in presenting programs.

Now, she spends half of the year on the road, traveling in Baja California accompanied by Paco and Lola, and her dogs, Basco and Jegeelou. The unique troupe presents puppet shows to Mexican school children, wherever Cristina finds an audience. Because Baja is sparsely populated, many of the students have to stay at school all week. Their delighted by Paco and Lola’s Flamenco antics, which require audience interaction.

Cristina will be back in Taos next spring. She may present a puppet show nearby. Well, worth attending if she does. As for the original Baumann marionettes, they’ll remain at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where they’ll play a major role in the exhibit: Gustave Baumann, German Craftsman – American Artist. October 25, 2015 – February 14, 2016.

Once again, Gustave Baumann and New Mexico will be on exhibit now through December 27, 2015 at the New Mexico Museum of Art.

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