Hang­ing around with Gus

The print­maker as pup­pet­mas­ter

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER -

Gus­tave Bau­mann is best known glob­ally as a wood­block print­maker, but his mar­i­onettes have charmed Santa Feans since the 1930s. Whether through the fam­ily’s hol­i­day per­for­mances at the Bau­mann home at 409 Camino de las An­i­mas, or later at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art, count­less chil­dren and adults per­formed in and were au­di­ences for these mag­i­cal glimpses into the world of what Bau­mann him­self re­ferred to as his “lit­tle peo­ple.”

Bau­mann and his wife, Jane, cre­ated a mo­bile mar­i­onette the­ater — The Santa Fe Pup­pet Wran­glers — as a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise in 1931. Bau­mann carved the pup­pets, painted the back­drops, and wrote some of the scripts for plays that the cou­ple in­tended to put on dur­ing trips around New Mex­ico and the South­west. Jane Bau­mann di­rected the per­for­mances.

In 1933, the Bau­manns per­formed their most am­bi­tious script in Cen­tral City, Colorado, as part of the fes­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the sum­mer opera sea­son. The Golden Dragon Mine, writ­ten in verse by poet Thomas Hornsby Fer­ril, fea­tured the mar­i­onette char­ac­ters Nambé Nell, Pe­cos Bill, Lord Leff­in­ghoop, and Lulu, a tourist who can’t find a bath­room. There were also two dragon pup­pets: a fully ar­tic­u­lated dragon and a pup­pet that was just the dragon’s head, which ap­par­ently ap­peared in the mouth of the mi­ne­shaft. The play was per­formed in a store­front with makeshift benches for the au­di­ence, and was re­port­edly so pop­u­lar that the di­rec­tor of The Merry Widow — then play­ing on the main stage at the opera house — de­manded that Bau­manns’ pup­pet play close, so as not to draw more at­ten­tion (and au­di­ence mem­bers) than his pro­duc­tion.

Their grand de­but was a tri­umph cut short, but it was in fact the eco­nom­ics of the Great De­pres­sion that ul­ti­mately made a trav­el­ing pup­pet troupe un­sus­tain­able. The Bau­manns re­turned to Santa Fe and Gus­tave re­turned to print­mak­ing, with Jane manag­ing the pub­lic re­la­tions and sales of his art­work. They set up the pup­pet stage in their liv­ing room — at the Bau­mann house, you can still see the hooks in the ceil­ing that were used to hang back­drops — and staged mar­i­onette per­for­mances at Christ­mas for fam­ily and friends. These Bau­mann hol­i­day per­for­mances ended in 1959 with a largescale pro­duc­tion at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art. The mar­i­onettes were packed up in a trunk, where they stayed for nearly 30 years. The mar­i­onettes, sets, props, and stage were all do­nated by

Jane Bau­mann to the Mu­seum of Art after Gus­tave Bau­mann’s death in 1971.

In 1993, the mar­i­onettes were brought out of re­tire­ment as part of the pub­lic pro­gram­ming for the Gus­tave Bau­mann ret­ro­spec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion at the mu­seum. The re­sponse was so great (and the pup­pets so frag­ile) that a cam­paign was launched to raise funds to repli­cate some pup­pets and hold an­nual hol­i­day per­for­mances us­ing the repli­cas, a tra­di­tion that con­tin­ues at the Mu­seum of Art to this day.

Most of the orig­i­nal Bau­mann play scripts are in the col­lec­tion of the Mu­seum of Art. Some of them are based on folk­tales and tra­di­tions from the His­panic and Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties of North­ern New Mex­ico. Duen­des (mis­chievous elves), bru­jas (witches), saints, and ea­gle dancers: Bau­mann cre­ated mar­i­onette ver­sions of them all.

A lot of the scripts re­flect Bau­mann’s sense of hu­mor, per­haps none as much as the story of San Ysidro. In it, San Ysidro re­fuses to stop plow­ing his fields on his own feast day. God sends an an­gel to tell San Ysidro to stop plow­ing. The an­gel re­ports that God will be mad be­cause San Ysidro is work­ing on his holy day, but San Ysidro sends him away and con­tin­ues to plow. The an­gel re­turns, say­ing that God will send a cloud­burst, but San Ysidro doesn’t care and sends him away again. The an­gel re­turns, again and again, bring­ing threats of drought or in­sects, but noth­ing will de­ter San Ysidro. Fi­nally, the an­gel re­turns and says that if San Ysidro doesn’t stop plow­ing, God will send him a bad neigh­bor. This threat is so unimag­in­ably bad that San Ysidro im­me­di­ately stops plow­ing and at­tends the lo­cal fi­es­tas with his wife, Rosina.

A ca­sual read through the scripts in­di­cates that they most likely were writ­ten as sketches, which would have been fleshed out by the im­pro­vi­sa­tions of the Pup­pet Wran­glers. There is anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that these per­for­mances in­cluded the gen­tle skew­er­ing of pub­lic of­fi­cials and lo­cal celebri­ties, much like their older lo­cal cousin, the Santa Fe Fi­esta Melo­drama.

Gus­tave Bau­mann first ex­hib­ited his prints at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art dur­ing the year fol­low­ing its open­ing in 1917. As part of the ac­tiv­i­ties sur­round­ing the cen­ten­nial of the mu­seum and Bau­mann’s first ex­hi­bi­tion, the mu­seum is seek­ing first-per­son ac­counts of the Bau­manns and their mar­i­onette per­for­mances. If you at­tended or per­formed in a mar­i­onette per­for­mance be­tween 1933 and the fi­nal shows at the Mu­seum of In­ter­na­tional Folk Art in 1959, or know some­one who did, the mu­seum would like to hear from you. They are look­ing for tan­gi­ble mem­o­ra­bilia in­clud­ing pho­tos, pro­grams, ticket stubs, let­ters, and di­ary en­tries, as well as rec­ol­lec­tions and rem­i­nis­cences.

“As we cel­e­brate 100 years of Gus­tave Bau­mann in New Mex­ico, we want to rec­og­nize him as a play­ful ge­nius,” said Re­becca Au­bin, head of ed­u­ca­tion and vis­i­tor ex­pe­ri­ence at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art. “His cre­ativ­ity of the mar­i­onettes is an im­por­tant part of his legacy.”

In­di­vid­u­als with sto­ries and items to share should con­tact Au­bin via email at the mu­seum (re­becca .au­bin@state.nm.us).

Ellen Ziesel­man worked for 25 years as cu­ra­tor of ed­u­ca­tion at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art.

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