The Hills are Alive with - Puppets
As a child, one of my family’s annual traditions was watching Sound of Music out at my grandparents’ farm.
This was during the Dark Ages before Netflix, DVDs or even video cassette tapes. If we were going to watch Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz or other popular movie of the period, we had to do so that one time each year when it was on one of the four television channels available to us.
Anyone who is a fan of the show, and most of those who aren't a fan, will remember when the lovely Maria, played by Julie Andrews, gathers the seven Von Trapp children together for a resounding, yodeling, puppet theater rendition of The Lonely Goatherd:
The puppets used in the movie were created by Bil Baird of Mason City, Iowa. They are currently on display, along with many other of his creations, in his hometown’s Charles H. MacNider Art Museum.
It’s an amazing display, stretching across a pair of small rooms. The museum’s collection includes more than 500 of Baird’s puppets and marionettes.
With that many pieces, it’s no surprise that Sound of Music was just one of the many productions for which Baird created his characters. He was Jim Henson before there was a Kermit.
Baird traveled to numerous foreign countries, his marionettes starred in the Ziegfeld Follies, broke box-office records on Broadway, appeared in five Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades, the World’s Fair, numerous television commercials and other film productions. He also operated the Bil Baird Marionette Theater in Greenwich Village, New York, for more than a decade during the late 60s and early 70s.
Among the more recognizable characters on display at the art museum are the Winnie the Pooh and Wizard of Oz casts as well as a set of puppets created for a show at Busch Gardens.
If you’re interested in learning more about Baird, the MacNyder Museum has this artist’s talk:
The Baird collection is just a small part of the many well-known artists the MacNyder Museum has on display. While I was there I saw pieces from Grant Wood, Lee Krasner, Mary Cassatt, Grandma Moses, Dale Chihuly, Alexander Calder and many others.
The museum does a nice job of providing audio and video information about the works on display. One fun piece is an oil painting near the museum entrance that looks somewhat similar to the unfinished George Washington painting used as the model for the image on the dollar bill. That’s because the one at the MacNyder was painted by Jane Stuart, the daughter of Gilbert Stuart, the artist behind the unfinished painting.
Admission to the MacNyder Museum is free and open to all, making it a worthwhile stop for any arts lover, even if you’re a not a puppet lover, but once you see Bil Baird’s puppets I’m guessing you’ll be won over.
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