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Written & designed by Bruce Kennett. The first comprehensive biography of one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.
Written & designed by Bruce Kennett. The first comprehensive biography of one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.
Written & designed by Bruce Kennett. The first comprehensive biography of one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.
1,059 backers pledged $171,574 to help bring this project to life.

Pulling back the curtain: Dwiggins and Marionettes

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Dear Backers,

We are thrilled with the immediate and enthusiastic response that followed the launch of our Kickstarter campaign last week. Thank you one and all for supporting this publication.

Many of the early backers are involved with type and graphic design. This is no surprise, given Dwiggins’s enduring contributions to those fields. Less well known is the formidable impact that Dwiggins had on another discipline: puppetry. Although he was active only from 1930 until the middle of World War II, marionettes were his great passion during those years. Dwiggins built about sixty marionettes, wrote four plays, designed sets and lighting for each of those productions, and constructed two private marionette theaters.

To this day Dwiggins’s engineering of counter-balanced marionettes is taught in puppetry courses, and his many characters are remembered for their strong presence and personality. Theater historian John Bell has described Dwiggins as “one of the innovative masters of 20th-century American puppetry . . . [whose] radical explorations in modernist marionette theater stand even today as a remarkable contribution to the field.”

W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design has an entire chapter devoted to these marionettes and productions. As a taste of what is in store for you, I'd like to share a spread from that chapter, along with a few pictures of WAD’s marionettes. Almost all of the marionettes may be seen in person, as they are on permanent display at the Special Collections of the Boston Public Library. 

Recently, the Ballard Institute in Connecticut invited me to give a talk about Dwiggins as a marionette artist, and also to provide a simple overview to the puppet world of his many contributions to graphic design. (Few of the puppetry practitioners who are Dwiggins fans are aware that he also worked in type design, calligraphy, and book design!) A recording of my talk may be found here

Should you have any friends who are interested in theater or puppetry, please ask them if they know of Dwiggins and invite them to this page. 

With thanks for all you are doing to help move this book into the world,

Bruce Kennett, author and designer

From Princess Primrose: Japanese warrior Utomoro (left) with hunter Aksah and the Fawn
From Princess Primrose: Japanese warrior Utomoro (left) with hunter Aksah and the Fawn

 

From Princess Primose: the magician (left) and his assistant flank the monkey, who actually climbed the rope during performances
From Princess Primose: the magician (left) and his assistant flank the monkey, who actually climbed the rope during performances

 

The cast of Brother Jeromy, WAD’s play about a gluttonous medieval monk
The cast of Brother Jeromy, WAD’s play about a gluttonous medieval monk

 

Carved detail from upper corner of first proscenium of Dwiggins’s private theater
Carved detail from upper corner of first proscenium of Dwiggins’s private theater

 

Dwiggins built a 12-inch puppet of himself, so that he could take a bow right on stage
Dwiggins built a 12-inch puppet of himself, so that he could take a bow right on stage

 

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    1. Stephen Coles Collaborator on April 22, 2017

      Hi Marcia. Bruce Kennett asked us to relay this answer for you:

      “Dwiggins designed all the costumes, often making beautiful watercolor studies as he developed them. Mabel Dwiggins and other marionette troupe members then sewed the costumes under Dwiggins’s direction.”

    2. Missing avatar

      dianne winer-malliaros on April 11, 2017

      Note that the marionettes and Puppet Theater, along with Dwiggins' work/study room re-assembled, are in the Rare Books section of the BPL. Well worth a visit!!!!

    3. Missing avatar

      Marcia Cohl on April 11, 2017

      Did he also make the costumes?

    4. Missing avatar

      Marcia Cohl on April 11, 2017

      Did he also make the costumes?