Friday, September 25, 2009

Bread and Puppet

Bread and Puppet

On the last day of our trip to Vermont, Liberty, Scout, and I went with Dominique to the Bread and Puppet Theater museum, which houses giant masks, puppets, paper-mache sculptures, and artwork with which I am at a loss to classify. The work is, presumably, all from old shows and parades. Here is a link to some of the art in action:

And here is a basic description of what the theater is, from Wikipedia (abridged):

The Bread and Puppet Theater is a politically radical puppet theater, active since the 1960s, currently based in Glover, Vermont. The name derives from the theater's practice of sharing its own fresh bread with the audience as a means of creating community, and from its central principle that art should be as basic to life as bread. The Theater participates in parades including Fourth of July celebrations, notably in Cabot, Vermont, with many effigies including a satirical Uncle Sam on stilts. The Theater was active during the Vietnam War in anti-war protests, primarily in New York. It is often remembered as a central part of the political spectacle of the time, as its enormous puppets (often ten to fifteen feet tall) were a fixture of many demonstrations.

There's more to the "bread" angle. The founder comes from a family that makes old world bread straight from rye berries. Thick, gritty, a meal. Not sissy bread. The shows try to indicate "This is what people used to mean by 'bread', and 'art' should feed your soul the same way."

I was amazed at what I saw, and as my bitter view of all things grows in midlife, there aren't many things I'm willing to say that about. Some of the simple slogans spoke to me in a way that generic leftist propoganda does not. "Art should be cheap, and not the pervue of the rich." "Resist the machine-operated details of life." And the one that really threw me, the most basic possible reproach of patriotism, capitalism, manifest destiny, etc., was this statement in reference to the constitution: "It's just a goddamned piece of paper!"

[My first interpretation of the quote above is incorrect, as the commenter below indicates. It was a Bush quote.]

That last is a stronger statement against good ol' American hubris than I'd be prepared to say in public, and even the decision to put it in my blog gave me pause. But, frankly, it fits with a basic conviction of mine: patriotism causes war. Anyway, below are some shots I took at the museum that I think are worth sharing. Liberty has a bunch on her camera, too, and hopefully those and the shots at her cabin will be uploaded somewhere shortly.

These posters are at the entrance to the museum, and are possibly the least emotionally or politically charged works on the site.

I'm not sure what "The Dangerous Kitchen of Ronald Reagan" refers to, but a google search of those terms brought me this quote from Frank Zappa:
The first thing you do whenever Ronald Reagan is speaking on television: turn it on and turn the sound down, and put your child in front of the set and point to him and say: "If he asked you to get into a car, offers you candy, or tells you to go to fight in Nicaragua: tell him NO!"

Was the quote on here shortened to fit the speach bubble, or was the performance done in simplified language to be performed by kids (like a summer program Stacey did a couple years ago for Midsummer Night's Dream). Shakespear by kids is fun, but the beauty of the language is lost in the simplification. I like the sound of the original better:
Which of you shall we say doth love us most?
That we our largest bounty may extend
Where nature doth with merit challenge.

Here are some various poster prints that were for sale (cheap), and were roughly manilla envelope sized:

The "Resistance" pieces were my favorite.

Here is a sampling of their giant masks:

The dragon was pretty cool; he is shown in action on the site I linked to above, in the "parade" slideshow.

This beared god is, I believe, Native American (as is the resurrection goddess below), and was used in the "Monument to Ishi" performance. There are a smattering of pictures of that performance available if you google and poke around.

Various masks and miscellanea:

Smaller works on the ceiling:

Tortured souls? I'm not sure what these really are. The museum had several rows of work on multiple floors, and I took more pictures than I read history statements. There are pictures of some of the history statements in the album link below.

If you want to see larger versions of these, and other pictures from the trip, I have them all in a picasa album at


  1. Actually Elka Schumann's guided tour of the museum notes that the "goddamned piece of paper" quote is attributed to George Bush, derisively dismissing civil liberties standing in the way of the PATRIOT Act. A bit of googling suggests that the quote itself may be apocryphal, but it does perfectly capture Bush's attitude towards the rule of law...

    Glad you enjoyed your visit to B&P! I've found their work greatly inspirational.

  2. There's a guided tour?

    Although I like my version better, I think your's sounds more credible. Thanks for the correction.

  3. Stunningly honest, unforgettable pictures and text.