puppetsA Visit to the Bread & Puppet Museum

Route 122, Glover, VT

InsurrectionThough you wouldn’t know it from Vermont’s official tourist maps and info brochures, an amazing treasure of art history resides in the state’s Northeast Kingdom. For over 40 years, Peter Schumann, and his collaborative project Bread & Puppet Theater, has produced amazing shows, pageants, and street theater via an infinite amount of imagination, scrap materials, and papier-mâché. Nestled in postcard-perfect rolling hills and meadows, their farm and land serve as a production area and summer performance area. They’ve been there since 1974, and have at least 3 buildings for storage.

The largest building by far is their over-100-year-old, 5 story barn, and it overflows with large and small art from decades of creativity. Only 2 floors are open for viewing, with the top two floors being full of costumes and other things. The bottom area, where the cows used to live, is currently being retrofitted due to a groundwater drainage problem.

There was always a sag in the barn’s middle, and it was recently noticed that the barn was falling apart because of it. So Bread & Puppet has asked for money for the first time ever to help cover the estimated $43,000 it’ll take to keep the museum in one piece. I strongly encourage you to donate to their fund, or give them leads on grants.

You can make checks out to Bread & Puppet Theater and mail them to Museum/Barn Fund, c/o Linda Elbow, 700 Andersonville Rd., West Glover, VT 05875. They hold a 501c3 tax exemption, so all donations are tax-deductible.

I frequently tell people that “puppeteers have a lot of stuff,” and I know from experience. When I approached Bread & Puppet’s barn, it’s size appropriately fit the huge amount of stuff I was about to wander through. No one else was in the barn, so I got to see the whole thing alone and in awe. Below are a few photos of some of the vignettes that they had set up. Puppets, masks, paintings, cardboard flats, and more cover almost every wall and ceiling.

RainStays3-D Ball

MurderWhiteHorsePuppets

I could have photographed everything, but decided to hold off and buy some of their ‘zines and books in the gift shop area. They have many photos of the pieces being performed. I could have bought everything in the gift shop too, but wouldn’t know where to put most of it, so bought postcards along with the books to share with friends. While I was trying to decide what to buy, a silver-bearded man stepped into the space from a side entrance. “Turn Off Lights” signs hung all over the place, so he was concerned that someone had left them on. “Oh, there is someone here,” he said, adding a “hello.” I waved a hello back, and he walked out the museum’s main entrance.

After I put my money in the unattended box and left, I saw him at a table in front of the museum. He was chiseling a piece of plywood as he looked up to me a waved.

“When are there going to be any shows here?” I asked

“July and August,” he replied. “They’re on tour right now.”

As we chatted about touring, and the Summer show, I realized from the German accent that this was Peter Schumann himself. Unkempt hair, dressed like a Vermont farmer, and amicable, Schumann told me that 9 performers were busing somewhere in Ohio doing a show. I asked if the bus ran on veggie and he answered that “veggie-fuel doesn’t work to well up here in the cold.”

After a bit of chatting, I introduced myself, pointed to the van, and told him what my current gig was. We talked about San Francisco puppets, the difficulty of Bread & Puppet making it to the West Coast (they had just played Seattle), and how being a puppeteer means not making much money for most of us. Not that money’s the goal for most of us.

We discussed the barn and it’s costly upgrades. They had just moved a third of the top floor of the museum back after completing internal repairs. I told him I’d spread the word about their much needed fundraising. And I left him to his chiseling.

Hopefully I’ll be able to make it back to Glover for their Summer show. Frankly, I didn’t want to leave there today. Before I drove away, I went to their out house for relief, and walked around on their meadow. Such an amazing place to throw a huge puppet show. If you’ve never seen photographs of Bread & Puppet’s spectacles, remind me to share some from the books I bought.

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