Hands for making and performing

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(credit: e-tlaxcala)

Huamantla is one of many hidden gems in Mexico, even though it is only 2 hours northeast of Mexico City. If known by foreigners, it is associated with images of bull-running and giant flower carpets related to the Huamantla, the annual festival in August for the city’s patron saint. However, just off the main square, there is a very special museum which hold another hidden treasure a national museum of puppets.

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While there may have been a form of puppetry in the pre Hispanic period with the use of figurines for ceremonial purposes, the art form in Mexico as we know it today is almost entirely derived from European tradition. It was (and still mostly is) a marginal form of entertainment, mostly for street shows and children. But there have been exceptions.

(Various puppets of the Roseta Aranda collection at the museum)

One came in the 19th century, when a family founded a traveling puppet show called National Puppet Company of the Roseta Aranda Brothers. Founded in mid century, it lasted more than 100 years traveling extensively not only throughout Mexico but also performing in parts of the United States and even in some other countries. At its height, the company not only entertained children and commoners, but also politicians, intellectuals and artists. Over that time, the company made 5,104 marionettes of various types of wood, along with mountains of wardrobes and other paraphenalia.

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Set paraphenalia from the Roseta Aranda company

Another surge in prominence occured in the first half of the 2oth century, after the end of the Mexican Revolution. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the federal government invested heavily in the arts, much of which was to promote a new sense of Mexican identity, one that also promoted the legitimacy of the new social order. The best-known of these efforts was Mexican Muralism, but there were other areas as well. Lola Cueto (1897-1978) was a Mexican artist of this period, who learned the making of puppets along with her husband, sculptor Germán Cueto in Paris. However, only Lola pursued it after their return to Mexico. While she was also a printmaker and painter, she became best known for work in the making of puppets and sets. Most of her work sponsored by the federal govenment, with shows to promote basic literacy.

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Cloth bull puppet by Lola Cueto at the museum

The National Puppet Museum was founded in 1991 in a centuries-old house just off the main square of Huamantla. The basis of the museum is the collection of the Roseta Aranda Brothers company, but its mission is much broader than just preserving this remarkable collection. It is dedicated to preserving all of Mexico’s puppetry history, demonstrate its place in the world and promote the crafts/art of both puppet making and puppet theater.

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100+ piece marionette orchestra by María Luis Sámano
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Giant serpent puppet on a stairwell of the museum.

The museum has 18 halls over 3 floors. Only a very small portion of the Roseta Aranda collection is exhibited (with its special section). Instead halls are dedicated to the history of puppetry in Mexico with items dating as far back as the Teotihuacan period to the present. The displays include puppets of wood, cloth, foam and other modern materials, arranged indivually or in scenes. Mexican puppets include those depicting various indigenous people, local Huamantla celebrities, the Roseta Aranda brothers, historic figures such as Benito Juarez and icons such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. There are also rooms dedicated to puppets from other parts of the world, modern and antique from places such as Japan, China, Canada, Scotland, Poland, Cuba and various African countries.

It is a working space as well with shows, restauration activities, a research library, audiovisual and areas for children’s workshops.

It is well worth a visit when you are in Huamantla.

Location:

Parque Juárez #15, Colonia Centro, Huamantla

Telephone

01 (247) 472 1033

Hours

Tuesday to Saturday 10:00 to 17:00
Sunday : 10:00 to 15:00

Cost

$20.00 pesof for adults
$ 5.00 for children

(Photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia unless otherwise noted)

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