Czech wooden puppets heading to South Korea

Permanent exhibition - The Puppets of travelling puppeteers

Wooden marionettes from the east Bohemian town of Chrudim are heading to South Korea to be part of a large exhibition dedicated to Czech puppetry. The exhibition, prepared in cooperation with Czech Centres and the Czech Embassy in Korea, will get underway in the Seoul Museum of History at the start of June.

Spejbl and Hurvínek, two of the Czech Republic’s most famous puppets, are among the 120 marionettes from the Chrudim Puppetry Museum that are travelling to the South Korean capital Soul to be part of an extensive exhibition presenting the phenomenon of Czech puppetry, inscribed on the UNESCO world intangible cultural heritage list.

The exhibition Secrets of the Wooden Puppet was originally due to take place last year, but it had to be postponed due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the end of last week, the puppets were finally packed for the long journey to South Korea. The exhibition’s curator, Richard Matula, was in charge of overseeing the process, to make sure the valuable items will make it to Seoul without sustaining any damage:

“We had six boxes in our depository, and we had another three custom-made for special items, such as this large Štapfer puppet theatre from 1946.

Permanent exhibition - The Vaudeville puppets | Photo: Marie Sieberová,  Chrudim Puppetry Museum

“The puppets are protected by special insulation material and the remaining space in the box is filled with packaging chips.”

What makes the exhibition of Czech puppets in Korea really unique is that wooden marionettes are largely unknown in that part of the world, explains Simona Chalupová, director of the Chrudim Puppetry Museum:

“In South Korea, painted wooden figurines are associated with funeral ceremonies, where they are used to adorn coffins. That’s why we want our exhibition to be as playful as possible, from the very first visual, so that people associate our puppets with something nice and pleasant.”

Due to the strict anti-coronavirus measures, Czech curators are not allowed to travel to Korea and they will have to install the exhibition online, in cooperation with their Korean colleagues.

Mrs Chalupová says the exhibition will be divided into several sections, with one of them dedicated to sound effects in puppet theatre.

“One of the rooms will showcase four wooden boxes that were used by road-show theatres to create various sounds accompanying their performances, such as rain, storm or the sound of wind.

“We have warned our Korean colleagues that the exhibition will be rather loud. We really hope the racket won’t turn them off and that the children will enjoy it.”

The boxes with wooden puppets from Chrudim have already been dispatched to the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From there they will embark on the long journey across continents as part of a special diplomatic cargo.

The exhibition Secrets of the Wooden Puppet is scheduled to run in the Seoul Museum of History from June 4 until the end of August.