Dwiggins Marionettes
at the BPL

Inspiration

Earlier this year, our graphic design studio was awarded the comprehensive wayfinding project for the Copley Square branch of the Boston Public Library. It’s a terrific project and really an amazing place to wander and explore. In our orientation to the two historic buildings and our subsequent site visits (for programming and analysis), we discovered quite a few unusual spaces. One of these spaces is home to the Dwiggins Collection.

Received in 1967 as a gift from the widow of William Addison Dwiggins, (June 19, 1880 Martinsville, Ohio – December 25, 1956 Hingham, Massachusetts) a noted typographer,  book designer, and illustrator, this collection encompasses “all products, examples, and tools” of Dwiggins’ “art activities.” His famous marionette theatre and hand-made marionettes are exhibited in two rooms.

Dwiggins’ love of woodcarving led to his creation of a marionette theatre in a garage behind his home in Hingham, Massachusetts, and a puppet group named the Püterschein Authority. In 1933 he performed his first show, “The Mystery of the Blind Beggarman.” Dwiggins built his second theatre under his studio at 45 Irving Street. Further productions of the Püterschein Authority included “Prelude to Eden,” “Brother Jeromy,” “Millennium 1,” and “The Princess Primrose of Shahaban in Persia.” Most of his marionettes were twelve inches tall. The marionettes were donated to the three-room Dwiggins Collection at the Boston Public Library in 1967.

His workbench and tools, self-designed and manufactured furniture, original drawings for 19 typefaces, more than 400 sketches for his book illustrations and typographic icons, and 300 books designed by Dwiggins complete the collections, along with his correspondence, layouts, job folders, and memorabilia. An inventory to the printed collection is available; the manuscripts can be located in the online catalog.

For more about William Addison Dwiggins, see the Art Directors Club’s Hall of Fame article and the Boston Public Library’s collection information.

Where to Find the Exhibit

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Department is located in the third floor of the Research Library. The entrance door opens to the Koussevitzky Room. At the rear of the Koussevitzky Room stand two rooms, one in which the Dwiggins marionettes are exhibited, and the other housing Dwiggins’ stage and other theatrical instruments.

To the left is the exhibit room, surrounded by wall cases, and providing access to the Dwiggins’ studio on the right. The exhibit room serves as display center for various treasures in the collection. Here, also, is the readers’ registration desk.

In the reading room beyond, a quiet area ideal for research, are the catalogs. A librarian is always in attendance in the reading room to provide assistance.

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