Museum honors the life and work of Frank Ballard

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Wed., Mar. 30, 2011
A UConn file photo of Frank Ballard with some of the puppets from 'The Magic Flute.' Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

According to his aunt, Margaret Davis Weber, a 5-year-old Frank Ballard mounted a funeral procession for a dead pigeon, showing an early proclivity for pageantry, organization and direction. It was his aunt who took Ballard to his very first puppet show a year or two later. Ballard often credited Weber with getting him hooked on puppetry, according to “An Odyssey of a Life in Puppetry,” a catalogue accompanying the newest exhibit at the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry. The catalogue includes an introduction by Rolande Duprey from Purple Rock Productions, the guest curator for the exhibit.

The exhibit was unveiled on March 27 with programming and a ribbon-cutting attended by a large group of guests. The group squeezed into a small room in the administrative building to escape a chilly afternoon and hear selections from “The Pirates of Penzance,” performed by members of the UConn Opera Studio. “Frank Ballard was a big fan of opera, and produced many puppet opera productions,” said Ballard Museum Director John Bell, during his introduction.

Many of Ballard's operatic productions are remembered through the new exhibit, including “The Mikado” and “The Magic Flute.”

“Some of the puppets haven’t been seen for many years, some are on display for the first time,” said Duprey. After years of storage in less-than-optimal conditions, many of the puppets had deteriorated. “Leather dries out, wood cracks, and fabric wears thin and fades,” said Duprey. In her written introduction, Duprey talks about how she dealt with the deterioration, noting that “many cracks and other imperfections have been left to be seen.”

But any imperfections are overshadowed by the beauty and detail of the puppets. They are works of art, and for many of the visitors at the exhibit’s opening, they brought back fond memories of Ballard’s one-of-a-kind, opulent productions. “I remember this,” said one woman, gazing at the imperious Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute.” “It was wonderful, just wonderful.”

The new exhibit at the Ballard Museum pays homage to the life and work of Frank Ballard, who passed away at the age of 80 last summer. The collection also features the work of some other notable puppeteers, including Scooter from “The Muppet Show,” on loan from the family of Jim Henson. Also included is some rare video footage, a compilation of the UConn Ballard productions that were videotaped over the years.

The museum is located at 6 Bourne Place in Storrs, on UConn’s Depot campus, and is open weekends from now until December. For more information, visit the museum’s website at, or contact 860-486-0339.

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