Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vent Haven Museum

A couple weeks ago my friend Frank invited me to go with him to the Vent Haven Museum in Ft. Mitchell, Kentucky.  I had never heard of it but Frank told me it was a “puppet” museum” and someone had told him it was really interesting.  And it did not disappoint!

When you walk in the front door you are greeted by the staring eyes of hundreds of ventriloquist figures of every shape, size and color.  The museum has three main buildings and houses more than 800 figures.

The collection was started by Mr. William Shakespeare Berger who purchased his first figure in 1910 (for more museum history click here).  Some of the figures were quite old and the curator, Lisa Sweasy, had an interesting story for every figure.  Some figures had mouths that barely opened while others had moving eyes, ears, mouths, and hair.  And some even smoked and spit!

I was also struck by the diversity of construction and materials.  There were figures made of wood, plastic, fabric, paper mâché, and leather.  On some puppets the mouth hinge was made of leather which made a perfect substitute for skin and hid the mouth hinge completely.  And I loved to see the craft and ingenuity that went into the dolls.  The monkey in the middle below had pin pong balls for eyes.

During the tour we were allowed to try our hand at working two of the figures.  Below you can see Frank made friends with the chimp.

The above head and the figure below were two of my favorites in the museum.  There was something so kind about both of them.  It is amazing how emotive some of the faces were and easy to imagine the personalities that might come from each one.

I never realized how much ventriloquism has been a part of our culture.  As part of the tour we got to see a few video clips and it brought back memories of watching Jay Johnson on Soap make his food talk.  I also remembered watching “Lamb Chop” the sock puppet on the Carol Burnett show.

If you live in Cincinnati or are visiting the area I highly suggest taking the hour and a half tour.  The museum is open from May through September.  You have to make an appointment ahead of time but it is well worth it.  The collection is fascinating and the tour interesting and informative.  Although I am not a ventriloquist or puppeteer, I loved seeing the craftsmanship and detail in this amazing collection.

(Please note:  Permission to take and publish these photos was asked for and received from the Vent Haven Museum.  These images are copyrighted.  Do not use without permission from me or Vent Haven.  Thank you.)

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