The National Museum of American History (NMAH) had an exhibition, Puppetry in America, from December 2013 to April 2014, to feature various American puppetries which covered their 160 year history. Puppets for the exhibition included a shadow puppet, hand puppets, finger puppets, paper puppets, marionettes, a ventriloquist puppet, stop-motion puppets, and the Muppets. The condition of the puppets varied depending on the materials they were constructed from, how much they were actively used, and how they were stored. Among the NMAH puppet collections, Muppets such as Miss Piggy, Bert and Ernie, Swedish Chef, Elmo, Scooter, Cookie Monster, Count, Freggles, and others from Sesame Street had the most conservation concerns because they had been actively used, were constructed with non-archival materials, and were damaged from storing them without proper supports. Each Muppet wears a unique outfit, hat, shoes, and other accessories in a certain way. The face elements such as eyes, nose, lips, and ears are made from different materials including plastic soup spoons, leather shoe soles, Ping-Pong balls, wood, and various kinds of fabrics. Most materials used for the Muppets were not archival since they were not expected to last forever. The most tragic issue is that some of the visible parts were made of lower-density Polyurethane foam. This foam, also known as Scott foam, is a favorable material among puppet makers because it is easy to manipulate. Unfortunately, the foam has gradually degraded and is now sticky, dry, and falling apart. This process caused many of the Muppets to lose their shapes, and to finally become deformed, collapsed, and torn. This presentation will discuss the condition of the Muppets, the conservation treatment, the materials and methods used for display form, and other issues encountered during installation.
Senior Costume Conservator, Smithsonian Institution, NMAH
Sunae Park Evans serves as a senior costume conservator at the National Museum of American History. She has worked extensively on major NMAH and traveling exhibitions and has lectured on costume and textile preservation /exhibition in both the USA and Korea. She has Masters Degrees in Clothing and Textiles from Korea and University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and a PhD in Clothing and Textiles from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.