Le Forgeron Marionette Collection
The Le Forgeron Marionette Collection includes 146 puppets and related items. There is also a small archive of newspaper clippings, programs, scripts and other documents, and a short film segment, which document the history and operation of the company. The collection spans the entire history of the Le Forgeron puppet troupe from its establishment in the late 1920s to its last performances in 1956. It is a rare surviving example of the travelling performing troupes which regularly toured throughout Australia until the 1960s.
In 1927 Scottish born Alex Smith moved his family to Melbourne, hoping to turn his childhood hobby into full time occupation. He established a puppetry troupe called `Le Forgeron' (French for `The Blacksmith'), a play on the family name 'Smith', to give the company a more sophisticated European flavour. Alex, his wife and son, made and dressed the marionettes, constructed sets, wrote scripts, and carried out all the onstage and backstage functions needed to perform their plays. Alex's son, Murray, later ran his own printing works which was used to print all the flyers, posters and programs. In September 1937 Smith opened a 200-seat theatre in St Kilda's Luna Park. It was an instant hit, and was Australia's first, and possibly only, purpose built puppet theatre. As well as the permanent theatre, which operated only in the warmer months, the company performed at various locations and events around Melbourne. The family Ute was used to transport trunks and suitcases filled with puppets and props, and the parts for a five metre portable stage to these touring performances. A scrapbook of programs and clippings revealed the rave reviews these shows received in the press. The family stopped performing in 1956 due to the introduction of television, which saw a decline in their popularity, and their desire to do less nomadic things. The collection then went into storage, until donated to Museum Victoria in 2002. The collection of about 150 puppets and accessories is significant for its links to the iconic 'Luna Park', which has been operating since 1912. Very little material culture exists of the past attractions of Luna Park, as most of the park's records were destroyed in the Giggle Palace fire in 1981. The marionettes also have a direct link to Luna Park's wartime operation, when it proved a popular venue for the American Servicemen stationed in Melbourne as it reminded many of similar amusement parks back in the States. The small archive of newspaper clippings, programs, scripts and other documents, which accompany the collection, provide an intriguing insight into the history and operation of 'Le Forgeron'. This is complemented by a short film segment from a 1939 Cinesound Newsreel, sourced from Screensound, which shows Alex and Murray Smith performing with the marionettes at their Luna Park Theatre. The collection is also linked to Melbourne retailing history, as Le Forgeron regularly performed during Christmas and school holidays at stores such as Myer, Buckley and Nunn, Foy ; Gibsons, Dimmeys and Mantons, representing the kinds of entertainment enticements these establishments used to attract customers. This collection also reflects Melbourne's reputation as a centre of creativity in all aspects of puppetry. The characters represented in the troupe reflect stereotypes and prejudices from the era the puppets were created and operated.
Please direct access requests via Museum Victoria's Discovery Centre http://museumvictoria.com.au/discoverycentre/ask-us-a-question/collection-access-/
1920-1960; Advertising; American Military Forces; Amusement Parks; Christmas; Cinema; Department Stores; Entertainers; Entertainment; Entertainment Workers; Leisure; News Clippings; Performances; Performers; Performing arts; Puppet shows; Puppetry; Puppets; Recreation; Retailing; Scottish Immigration; Servicemen; Theatres; Theatrical Performances; World War II, 1939-1945
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; St Kilda, Victoria, Australia