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Neighbors Growing Together | Nov 17, 2017

Famous puppet collection protected

Celebrating 25 Years of REAP
Apr 09, 2014

Thanks in part to Resource Enhancement and Protection Funds, the “lowly goat herd” – an icon of the big screen — has been preserved.

The lowly goat herd puppets were a feature of the 1965 Academy Awards Best Picture, “The Sound of Music” and the creation of Mason City native Bil Baird.

As the 25th anniversary of REAP is celebrated, one of the great accomplishments from the program has been the preservation of some of Iowa’s most iconic historical and cultural treasures, such as the Bil Baird puppet collection at the MacNider Art Museum in Mason City.

Baird was one of the world’s best-known puppet masters. Based out of his New York City studio, once a Capone-era whisky still, Baird produced such works as the “Goat Herd” marionette performance in “The Sound of Music.” He also performed extensively throughout Russia and India.

Before animation, Baird’s puppets were hugely popular in the advertising and promotional world. His clients ranged from AT&T to governments promoting healthy agricultural practice — he even commemorated the USA moon landing.

Baird became friends with founding MacNider museum director Richard Leet, and in 1979 began donating his collection of wood and newly engineered plastic puppets to his hometown, where he still visited family.

The puppets came smashed and crammed haphazardly in old dusty wooden meat boxes with no clear labeling system. n 2008, REAP funds matched by private donations enabled museum director Edith Blanchard to contract Sarah Carlson to inventory and photograph the collection with the help of Mara Linksey-Deegan, documenting condition and repairs.

Now stored one puppet per chemical-free box, organized strings and fiber-filled bags support fragile structures ensuring proper preservation.

The museum also features a collection of Bil Baird films, interviews, demo tapes, commercials and productions that have been converted from their original 16mm film format to digital DVDs.

Edward R. Murrow’s “Person to Person” interview with Baird and his wife Cora in their studio is included. REAP funds purchased a special freezer that safeguards the flammable self-toxic filmstrips.

“These aren’t just puppets he owned. He made all these puppets, that’s why we’re trying to save them in the way we are and preserve them,” said Blanchard. “Baird is uniquely Iowan, very creative and educated both in the Mason City school system and at the University of Iowa. It really shows what talent you have possible in Iowa, and we want to preserve that for future generations.”

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