The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum was founded by the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions in 1975. Since its foundation, the Museum has constantly pertained to contemporary museography and not being a temple of knowledge for a few people, but a place for spreading culture and knowledge. The combination of traditional museum activities and the organization of live theatrical shows is at the basis of one of the most successful examples of museum research on theatre.
The history of the Museum is linked to its founder Antonio Pasqualino, disappeared in 1995, who was a surgeon, and and anthropologist expert of the history and culture of his motherland, Sicily. Antonio Pasqualino dedicated his researches to a form of theatre that, in the second half of the 20th century, seemed to be inexorably disappearing: Sicilian puppet theatre - the Opera dei pupi - which narrated the history of the Crusades and French paladins – who had already been the main focus of some of the masters of Italian Literature such as Ludovico Ariosto, Matteo Maria Boiardo and Torquato Tasso.
In 1965, Antonio Pasqualino, together with other highbrows, established the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions and, with his wife Janne Vibaek, undertook the collection of diverse pieces of evidence protecting them from destruction and oblivion: scripts, puppets, theatres and pieces of furniture.
In 1975 the Association for the Conservation of Folk Traditions founded the International Puppet Museum where the items collected over the years found their home: objects from lots of European countries and the Far East such as France, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and so on.
Ever since, loads of activities have taken place – such as the annual Festival di Morgana featuring artists from all over the world – as well as cultural exchanges with similar associations in the five continents. When in 1995 Antonio Pasqualino passed away, the Museum was named after him.
The International Puppet Museum is engaged in the safeguard of a form of theatre which is a prized part of our history, while supporting a critical re-thinking of that history so as to push away that local particularism and sense of insularity that the Sicilian writer Sciascia considered as an obscure evil. In fact, through the legend of Charlemagne and his paladins – which spread all over Europe – the Museum proves evidence of an ideal of European union and includes the Opera dei pupi in the wider field of international puppet theatre. Moreover, the comparison of similarities and differences with other traditions allows to find a solidarity relation among all human cultures.
The interdependence of the various activities of the Museum is evident. In 1985, the Rassegna dell'Opera dei pupi became Festival di Morgana acquiring international relevance. The exchange with other traditional companies – both Italian and foreign – has given new dignity and pride to Sicilian puppeteers and has revitalized their activity. In addition, the annual Festival has given the opportunity to acquire new objects and expand the research focus to non-European traditions and theatrical practices. The collaboration with the major national and international cultural institutions is proved by the organization of a number of exhibitions and theatrical projects on the Sicilian tradition, held abroad.
The Museum's theatrical project also consists in the production of innovative shows. Since the beginning, it has offered new inputs to contemporary writers and musicians (e.g. Italo Calvino, Francesco Pennisi, Luciano Berio) for the producion of new plays, and painters and visual artists (e.g. Renato Guttuso, Tadeusz Kantor, Enrico Baj) have been commissioned new set designs and puppets which are now an interesting part of the permanent collection of the Museum.
In addition, the Museum has the Library "Giuseppe Leggio" which houses about seven thousand books concerning puppetry and folk traditions. Among these, a prized collection of handwritten scripts dating back to the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries and the chivalric installment publications published between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Besides, the Museum has a multimedia library which houses photographs, videos and sound records focusing on puppet traditions from different countries.
Education is another important field where the Association operates. Schoolchildren can attend guided tours enriched with explanatory videos, while school stakeholders can attend theoretical and practical training courses on the techniques of puppet theatre. Opera dei pupi shows can be performed on request.
The historical building
The Museum is located inside the ex Hotel de France, a building, known for its architectural and historical value, which is in Palermo downtown, near the monumental Piazza Marina. Recently, the adjacent square has been named after the Museum's founder, Antonio Pasqualino. The Museum develops on three levels and has many exhibition rooms, a bookshop, a library, a multimedia library and a theatre used for a considerable theatrical activity. An avant-garde and treasured Museum in Sicily, which is dedicated to Sicilian puppet theatre, a theatrical form which was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Intangible and Oral Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO (2001).
The Antonio Pasqualino International Puppet Museum has recently expanded its services. Guided tours and theatrical shows can be performed off schedule when required; training courses, workshops, performances (not only puppet shows) can be organized for university and school students; exhibitions, conferences and debates take often place. The Museum, as agreed with tour operators, hosts tourist groups on and off schedule. The Museum areas can be used, when required, by public and private entities and organisations for ceremonies, conventions and promotional and convivial events. On such occasions the Museum can offer welcome services, technical support (audio and video), entertainment activities (shows), caterer (with specific agreements with renowned suppliers). The Museum is a fascinating place, full of history and stories, suitable to every occasion.