Puppetry Exhibit at the Salmagundi Club

by Carol Sterling in Puppetry Journal 2022

What a pleasure it was for me to attend the Salmagundi Club’s New York City talk and reception, December 21, 2021, for the exhibition of Bil Baird and Olga Felgemacher : A Narrative Legacy. During the lecture presentation, Olga and Craig shared stories, videos, and slides, and even performed with a marionette. The talk and exhibit were in two sections: the first, an account by Olga Felgemacher of her work with Bil Baird, and part two, which spotlighted Olga’s puppetry with her partner and husband, Craig Marin. Olga and Craig founded their company, Flexitoon, where they design, build, and perform puppets and marionettes for television, film, and stage.

Olga reminisced, “Imagine a young girl in love with puppets, walking into Bil Baird’s theater, and actually getting to work there! I entered a magic realm. Bil was a polymath and a genius. Working alongside him and Frank ‘Sully’ Sullivan and Sheldon Harnick and Joe Raposo and many other luminaries in their fields, as well as the rest of the company, each contributing with love and their best ability to make a great show, was a blessing. We all worked in the making of the puppets and performing with tons of love and our whole selves.  Sitting with Bil, imagining how a character (or thing) would look and work was enlightening, educational, a privilege and a joy.”

Salmagundi presented excellent profiles of the participants. Edited from their website notes: Olga worked for nearly 10 years with Baird, after the death of Baird’s wife and collaborator, Cora, a highly talented puppeteer in her own right. Olga starred in every production at the Bil Baird Theater (1967-1977), bringing to life characters written for her by Broadway notables including Sheldon Harnick (Fiddler on the Roof, with Jerry Bock), and Joe Raposo (1937-1989). After Baird closed up shop, Olga accepted a long-standing invitation from Jim Henson (1936-1990) to join his Muppets, where she spent a year on Sesame Street and puppeteered in the first Muppet Movie.

The Salmagundi website notes continued with a profile of Baird: Bil Baird (1904-1987) was an active and memorable member of the Salmagundi from 1982 until his death in 1987. Baird began his career as a puppeteer with Tony Sarg (1880-1942) and went on to create more than 3,000 original puppets and participate in more than 400 TV and film productions, as well as writing books and performing on Broadway. He is perhaps best known for his production of “The Lonely Goatherd” puppet show sequence from the 1965 film The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews.

In part two, Craig spoke about his background, meeting Olga, and founding Flexitoon.

Craig, always exuberant, said, “Being a puppeteer my whole entire life was the thing that prepared me for a life with Olga. We were fortunate to be in the right place when Nickelodeon came calling to create a cast of characters for their first series, Pinwheel. Soon, Shining Time Station pulled up and said ‘All aboard!’ We built and performed the Jukebox Band.” He continued, “My father was a cartoonist in vaudeville, and he and my mother toured the country playing the Minsky’s Circuit and more. I’ve carried on the show biz gene. When I was a child, my Dad would tell me bedtime stories while drawing them and doing their voices. Jumping off the page, the drawings became puppets, their voices and animation up to me.” During the talk, Craig created a delightful cartoon-style drawing. It was a rare treat, and a contribution to puppet history, to hear first-hand about Olga at the Baird theater, and Craig and Olga’s Flexitoon creations.

Salmagundi is a professional and social club, created in 1871 by artists and patrons to support one another. It is one of America’s oldest arts organizations. Beginning in 1917, the organization moved to its permanent home in its historic brownstone in Greenwich Village. The mansion hosts hundreds of yearly art exhibitions, painting demonstrations, lectures, concerts, group meetings, classes, and workshops. The exhibit, Bil Baird and Olga Felgemacher: A Narrative Legacy, was curated by William “Bill” Indursky.

Carol Sterling is a passionate advocate for puppetry and puppetry in education. She has served as a workshop presenter (nationally and internationally), a Fulbright Program Specialist, Puppeteers of America education consultant, president of UNIMA-USA, and board member of The Jim Henson Foundation.

Bil Baird began his career as a puppeteer with Tony Sarg and created more than 3,000 original puppets and participated in more than 400 TV and film productions. He is perhaps best known for his production of “The Lonely Goatherd” puppet show sequence from the 1965 film The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews.

“When I was a child, my Dad would tell me bedtime stories while drawing them and doing their voices. Jumping off the page, the drawings became puppets, their voices and animation up to me.” During the talk, Craig created a delightful cartoon-style drawing. It was a rare treat, and a contribution to puppet history.