City Guides Segovia

Segovia: Coleccion de Titeres de Francisco Peralta

Why did you visit?

This was a stumble-upon for me while out walking my first day in Segovia.  But that is the beauty of getting off the main drag, getting off the tour, slowing down, and doing what used to be called “slumming” – that is, walking around just to see what there is to see.  No goal.  No destination.  No guarantee of anything interesting.

If your visit to Segovia was a one day dash to see the Aqueduct, the Alcazar, and the Cathedral, you missed a plethora of interesting museums and exhibits.  Hidden away in the upper floors of the Puerta de Santiago is the Coleccion de Titeres de Francisco Peralta.

How did you find this museum?

I was looking for a path to get to the north side of the alcazar, where I could get views of it, for taking photos. I opted out of the steep stairs going down option, and was wandering through a park space, when I came upon the Puerta de Santiago and spotted the sign for the Coleccion.

Of course the place was closed that afternoon when I stumbled upon it, so I returned the next day when it was open. The museum houses puppets from Peralta’s career, so you see the various types of puppets that he built. The puppets, themselves, were complex. Complex creations in their design and making, but also in their emotions and stories. The skill, craftmanship, selection of materials, interpretation, fabrics, and clothing styles – the puppets really seemed to come to life as I looked at (watched?) them while listening to the pre-recorded audio tour.

The pre-recorded audio part is well worth the time to listen to while you gaze at the puppets.  It provides background on Peralta and the stories that the puppets were created to tell.  Peralta was born in 1930 and passed away in January, 2018 (according to his facebook page).  He started off learning to be a sculpter, and made puppets – designing and building them, as well as performing with them – his career.

Who was Francisco Peralta?

Peralta eventually became one of the best puppeteers in Spain, and won a Silver Medal for Merit in the Fine Arts. He taught some classes on puppet construction in connection with universities and schools in Segovia.

What did you learn?

That marionettes are an adult craft and performance opportunity. They are not only for children. And they can be incredibly complex and high quality design and construction. I looked at Peralta’s puppets and started thinking about creating, building, and bringing to life my own marionettes. The marionettes really sparked my creative imagination.

What was most impressive?

The complexity of the marionettes. The marionettes could walk. The marionette horses could walk, too. The marionette rider on the marionette horse could stand up and get off the horse. The marionette lady could be rescued from the tower.

Peralta experimented with various types of construction for his marionettes. He started off with marionettes that were controlled from above by strings – with an astounding complexity and number of strings. He got down to details like the horse’s tail being movable. His later marionettes were controlled by mechanical means from below. One of these type marionettes is captured in my selfie photo. And some of his marionettes were controlled by a handle on the back, which permitted them do cartwheel type maneuvers.

That the operator of the marionette could visible on the stage while operating the marionette in a performance. Dressed in black, but nonetheless visible. I love this idea. It reminds me of magic shows, where you see only what you are intended to see and miss other visible things.

What was most interesting?

I really loved that Peralta used stories from adult books, musicals, & operas, rather than the typical children’s fare presented now-a-days in the USA.  His puppets told stories for adults – you could imagine them running around the museum whispering in each other’s ear, gossiping, stealing a kiss, or crying out their sufferings and woes. My childhood experience with puppets and marionettes, was limited to sock puppets, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and Sesame Street TV shows where the puppets had no actual feet. And they were only aimed at children. I never got excited about them, and forgot about them once I got older.

What was most unexpected?

The whole thing. After I returned home from my trip, I bought a book providing construction and design information for making marionettes, and I continue to fantasize about making one or two. Since I moved to Arizona, I now have access to woodworking tools and space. My Dad does wood-turning, and my Mom was a quilter. I have a fascination with mechanical things – and have done a little sewing, painting, wood-working, and scale model-making. Making string marionettes would be a the ultimate fusion of these crafts and talents.

The exhibit completely distracted me from the Puerta de Santiago, where the exhibit is housed! The puerta is built in a similar style of architecture to the walls and gates at the Alhambra. This style of architecture was built by the Moors through much of Southern Spain. I was surprised to see it so far north.  Due to the exhibit being in the upper floors of the puerta (gate), one can go inside, but the interior has been specially finished for the exhibit rather than show off the old architectural style.  The background for the exhibit was black, which hi-lites the puppets in what could be described as their native environment.

Why are Peralta’s titeres in Segovia?

Peralta donated them to Segovia in 2013. This exhibit opened in 2014. Segovia has a strong tradition with marionettes. They host an annual Titirimundi, which I must have been just a few weeks too late for when I visited. So, I’ll have to go back for that someday. Visit the website for the Titirimundi schedule of events.

Are there any video recordings that I can watch?

There is a short video on Youtube that has video showing him maneuvering some of his later puppets. If you understand Spanish, you can listen to Peralta speaking about his puppets.

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