Wooden marionette wearing dress and tiara

Object Details

William N. Buckner
paper-mâché, wood, synthetic fabric, plastic buttons, plastic beads, paint, wire, jute fiber, nails, metal
Puppet: 24 7/16 × 6 5/16 × 3 3/4 in. (62 × 16 × 9.5 cm)
From first controller to feet of puppet: 47 5/8 in. (121 cm)
Made by artist and art educator William N. Buckner, Jr. (1888-1984), this marionette embodies the legacy of African American educators in Washington, DC’s segregated public schools from the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth centuries. Bucker attended the renowned M Street High School, where he excelled at woodworking and developed a love of art that he explored throughout his life in forms ranging from painting to puppetry. His instructors included art educator Thomas W. Hunster (1851-1929), who designed a multidisciplinary arts curriculum for all grade levels of the District’s African American public schools.
Like Professor Hunster, Buckner became a teacher (and later a counselor and principal), who empowered students through a rigorous blend of hands-on learning and traditional academics, such as when his carpentry students laid a new floor at the O Street Vocational School in 1915, a first in the public schools. As the project progressed, pupils worked out problems in class. In 1936, his Armstrong Vocational High School students performed a puppet show written by student Serena Randall in consultation with historian Carter G. Woodson, who taught at M Street before receiving his Ph.D. from Harvard.
While the marionette’s identity is unknown, she recalls another mentor, M Street Principal Anna J. Cooper, one of the first African American women to earn a four-year college degree and the first to earn a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne. The marionettes were on display at the Anacostia Community Museum’s exhibition honoring Dr. Cooper from February 1981 through September 1982.
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