Wooden marionette in grey shirt and shorts

Object Details

William N. Buckner
paper-mâché, wood, cotton, paint, string, wire, nails
Puppet: 20 1/2 × 7 7/8 × 3 9/16 in. (52 × 20 × 9 cm)
From first controller to feet of puppet: 62 3/16 in. (158 cm)
This nine-string marionette made of paper-mâché and wood wears a smile along with a grey tunic and shorts. The puppet’s creator, William N. Buckner, Jr. (1888-1984), attended M Street High School, an esteemed school for African Americans in Washington, DC’s segregated public system, from 1903 to 1907. At the time, two pivotal educators outlined contrasting pathways to freedom for African Americans as Jim Crow legislation blanched Reconstruction’s reforms. Booker T. Washington advocated the merits of vocational training, agriculture, and business, while W.E.B. Du Bois contended that elite African Americans, or the “Talented Tenth,” must lead by intellectual achievement.
At M Street, Buckner experienced a robust mixture of academic, artistic, and vocational instruction due to an innovative curriculum envisioned by art educator Thomas W. Hunster (1851-1929) and supported by pioneering administrators, including Principal Anna J. Cooper (1858-1964), one of the first Black women to earn a four-year college degree. Buckner translated skills honed at M Street into a lifelong commitment to creativity and education. He remained a staunch supporter of trades, such as carpentry, as stable careers for African Americans while, like his mentors, seeing the arts and traditional academics as complementary to vocational training. Throughout his forty-seven-year career as an educator and administrator in the District’s public schools, he practiced many forms of artistic expression and actively participated in the city’s art community.
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