Gustave Baumann (1881-1971) and his family emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1891.
At the age of sixteen, Baumann apprenticed in a commercial printmaking shop in Chicago to learn the trade. Eager to know more about fine art, he enrolled in 1905 in the Royal School of Arts and Crafts, Munich, Germany, where he practiced and perfected his printmaking skills. At this time he also produced a Bavarian village complete with hand-carved toys representing the townsfolk. In 1918 he moved to Santa Fe and worked in the basement of this museum on his woodcut prints. After his marriage to the singer and actress Jane Henderson in 1925, and the arrival of their daughter Ann in 1927, Baumann and his family in 1931 began to create their marionette theater. Intended in large part to entertain their daughter and friends, the marionette theater became an important part of their creative lives.
Gus, as he was called, carved the marionettes, created the stage props, painted the backdrops and wrote many of the scripts in consultation with Jane. For her part, Jane helped clothe the figures and performed the marionettes with the assistance of friends. Ann inspired her parents and became a lead character in many of the plays. Performed in their living room, the theatrical productions became immensely popular and often referred to local characters and events. For years the Santa Fe community was invited to attend performances just before Christmas. Eventually, because of their popularity, the marionette performances took place in St. Francis Auditorium and other public venues. The last public performance of the original marionettes occurred in 1959.
After the death of Gus in 1971, Jane and Ann gifted the marionettes, stage materials and related items to the New Mexico Museum of Art. In addition, they and other Baumann supporters donated a vast selection of Baumann’s prints, paintings and drawings to the museum, thus making the collection the largest in the world. The museum annually presents marionette productions in St. Francis auditorium just before Christmas for the public. The marionettes performed are exact duplicates created so that the Baumann family’s gift to Santa Fe, New Mexico and the world can continue to be enjoyed.