In 2005, a room on the main floor of Bohemian National Hall was transformed into a museum to house the history, cultural artifacts and traditions of the original Czech community in the Cleveland area.
The museum pays tribute to the memory and dedication of those who built Bohemian National Hall and celebrates the heritage passed down to decendants. Photographs and documentation of early events associated with the Hall and the Sokol organization are prominently displayed.
Several displays of folk costumes are part of the museum’s collection, as well as Czech crystal, pottery, glassware, toys, books, paintings, photographs and other items. On display also are several vintage marionettes for which the Czechs have a long history of marionette theatre dating back to the 1700’s.
Some vintage items along with many newer items representing Czech heritage are sold in the gift shop area. The Czech Republic is known for its high-quality garnets and you’ll find a selection of garnets in a variety of contemporary or classic settings available for purchase.
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Sokol Greater Cleveland has on display in the museum a collection of vintage handcrafted Czech puppets that are over 100 years old.
The oldest Czech picture featuring a puppet dates from 1590, however puppetry became part of Czech tradition in the 1700’s when Czech puppeteers roamed Central Europe to tell stories and entertain crowds. During the 18th century, Czech marionette-making and puppetry developed into a revered art form. Much care and detail went into the faces of Czech puppets created during this Baroque period, bringing Czech puppetry to new levels of sophistication. Puppets and marionettes were carved from wood and given the most expression-free faces possible. It was up to the puppeteer to infuse life and feeling into the puppet by manipulating the puppet’s movement. The performances were based on classical stories such as Faust, Don Giovanni or historical Czech plays. In the eighteenth century, operas were specifically composed for marionettes.
Not only was puppetry taught and puppet theater scripts passed from father to son, but the puppets themselves were handed down through generations. Puppets or marionettes from the 1800’s command significant price tags, as this might be considered Czech puppetry’s “golden age,” and surviving examples of Baroque-era puppets are rare. Puppetry declined somewhat in the 19th century, but underwent revival in
the 20th century, when theaters dedicated solely to puppetry were established. Puppet theater was shown indifference by the country’s censors during the Austrian Empire and was used at an outlet for political dissent. Thus, puppetry also became a patriotic art form and some puppeteers became national heroes or “revolutionaries.”