Art at the DIACollections

Watson and the Shark John Singleton Copley
Image Details
Watson and the Shark (46.310) — John Singleton Copley

Performing Arts

International in scope, the DIA Performing Arts Collection contains more than 10,000 original film and theater photographs, posters and ephemera from the 1890s to the present. Outstanding examples of late 19th century magic posters, 1920s avant-garde puppet theater handbills and a complete billboard-sized poster from 1902 are examples of the unique artifacts in this collection.


View Selections from Performing Arts


Diver — Walter E. Deaves, 1903


Scaramouche — Daniel Meader, 1882 / 1898

Venetian Contadino

Venetian Contadino — Pietro Radillo, late 19th century

Chaldean King

Chaldean King — Paul McPharlin, 1929

Male Figure

Male Figure — 20th Century

Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection

Focused primarily on American theatrical puppets from 1850 to 1950, the Paul McPharlin Puppetry Collection is one of the most significant collections of historical puppets in the United States. The wide range of puppets represented includes primitive and folk art, music hall and vaudeville, avant-garde and experimental, cabaret, and film and television puppets. The collection also features examples of stages and production sets, detailed records of American puppet troupes, and rare books tracing the ancient history of the puppet theater.

The McPharlin Puppetry Collection was established in 1951 with the gift of Paul McPharlin's sizable collection of puppets and rare books. Paul McPharlin (1903-1948) was considered by many to be the preeminent authority on puppetry during the first half of the 1900's. A skilled performer and puppet maker, he established the Marionette Fellowship of Detroit troupe in 1929, organized an important puppetry exhibit for the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, and was a founding member of the Puppeteers of America. His outstanding collection was bequeathed to the DIA by his parents, Mr. And Mrs. W.H.J. McPharlin, and his wife, Mrs. Marjorie Batchelder McPharlin.

Because of the unique, ephemeral nature of puppetry, and the fragility of century-old puppets constructed of delicate, light sensitive materials, individual puppets cannot be permanently displayed. The McPharlin Collection is considered a special collection that will be exhibited periodically under ideal aesthetic and environmental conditions. In 2000 the DIA received a conservation grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for state-of-the-art storage equipment to preserve this important legacy for future audiences.


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