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From Muppets to pre-Columbian puppets

Puppets from the past 800 years have collected in New York for what must be one of their biggest get-togethers ever. On hand will be renowned puppets as well as ones who have been making few public appearances in recent years.

The exhibition is at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Design. ''Puppets: Art & Entertaiment'' was created by Puppeteers of America Inc. It features hundreds of puppets and puppet-related items. Divided into sections, the show reveals the role of puppets in ritual, culture, social satire, vaudeville, theater, education, and on the screen. To illustrate this, puppets ranging from the Muppets to pre-Columbian antiquities will be featured.

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Gordon Linge, project director for the Puppeteers of America, says, ''Puppets themselves are an art form; the actual art of puppetry is in the animation, and that is why the exhibition reflects the many techniques involved in manipulation.''

The smallest puppet in the exhibit is a 2-inch-tall ''stop motion'' figure named ''Jasper,'' and the largest, a 15-foot-tall one that requires five puppeteers to operate.

Puppeteers of America Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 1936 to preserve, develop, and promote the art of puppetry in America.

The exhibition will continue through Feb. 21.

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