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Oz is for Oznowicz: A Puppet Family's History

Jul 21, 2022–Mar 5, 2023

Frank Oz is a legendary actor, film director, and performer known widely for being the closest collaborator of Muppet creator Jim Henson. Oz originated and performed many iconic Muppet characters, including Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Cookie Monster, as well as Yoda in the Star Wars films. Oz's path to performing, puppetry, and use of humor as a tool for both social critique and social good, was paved by his parents, Isidore (Mike) and Frances Oznowicz.

Before World War II, Mike and Frances were accomplished amateur puppeteers living in Antwerp, Belgium. This exhibition presents the Oznowiczs’ incredible story of courage and resilience as they escaped Nazi-occupied Belgium, resisted Nazi forces in Europe, and eventually settled in Oakland, CA, where they became leaders in the puppetry community. Their journey is presented in Oz is for Oznowicz through a selection of never-before-exhibited marionettes the couple created, as well as archival photographs, reflections from their children, and a first-hand account from Mike narrating part of their harrowing escape for the first and only time. 

Most notable among the marionettes that Mike and Frances created is a caricature of Adolf Hitler, which they intended as a tool of mockery and social commentary during the dictator’s rise to power in the late 1930s. In the face of rising antisemitism today, this marionette is a striking reminder of the ongoing need to fight back against bigotry in all its insidious forms. As living memory of the Holocaust fades, it is critical to document and share the stories of victims and survivors in new ways. Taken together, the marionettes and narratives in this exhibition honor Mike and Frances’s incredible refugee story, courageous anti-Nazi undertakings, distinctive talent, and inspiring family legacy.  

content warning

This exhibition contains a marionette of Adolf Hitler that may be disturbing for some viewers.

Our intention in displaying these objects is to bring to light a story of artistic resistance connected to the Holocaust. Through sharing objects and firsthand stories that encourage conversation and contemplation, we hope to further Holocaust education and lessons in fighting antisemitism, hate, and authoritarianism today. 

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Special thanks

Special thanks to Frank Oznowicz, Jenny Oznowicz, and Ronald Oznowicz for entrusting and sharing these precious objects and stories with us; Karen Falk, Director of Archives at The Jim Henson Company and Barbara Miller, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs at Museum of the Moving Image for their support; Morgan Blum Schneider at Jewish Family and Children's Services Holocaust Center of San Francisco; and Kymberly Miller, Randal Metz, and Maria Rodriguez at Children's Fairyland in Oakland, CA for their generous loan of Mike and Frances Oznowicz at the Children's Fairyland Puppet Fair. 

Header Image

Mike and Frances Oznowicz at the Children’s Fairyland Puppet Fair, 1956. Courtesy the San Francisco Bay Area Puppeteers Guild and Children’s Fairyland Archives.