Deutsches Altenheim celebrates West Roxbury resident
When Paul Vincent Davis, resident of Deutsches Altenheim in West Roxbury, received a puppet on his fourth birthday, he had no idea it was the start of a lifelong passion. As Artistic Director and Artist in Residence at the Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline for over 30 years, Davis has brought the art of puppetry to life for thousands of children and adults.
It was not always an easy road. His mother did not think it was “appropriate” for him to play with puppets and encouraged him to pursue more traditional careers. But his father said to him: âDo it Paul! It was the motivation behind a very impressive and successful career.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1935, Davis constantly performed plays for his family and friends. A great reader, he devours books on puppetry. He remembers performing a puppet show for his high school class and receiving a standing ovation.
âIt was a pivotal moment in my life,â said Davis.
Being a professional puppeteer, however, was not Davis’ initial goal. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Fine and Commercial Arts from the Richmond Professional Institute of the College of William and Mary, Davis worked in advertising for 15 years, first as a graphic designer, then as a commercial artist and finally as artistic director. On the sidelines, he performed in plays and performed as a folk singer. Eventually, he ran the Repertory Puppet Theater in Washington DC, creating serious shows for adults. This included pieces by Samuel Beckett, Japanese folk pieces, and medieval miracle pieces. In the early 1970s, Davis co-directed The National Theater of Puppet Arts Inc. with Carol Fijan. Based in New York, the puppeteer company has produced excerpts from Shakespearean plays and Greek classics.
In 1976, a chance encounter on a plane changed the course of Davis’s life forever. He was flying to Moscow to attend an international puppet conference. As fate would have it, he sat next to the beautiful and talented Mary Churchill, who was herself an acclaimed puppeteer.
âBy the time we landed in Russia, we were madly in love,â Davis said.
Mary was the founder and director of the Puppet Showplace Theater in Brookline and the rest, as they say, is history. She has become his lifelong companion and partner; they stayed together until his death in 1997.
What sets Davis apart from other puppeteers is the complexity of his hand puppets. They had articulated legs which moved by means of the wrist. Davis received Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA for five productions. These include “The Leprechaun of Donegal” (1980), “The Golden Ax” (1982), “Three Festival Dances” (1982), “Beauty and the Beast” (1984) and “Fables of Ancient Rome” (1988). The Puppetry Journal called his adaptation of Beauty and the Beast “one of the most impressive one-person shows by an extraordinary puppeteer.” In 1990, Puppeteers of America honored Davis with the President’s Award for his outstanding contributions to the art of puppetry. In recognition of his extraordinary talent, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry celebrated Davis’ career with an exhibition in 2020, citing him as “one of the most dynamic puppeteers of the 20th century in America”.
Davis loved living in Brookline Village.
âIt was an eclectic mix of people, shops and restaurants,â Davis said. âMary and I often ate at restaurants, taking advantage of the Skipjack and Colorado Public Library, among many other restaurants.â
He is the most proud of the children’s bookstore, which was launched in 1977 so that parents and children could search for puppets and books after performances of Puppet Showcase. It is still a popular destination.
In 2021, at age 86, Davis is a beloved resident of the German Center. He is frequently found talking and laughing with staff and other residents. And, as one might imagine, telling stories.
âEveryone loves being with Paul,â said Michael Lincoln, executive director of the German Center. âHe’s talkative, funny and an integral part of the Deutsches Altenheim family.
“He shows us, every day, how important it is to be true to yourself, both personally and professionally.”
Davis offers a few “words of wisdom” for people who are just starting their career path. âKeep in mind that it’s not what you do, but rather how and why you do it,â Davis said.
He firmly believes in following his passion in life. For Davis, believing in his childhood dreams turned out to be the right decision.