Elka Schumann, the 'Heart and Soul' of Bread and Puppet, Dies | Live Culture

Elka Schumann, the 'Heart and Soul' of Bread and Puppet, Dies

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Elka and Peter Schumann - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Elka and Peter Schumann
Elka Schumann, whose personal and artistic partnership with her husband, Peter, was a guiding force of Bread and Puppet Theater for almost 60 years, died on Sunday. She was 85.

Her death, at North Country Hospital in Newport, was confirmed by  Michael Romanyshyn, a family friend and longtime puppeteer.  Elka was "everything" to Bread and Puppet, Romanyshyn said. "She was the heart and soul."

Elka was born in Russia in August 1935 to a Russian mother and an American father. Her family left that country, bound for the United States, when she was a young girl.



Elka met Peter, an artist and puppeteer, in his native Germany while she was a college student studying abroad.  The Schumanns were married in 1959 and lived in New York City, where Peter founded Bread and Puppet on the Lower East side of Manhattan in 1963. The couple moved with their five children to Plainfield in 1970, before settling at the Bread and Puppet farm in Glover in 1974.

She was the "bedrock" for both the family and the theater, said her son, Max Schumann.
Peter and Elka Schumann - GLENN RUSSELL
  • Glenn Russell
  • Peter and Elka Schumann
This summer, Bread and Puppet is celebrating the 50th anniversary of  its  Domestic Resurrection Circus. Elka, dressed in white, walked arm in arm with Peter across the natural amphitheater on July 11 at an opening performance of the season  to take her seat on the grassy stage. She played recorder during the show. She also participated  in last Saturday’s performance, Romanyshyn said.

In recent years, Elka became interested in gatherings to remember and mourn the dead in the pine woods at Bread and Puppet, where a memorial village of sculptures, paintings and installations pay tribute to deceased puppeteers, artists, friends and family. One little house honors Elka's parents, John and Masha Dikareva Scott.
Peter and Elka Schumann - SALLY POLLAK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Sally Pollak ©️ Seven Days
  • Peter and Elka Schumann

Walking through the memorial village two summers ago, Elka stopped at a site in the grove of trees and listened to Peter as he talked about people dear to them whose names he had carved on a board to mark their deaths.

When he got to the last name, where space had run out on the carving, Elka said: "Peter, you really should make another board."