Itinerant puppeteer considered the father of Swedish puppetry. Johan Christoffer Heuserman performed in Göteborg (Gothenburg, Sweden) in 1857 as a “marionette showman and harpist”. Later, he toured in Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland, with his wife Maria Wisbar (and later on with their five children). He received Swedish citizenship in 1877.
His visits to many Swedish cities have been verified, foremost through passport notes by the authorities. Heuserman settled in Stockholm, probably in 1863, but kept on touring in Sweden. The same year an advertisement in a paper announced that he is performing a “Metamorphos-Kabinett and Panorama”. Heuserman calls himself a “mechanicus”, and in the German parish of Stockholm he is registered as “artist”, while by the city authorities he is a “harpist”. It seems plausible that his “theatre of Polichinelle” during his first Swedish decade might have been string puppets. But when, after yet another stay in Göteborg, he moved back to Stockholm in 1871 the theatre was called a “Kasper theatre”, and the puppets were by then clearly glove puppets. The theatre booth was during this period raised in a popular Stockholm public park, Djurgården. In the 1870s, he registered with the authorities as a “Kasper showman”, adding that he sometimes played “the barrel-organ and the violin”. Towards the end of his life, Heuserman would refer to himself as a “showman of panoramas”. Maria Wisbar, Heuserman’s wife, was active in the theatre with “magic” tricks, such as carrying heavy weights with her hair. She also played the violin and sang, as did their children.
Johan Christoffer Heuserman introduced the puppet tradition as a permanent art form in Sweden, giving to the Kasper figure a blend of Polichinelle and Punch. The pattern of the short plays were the classic ones where Kasper meets the Officer, the Creditor, the Policemen, his Wife, and the Devil, episodes with his Dog, his Baby and the Crocodile, as well as “teasers” – short versions of or excerpts from the Faust tradition.
After Heuserman’s death in 1880, the theatre remained in the family with a son-in-law, the German Christoffer Kegel, as proprietor, and later on it found other owners. The observations on puppet theatre written down by playwright August Strindberg are from the theatre of Heuserman. The theatre was later integrated into the ethnographic national open-air museum Skansen, where shows are still presented to a mixed audience during summer weekends with the same figures dating from the 1910s.