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Oliver Smith Collection…On Display!

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The following is a guest post from Theater Specialist Walter Zvonchenko.

Oliver Smith's set design for "Guys and Dolls". Oliver Smith Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Among the most significant collections acquired by the Library of Congress in very recent time is the Oliver Smith Collection of theatrical design, now in the custody of the Music Division. One of the most highly regarded and sought after stage designers of the last century, Oliver Smith was an extremely prolific artist whose career spanned almost fifty years. Smith’s creative powers were at the heart of many of the best remembered, best regarded and most beloved stage productions in the history of the American theater, including My Fair Lady, Paint Your Wagon, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Candide, Camelot, Hello, Dolly! and Brigadoon.  Among his contributions for plays were sets for Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1955), Auntie Mame (1956), Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965). His design work in opera included sets for Martha and La Traviata at the Metropolitan Opera, The Wind Remains (with a score by Paul Bowles and choreography by Merce Cunningham) and Bernstein’s Mass, the opening production at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC in 1971.Among his awards, Smith received Tonys for his designs for My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Hello, Dolly!, Camelot, and Becket.

Oliver Smith's set design for "My Fair Lady". Oliver Smith Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

The acquisition of the Oliver Smith Collection constitutes a major expansion of the Library’s holdings in theatrical design and serves as a major building block in establishing the Library of Congress as an institution with a full spectrum of formats for theatrical research. Smith collaborated with many eminent people in the theater and media, some of whose papers are now in the custody of the Library of Congress, including Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman and Irving Berlin.

The Smith Collection is one of the most important sets of documentation on American stage and contains significant research value. The collection includes watercolors, ground plans, ink sketches and elevations, and the material frequently provides a historical background to the development of design for a given production as well as the final scheme. Additionally, the collection includes designs for realized productions as well as designs for scenes that never made it into final production form. Multiple versions of scenes from productions which were mounted more than once are included. Some of the ground plans allow the researcher an opportunity to compare scenic presentation for the same production in different theaters.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, May 17, 2011), the Music Division will present a display of theatrical designs by Oliver Smith in the Whittall Pavilion from 1pm to 3pm. The display is open to staff and to the public, so please come and see what treasures the Smith Collection has to offer!

Comments (3)

  1. So sorry I only read the blog post today; I hope there will be another opportunity.

  2. This is great! Congratulations. I hope we can look forward to these items being digitized. And I also hope there is another opportunity to view the items on display in the not-too-distant future.

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