Appointed to the Columbia College faculty in 1892, Matthews began collecting theater-related memorabilia in 1911, convinced that the only way to learn about drama was through first-hand acquaintance with artifacts, images, and texts of the theatrical past. Matthews then donated his own collection of theatrical memorabilia to the University to support the burgeoning study of world-wide theater history. He commissioned stage models representing historical periods, collected the scripts and theatrical designs of his contemporaries, gathered more than 30,000 images of actors and entertainers, and purchased masks and puppets from dealers and performers all over the world. Thanks to a generous endowment, additions to the collection were made for decades after Matthews died in 1929. The Dramatic Museum was housed in Low Library at Columbia until it was closed in 1971; since then the collection has been located in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The exhibition will provide an overview of the Dramatic Museum’s collections. Among the many items on display in the Kempner Gallery, chosen to represent the scope of Matthews’ collecting, are: a five-foot tall marionette of Don Quixote designed by American puppet maker Remo Bufano in 1924 for the premiere of Manuel de Falla’s operetta El Retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet-Show); set and costume designs by Joseph Urban, James Woodman Thompson and Leslie Powell; a set of French Punch and Judy puppets purchased in Paris in 1925, including a character based on Charlie Chaplin; a manuscript of Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s School for Scandal; 19th-century armored Sicilian puppets made for folk performances of the epic poem Orlando Furioso; and costume sketches by Caspar Neher for a production of Macbeth in the early 1950s.
Part of an initiative designed to make the colorful but fragile objects gathered by the Museum curators once again visible to the public, the Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum exhibition follows the 2004 launch of the Joseph Urban Stage Design Project website, a rich resource for the study of the theatrical designs of this prolific and innovative artist and architect.
The Dramatic Museum will run concurrently with a smaller exhibition in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library’s West Gallery: Tennessee Williams: Portraits, Plays and Fragments of a Life. This exhibit will feature selections from the Library’s Tennessee Williams Papers, including a painting by Williams entitled “Homage to Eugene O'Neill,” manuscripts of some of Williams’s poems and plays, set designs by Boris Aronson and Jo Mielziner for productions of Williams plays, and the playwright’s Tony Award for The Rose Tattoo.
The Rare Book and Manuscript Library is located on the sixth floor of Butler Library on the Morningside campus of Columbia University. The Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum at Columbia University exhibition will be open to the public from September 30, 2005 through February 17, 2006. Hours through December 16 are: Monday, 12:00 – 7:45 p.m.; Tuesday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. Please visit our website for winter intersession hours.
The Dramatic Museum exhibition catalog will be on sale in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for $15, with a $5 surcharge for mailing and handling, when necessary. It may also be ordered by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.