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In the Galleries: Norman Bel Geddes’s Costume Designs for "The Miracle"

By Ady Wetegrove

Perhaps best known as the innovative designer of the Futurama exhibition in the General Motors pavilion at the 1939–1940 New York World’s Fair, Norman Bel Geddes was also a noted theater designer, fabricating costumes, sets, lighting, and theaters.

After beginning his career in Los Angeles, Bel Geddes moved to New York City in 1917 where his creative ambitions manifested in producing dynamic theater experiences. Using principles of the European New Stagecraft movement, Bel Geddes brought German director Max Reinhardt’s The Miracle to the American stage. The New Stagecraft movement, which divorced theater from the structures of bourgeois realism, aligned with Bel Geddes’s vision of simplified details and abstract settings and costumes.

Bel Geddes’s work on the 1924 production of The Miracle reveals his talents as a theatrical polymath. The play, a medieval legend about a nun, relied on Bel Geddes’s mechanized scenery and single switchboard. The technical modifications allowed a single electrician to control the focus, direction, and color of the lighting. Audience members sat on pews to watch the play, as Bel Geddes transformed the interior of the theater into a Gothic cathedral, complete with light trickling through stained glass windows and incense wafting through the air. The Miracle fused theater and architecture, creating a participatory environment that immersed audience members in the drama that surrounded them.

Highlighted here is a series of four costume designs for The Miracle, including “Oriental Gentleman,” “Chief Gypsy or Jester,” “Noble Gentleman,” and “Gypsy Woman.” The watercolors showcase Bel Geddes’s dexterity as an artist.

The innovations of Bel Geddes’s early theatrical career inform his later work as an industrial designer. Indeed, the same mechanical track system used to move scenery in The Miracle also guided model cars along the highway system of Futurama.

Materials from The Miracle and other theatrical works by Bel Geddes are on view in the exhibition I Have Seen the Future: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, which runs through January 6, 2013.

Please click on the thumbnails to view larger images.

 

Enter to win a signed copy of a T. C. Boyle book

By Alicia Dietrich

Cover of "San Miguel" by T. C. Boyle.
Cover of "San Miguel" by T. C. Boyle.

Novelist and short story writer T. C. Boyle, whose archive resides at the Ransom Center, has a new novel out today.

San Miguel (Viking, 2012) is a historical novel about three women’s lives on a windswept island off the California coast. Boyle is the author of 23 books of fiction, and his short stories have appeared in The Atlantic, EsquireHarper’sMcSweeney’s, and The New Yorker.

The Ransom Center acquired Boyle’s papers in 2012, and Boyle wrote about packing up his archive for The New Yorker.

On the Ransom Center’s Facebook page, share which of these three T. C. Boyle books you like most: The Tortilla Curtain, World’s End, or Stories. By doing so, you will be entered into our drawing for a signed copy of your selection.

Display highlights basketball photos in "Basketball: Power in Play"

By Jennifer Tisdale

Basketball, which began as a game invented to occupy young, energetic boys within the confines of a gymnasium on rainy days, has come to be one of the most popular sports in American culture.

Basketball: Power in Play, a display of sports photographs from the Harry Ransom Center’s New York Journal-American collection, captures some of the key components of the game from the 1940s through the 1960s.

From September 18 through December 9, 2012, visitors will be able to view images depicting various perspectives on the game such as training and technique, women in basketball, wheelchair basketball, the Harlem Globetrotters, and images of incredible shots and blunders.

The 32 black-and-white photographs in the exhibition come from the New York Journal-American, which was published from 1937 to 1968. Soon after the newspaper’s demise, the Ransom Center gained ownership of the paper’s approximately two million prints and one million negatives. Many of the photographs in the display show original crop and edit marks used in the course of publication.

Geared toward sports enthusiasts, the rich history and engaging narratives embodied in the photo captions will be sure to entertain and amuse.

The display is one of several exhibitions and events across The University of Texas at Austin campus this fall capturing the spirit and history of basketball from its beginnings in a Massachusetts YMCA to the modern NBA.

Courtesy of Suzanne Deal Booth and David G. Booth, the University’s Blanton Museum of Art will be presenting James Naismith’s “Original Rules of Basket Ball,” the 1891 document that outlines the 13 original rules of the game. The rules will be exhibited alongside the works of contemporary artist Paul Pfeiffer in The Rules of Basketball: Works by Paul Pfeiffer and James Naismith’s Original Rules of Basket Ball, running through January 13, 2013.

The H. J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports will host a symposium during the fall 2012 semester about the history and cultural significance of basketball.

Former undergraduate intern Rachel Platis selected the content for the Ransom Center’s display.

The materials are on view in the Ransom Center’s lobby during exhibition gallery hours and in the third-floor Director’s Gallery, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

 

Please click the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

 

Illustrating the Sueltas

By Amy Brown

The Texas collection of comedias sueltas at the Ransom Center contains over 14,000 titles that provide valuable insight into Spanish literature from the second half of the seventeenth century through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thanks to a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources, Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program, the cataloging work on this collection continues and is expected to be completed by February 2014. The cataloging of these items has revealed numerous interesting titles and phenomena, including illustrated sueltas.

There are several categories of illustrations found in the sueltas: scene illustrations, character and author portraits, and stage diagrams. These illustrations can help scholars better visualize a performance and improve the scholar’s understanding of the appearance and character of Spanish theater. Most sueltas were not illustrated. Because the sueltas were primarily intended for performance and not general reading, illustrations may have been an extraneous expense for publishers. Furthermore, the cost of paper dictated that as many words as possible be squeezed into available space. This makes the items that do have illustrations all the rarer and more interesting.

 

Scene illustrations:

A scene illustration is often an engraving of the characters in a moment of action. The actors are shown in costume, and the viewer can see the emotions on the faces of the actors. These illustrations are perhaps the most informative about the actual conception of a play. They are also, however, the rarest type of illustration. Images of the following scene illustrations can be seen in the slideshow.

The earliest illustrated suelta dates from 1775. The sueltas at this time generally consisted of text alone. One illustrated suelta includes a fairly crude scene illustration of a child being bathed and a woman ironing. The suelta, titled Letra a la tonadilla de la planchadora, was bound with a manuscript suelta called Sacristan y la viuda. Both items have received significant conservation work to separate and repair them. Ransom Center conservators also removed a sheet of tissue mounted onto the illustration.

 

The suelta Misantropía y arreptentimiento features a scene illustration unique for a number of reasons. First, the item is dated 1800, which is early in the suelta publishing phenomenon and even earlier in terms of suelta illustration. Furthermore, it pictures an artist’s elegant conceptualization of a dramatic moment in the play outside the confines of the theater. This engraving shows the moment taking place in “real life,” rather than on the stage.  This illustration is far more artistic in nature than typical scene illustrations.

The illustration in Roberto el Diablo is more typical in style of the scene illustrations found in the sueltas. For instance, note the stylized, almost cartoonish, faces and bodies of the characters and their exaggerated body language. The action is being emphasized, while the scenery lacks detail.  The presence of illustrations printed on the wrapper is also uncommon. It was not until later in the century that illustrated wrappers and the use of colored ink became more wide spread.

Character portraits:

Character portraits are among the most visually interesting illustrations. They are often reproduced from photographs, so the details are generally easier to make out than those of scene illustrations. One can see what the actor looked like in full costume. Some character portraits are produced as engravings that offer artistic representations, but still provide insight into the costumery of a main character. Character portraits tend to be of particularly interesting characters, such as the portraits of Boquerón and Nina featured in the slideshow.

Boquerón and Nina are both exceedingly flamboyant characters and the namesakes of the respective plays in which they are featured. Boquerón is a female actress dressed as a ridiculous male character. Note also that an enterprising reader has added a mustache and beard to Boquerón’s face. Nina is a scantily clad woman warrior. She is later featured in a sequel called Seña Manuela in which her costumery may be noted to be equally spectacular, but certainly less risqué.

 

Stage diagrams:

Stage diagrams are particularly illustrative of the mechanics of the Spanish theater.  A diagram shows how the stage was designed and where certain important props or scenery were placed. In an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s last novel Ninety-three, the stage diagram shows how a stage is altered after a set change. Particularly interesting is the presence of the “puerta secreta,” or secret door. Furthermore, this diagram helps the reader understand how the stage blocking would have looked to a theatergoer.

Related content:

Stories from the Sueltas: Cataloger sheds light on gems in the Spanish comedias sueltas collection

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