Teaching with Archives: Searching for Oliver Smith's Designs

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This essay describes research centered on the American scenographer Oliver Smith. Design students were presented challenges related to archival identification, access, investigation, and presentation of findings. The students framed their inquiry according to conventional practice, searching library collections and then following bibliographic threads as they expanded their keyword search inquiries to other collections. The objectives were to distinguish between biographical and archival research, uncover works of art in physical repositories, and examine rough sketches and finished renderings in order to illuminate the creative imagination of the designer. The students believed that the problem of gaining access to physical archives could be mitigated by finding digital images created from scans. During the project, we explored issues concerning the conversion of art works from physical to digital format within a collection, the responsibilities of the curator and archivist, and the complexities involved in negotiating the migration of design materials from the creator through a private owner to institutional archives. The results revealed varying degrees of success in fulfilling research objectives.


Vol. 29

pg. 29-44

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Performing Arts Resources