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Exhibit features scenic sketches from early theatre, vaudeville era

By January 15, 2013November 8th, 2023No Comments

Theatres and vaudeville stages were the entertainment outlets that Americans sought before the days of movies, television, and the Internet. The University of Minnesota will celebrate that bygone era with a new exhibit, titled “Creating the World for the Stage: 1893-1929 – An Exhibit of Scenic Sketches.”

Painted renderings of backdrops, sketches, and other artifacts from the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota Libraries will be featured in the exhibit that explores the exotic worlds created by the scenic artists for both public theatres and private fraternal spaces of the Freemasons. The exhibit is guest curated by Professor C. Lance Brockman of the University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. It runs from Jan. 15 through March 15, 2013 at the Elmer L. Andersen Library and is free and open to the public.

Artifacts include original renderings

The exhibit documents the backstage technical environment of the popular stage during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The artifacts include original renderings and materials from Twin City Scenic company, Great Western Stage Equipment company, and the Holak collection.

Quick FactsWhat: “Creating the World for the Stage: 1893-1929 – An Exhibit of Scenic Sketches.”

Where: Elmer A. Andersen Library, West Bank of the Twin cities Minneapolis campus, 222-21st Ave. S.

When: Jan. 15 – March 15, 2013. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; and 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

Who: Professor C. Lance Brockman, University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Admission: Free and open to the public

All images are available online

The companies used these materials to market their painted drop scenery to public theatres across the country and later to fraternal organizations, such as the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. Brockman said that the Freemasons use of theatre and set design in their degree rituals helped them to boost membership.

“What had once been recitation, previously, now becomes a lively and fun theatrical presentation – you can see how attractive this would be to potential members,” Brockman said. “And as public theatre became less and less of a market for these scenic studios, the Freemasons became more and more of a market.”

Brockman instrumental in acquiring collections for the U

Brockman, who is retiring after 40 years, was instrumental in acquiring the collections for the University of Minnesota, beginning in 1983. His research into this period of set design, he said, was primarily to help him teach theatre students about the nearly lost craft of painted drop scenery, especially for the New Minnesota Centennial Showboat.

“The exhibit shows people that we have the collections and it’s also a great resource for scenic artists,” said Peter Baker, a recent theatre arts graduate who assisted Brockman with the design and installation of the exhibit. “The art of painting these drops was never really passed down. It sort of died off. But having the sketches and being able to look at the extant work, you can actually pick out how they did it, how they painted it. It becomes a resource, not only for the historical context, but the practice itself – the art, as well as the artifact.”

It’s also just a lot of fun. “When you see the drops on stage, in full color and in full scale, it’s a big ‘whee’ – it’s fun,” Brockman said.

Recent Theatre arts graduate Nicky Rodriguez served as assistant curator supporting Brockman with the selection of thematic objects from over 3000 sketches and models.

Gallery Hours

Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Friday; and 8:30 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. For more information, go to All images are available online at

An exhibit reception honoring Professor Lance Brockman for his leadership, scholarship, teaching, and artistry in the area of scenic design will be held Jan. 29, 5 p.m., at Elmer L. Andersen Library. For more, go to

About C. Lance Brockman

C. Lance Brockman is a professor in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

During his tenure at the University of Minnesota, Brockman’s research into the art of early stage craft, scenic painting, and its historic development became the subject for a major exhibition titled “The Twin City Scenic Collection: 1895-1929,” which he served as curator for the University Art Museum at the University of Minnesota in 1987. The materials from the exhibit continue as The¬†Twin City Scenic Collection¬†online, becoming one of the first computer-based research tools of its kind through the University’s Special Collections Performing Arts Archive.

This exhibition provided the impetus for the Weisman’s 1996 exhibition “Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry 1896-1929,” which Brockman also served as curator. Both exhibits were supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) and the materials were subsequently exhibited in a national tour.

Under Brockman’s leadership as department chair (1995-2001), funding for the Barbara Barker Dance Center was completed, and the Dance Program grew into one of the top four programs in the nation. He was instrumental in the University’s collaboration with the Guthrie Theatre for the development in the highly visible and nationally respected BFA acting program. In addition, he served as project manager for the Minnesota Centennial Showboat project bringing this long-standing tradition back to the river in 2002. He also helped the University’s College of Liberal Arts (CLA) partner with “Project Success” – a program that brings Minneapolis high school students to campus and theatre.

In 2003, the University of Minnesota with the President’s Award honored him for his distinguished service. In years following, he was named a fellow of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) for his outstanding contributions to the profession of theatre and the work of USITT, the association of design, production, and technology professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industry.

Brockman was a member of the Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, CLA Advisory Committee for the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, CLA Assembly, Council of Chairs, and College Executive Committee, the Budget Advisory Committee.

He is nationally renowned for his artistic work and scholarly research. His research and passion for historical design has inspired thousands, including his students who come to the University to study with him. One person wrote, “In addition to his daily activities as teacher, administrator, fundraiser, scholar, and artist, he is a great leader and motivator of people. I think his greatest gift is not only that he contributes greatly to the University in these roles, but he inspires and motivates others to do so as well.”

Mark Engebretson

Author Mark Engebretson

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