Donald Oenslager was a set and lighting designer, teacher, lecturer, writer and collector. The collection consists of set and costume designs, technical drawings, elevations, manuscripts and correspondence with other prominent theater designers.
Biographical/historical: Donald Mitchell Oenslager, an American stage designer and professor, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 7 March 1902. Oenslager began his career in the theater as an actor, working at the Greenwich Village Theatre and the Provincetown Playhouse during the early 1920s. He became interested in theater design after studying in Europe and his first project as a designer was in 1925 for a ballet, Sooner or Later. Oenslager was active as a designer from the 1930's to the 1960s, working on many notable Broadway productions, including Of Mice and Men (1937) and A Majority of One(1959), for which he received a Tony Award. He also served as a faculty member of the Yale School of Drama, teaching design from 1925 until his death in 1975, publishing many works, including Scenery Then and Now (1936) and Notes on Scene Painting (1952). Profoundly influenced by the European stage designers, Edward Gordon Craig and Adolphe Appia, Oenslager brought a new emphasis on symbolism over realism to American theater design. Throughout his life, Oenslager built up an extensive collection of materials on both Craig and Appia. Following his death on 11 June 1975, Oenslager's widow, Mary, gave portions of the Craig material to the New York Public Library's Billy Rose Theatre Division, while other parts of the collection went to Yale University.
The Donald Oenslager Papers and Designs span the years 1922 - 1982, reflecting his long and varied career as set and lighting designer, professor, consultant, writer, and lecturer. The largest parts of the collection are the production and technical designs. Both production and technical designs include extensive amounts of painter's elevations, rough sketches, renderings, materials samples, notes, and correspondence. Almost every play, musical, ballet, opera or project Oenslager worked on is represented. Oenslager corresponded with notable theater people of his time; many of them not only were colleagues but friends, as well. Five boxes of correspondence include letters from Edmond Appia, Boris Aronson, Robert Edmond Jones, and Joseph Mielziner among many others. The remainder of the collection consists of research material, financial papers, family papers, notes for many of his personal appearances and lists of exhibitions of his designs, drafts, notes from his books and published articles. The photograph series is largely production related but does include some portraits and snapshots of Oenslager and photos from his time in the military. Clippings in the scrapbook series were organized by Oenslager himself and continued by Mrs. Oenslager after his death.