Scope and arrangement
The Donald Oenslager Papers and Designs, *T-Mss 1996-015, Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
The Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig is an artificial collection containing correspondence and artwork created by the noted theatrical designer and graphic artist, Edward Gordon Craig. These materials were collected by Craig’s colleague, Donald Oenslager. Oenslager, an American stage designer and longtime faculty member of the Yale School of Drama, often claimed Craig to be one of the chief influences on his own work. The majority of the correspondence in the collection dates from 1945-1963 and is primarily from Craig to his friend, Ewald Junge, who often helped him to generate an income by arranging for the sale of prints, books, and other items from Craig’s personal collection and performing other personal favors. A good deal of the material in this segment of Oenslager’s collection of Edward Gordon Craig was obtained by Oenslager through Junge. Another, smaller set of correspondence in the Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig is between Oenslager and Junge (as well as other collectors and dealers) and relates mainly to the acquisition of the prints included in the collection. Also forming part of this collection are two sets of index card files, which catalog individual items in Oenslager’s collection. As can be seen from these indices, Oenslager’s collection of Edward Gordon Craig was quite extensive and some of the materials described in the catalogs may have been dispersed following Oenslager’s death in 1975. Few of the prints contained in this collection are accounted for in the indices and most appear to have been acquired by Oenslager in the period just before Craig’s death in 1966. Well-represented in the collection are many early “black figure” wood engravings, as well as varying versions of the Hamlet blocks to which Craig returned repeatedly throughout his career. Also included among the prints are illustrations for an edition of Robinson Crusoe, a project that never found a publisher. Some portion of the Craig material collected by Oenslager that is not in the present collection can be found at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The current location of other Craig material that may be cited in the card indices is unknown.
The Donald Oenslager collection of Edward Gordon Craig is arranged in five series:
- 1908 - 1967,3 boxes
This series is comprised chiefly of letters by Edward Gordon Craig that were later collected by Donald Oenslager. Most of the Craig letters are originals, but a few of the items in this series are typed copies or photostats of the originals. A second set of materials includes Oenslager’s own correspondence with collectors, dealers, and scholars with an interest in Craig.
- undated2 boxes
This series consists of two sets of catalog cards providing descriptions of material in the Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig. The first set is comprised of 3” x 5” index cards, which were contained in a wooden file box labeled, Catalogue, Gordon Craig Collection of Donald Oenslager. The typed descriptions are fairly brief and the cards were found arranged by hand written dividers. The second set of catalog cards is comprised of 5” x 7” index cards, which were contained in a metal file box labeled, Gordon Craig Collection of Donald Oenslager. These cards were preprinted with the same heading as above and include slightly more detailed typed descriptions of the materials in the collection. There is some overlap between the materials described in the two files, but the second set of cards appears to be later in date than the first and to describe a more extensive set of materials. The cards found in Section K (Letters from Craig to Other Individuals) of the second group correspond to the Craig letters in Series I, Sub-series 1. Apparently part of an abortive project to provide an item level inventory of the collection, each item was assigned a cataloging number which is present on the card and is written in on pencil on the item. The cataloging project appears to have been terminated abruptly when the end of the 1951 Craig correspondence had been reached. An undated, handwritten note providing instructions to an unidentified project cataloger, however, indicates that letters from Craig’s secretary, as well as from correspondents to Craig, were to comprise a separate section of this inventory. In addition, slips attached to some of the catalog cards indicate some preliminary work done dating and cross-referencing material that had not yet been cataloged with the cataloged letters. The current location of many of the other Craig materials described in these indices is not known.
- 1898 - 19471 box
This series contains original prints created by Edward Gordon Craig. It consists almost exclusively of wood engravings, but also includes what may be an etching by Craig. Most of the prints appear to have been acquired by Donald Oenslager during the last few years of Craig’s life (1962-1963), including a cache of materials formerly in the collection of the puppeteer, Paul McPharlin. The source of some of the prints can be identified precisely with information provided in the correspondence and invoices from dealers contained in Series I, sub-series 2; a spreadsheet containing these attributions has been prepared. The prints have been arranged alphabetically by title, as cited in the lists (A and B) of Craig’s wood engravings printed for private circulation during the 1920s (see Series I, Box 3, Folder 16) and from other sources. When more than one date appears in the folder heading, the first date indicated is usually the date that the original wood block was carved as given in these lists, followed by any dates included on or with the print itself.
- 1900 - 19622 boxes
This series contains larger format prints. It is comprised chiefly of wood engravings by Craig, but also includes one Craig etching and a few other miscellaneous Craig pieces, including a sheet music cover. Two other items, tentatively identified as lithographs, probably are not by Craig, but by his contemporary, Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov. It is not clear if the latter are original prints or reproductions removed from a book by Oenslager. Among the notable items included in this series is a set of proofs on yellow paper for the Cranach Press edition of Hamlet.