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Excerpt from Edward Gordon Craig's Book of Penny Toys, 1899

Excerpt from Edward Gordon Craig’s Book of Penny Toys, 1899

One day, as I was perusing the files of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Unit as part of my walk through history with Mr. Horne, I kept coming across the name, Gordon Craig.  In a series of letters, Craig appealed to different agencies seeking the return of items stolen in France and taken to Germany.  In one letter, he even presented a list:

Additional letters had been been submitted on his behalf by noted scholars in the art world, like Thomas Whittemore.

The correspondence, like this one, that first caught my attention was dated 1947.  By this time, many collections of books and papers recovered postwar had been shipped to the Offenbach Archival Depot in Germany, awaiting restitution.  And, by this time, Joseph A. Horne had been assigned as the third director of the Depot.  Horne was contacted and requested to make a search.  His findings:

Further inquiry would reveal that Craig’s property was in the hands of U.S. forces but in Austria, not Germany.  Unfortunately, while it was clear who had amassed the collection, it was unclear to whom the collection belonged, to which institution or even to which country.  But before I learned about that intrigue, I first had to learn about this Gordon Craig.  I was just curious.  Why was this man’s boxes of books and drawings of such interest?

Edward Gordon Craig

Edward Gordon Craig (1872-1966)

It didn’t take long to discover that he was one of the most innovative forces in theater whose influence is felt to this day.  A rather renaissance figure, an actor from a distinguished acting family…

as Hamlet, 1897

as Hamlet, 1897

a set designer and theatrical producer who revolutionized the use of light, space and costumes for storytelling

Craig's design (1908) for Hamlet 1-2 at Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky

Craig’s design (1908) for Hamlet 1-2 at Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky

a writer and publisher

who also did woodcuts and other illustrations.

I found many online biographies describing his years of studying, performing,  and teaching, and how he eventually moved to France.  One document even stated, “In 1931 he went to live in France and in 1948 made his home in Vence, in the south of that country, where he wrote his memoirs entitled Index to the Story of My Days (1957).” (National Trust)  But what happened between 1931 and 1948?  In most online bios, and even in this wonderful timeline charting his career, about this time period little is written.  It is the events that take place during this time that establishes Craig’s presence in the U.S. National Archives and in the files relating to the work of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Unit.

Edward Gordon Craig, 1941, by Dora Kallmus

Edward Gordon Craig, 1941, by Dora Kallmus

By the 1930s he had begun building his Gordon Craig Collection of writings and resources on the tools, techniques and artistry of theater.  In 1942 he would be arrested in German-occupied France and taken to a Nazi Concentration Camp.  He would be released, and his collection taken. Soon after, conflicting stories would arise, as evidenced in this letter, about whether or not he’d sold the collection and, if so, under what circumstances.

Joseph Gregor, mentioned in the above letter, had been working with Craig prior to the war.  Documentation suggests that Gregor and others at the Vienna library in some way facilitated Craig’s sell of his collection to Hitler, who wanted to add the collection to his planned museum and library at Linz, Austria. Craig also made claims that Gregor had personally removed drawings from his apartment without his agreement.

It took time and lots of paperwork but it appears that the items dispersed during the war were reassembled as a whole, and an attempt was made to return them to Craig.

In October 1948, MFA&A officer Evelyn Tucker handed over the 40-plus cases comprising the Craig Collection to a French representative.  The cases contained manuscripts, illustrations, back issues of The Mask and The Marionnette Magazine.  By November bills of laden were being exchanged between at least France and Britain to cover the cost of shipping the cases to Paris on behalf of Mr. Craig.

Nearly seventy years later, Edward Gordon Craig artwork and writings are distributed, as collections, in many major museums, universities and public and private libraries.  His vision remains respected to this day.  New articles are being written critiquing his work and his legacy, and exhibits of his drawings take place around the world.

 

Sources/Additional Readings

Biography of Edward Gordon Craig

Stage Design of Edward Gordon Craig

Victoria & Albert Museum early Craig images

National Portrait Gallery Craig image 1950

Digitized version of Craig’s Woodcuts and Some Words

Digitized version of Craig’s Book of Penny Toys

More about photographer Dora Kallmus aka Madame d’Ora

Beyond the Mask: Gordon Craig, Movement and the Actor

Edward Gordon Craig: A Vision of Theatre

About Thomas Whittemore

 

 

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