Exploring the Collections: May Staff Finds

To celebrate the end of the semester, our staff was eager to showcase more exciting items at our Show and Tell meeting, several of which ended up coincidentally relating to the theater. Though the school year has officially ended, we gladly welcome anyone visiting our campus in the summer to check out this month’s featured finds from Special Collections and University Archives (located on Richter’s 8th floor).


Cristina’s PickView by Julie Chen

One of the recent acquisitions to our ever growing collection of Artists’ Books, this visually stunning book by Julie Chen presents what the author herself describes as the “ideas of coming to terms with mortality”(1).

Encased in cloth with a magnetic enclosure, the book can be opened up to reveal the piercing statement that serves as a centerpiece for her work, “We dream the answers before we ask the questions.” Those words loom over each new compartment, revealing different stages of a dream as though the reader is walking through it and exploring an imaginary landscape. A window lies hidden behind the text, offering a peaceful, three-dimensional glimpse of trees grouped together near water. As the reader explores even further, two well-crafted booklets bound together and tucked in their own compartments can be found, describing the journey into the dream with vivid image-laden phrases right up until “The dream comes to an end and I wake with an overwhelming sense of longing for something that I cannot name or comprehend.”


Though the book takes the form of a dream and its aftermath, within it is a powerful meditation on dealing with personal loss and how one struggles to come to terms with it, which served as an expression of Julie Chen’s own experience with grieving.


Koichi’s PickUniversity of Miami ceremonial mace, 1950s-1980s

Donated by the University of Miami’s Office of Commencement, this large and heavy mace kept in the University Archives is among the line of official maces carried into graduation for decades. It was retired during the 1980s and replaced by the one that is being used in present ceremonies. (Records indicate that the current mace has been used as far back as 1986).

Physically holding the pronounced weight of this large mace in one’s hands gives the impression of carrying an empowering piece of history, especially given that the mace has been traditionally viewed as a blunt weapon and that the Grand Marshal’s role has always been, as described by our own archivists, to protect “the ideals of truth, justice, and learning.”


Unique and ornate in appearance, the mace was sculpted out of wood by one of University of Miami’s prominent art professors, William Ward, which accounts for the beautiful embellishments, including the university’s seal and a symbolic flame at the top and several hibiscus details along its handle.


Marcia’s PickThe Ring Theatre Subscriber’s Guide, Summer 1982 and program for Outward Bound at the Cardboard Theatre, The Ring Theatre Records [Collection in Progress]

These small programs are among the many items currently being processed into the Ring Theatre records, all of which originated from our campus’s very own Ring Theatre and its other related theaters. Originally built in 1951 and named for its unique circular shape, which allows the audience to be seated in a “ring” formation(2), the Ring Theatre has had a prominent presence and served as a center for the dramatic arts here on campus for many decades.

This new collection celebrates many of the performances it hosted and its vast achievements, and The Ring Theatre Subscriber’s Guide, Summer 1982 indicates that the Ring Theatre once co-existed with the Brockway Theatre, which was located right here in the Otto G. Richter Library’s first floor. The Brockway Theatre has since been changed into a storage area, but ephemera like the above preserve a piece of its early history.


The accompanying program for the play Outward Bound by Sutton Vane also features another of the University of Miami’s early iterations of its vast collection of theaters, this one known as the Cardboard Theatre. The director listed on the program is Fred Koch Jr., who had played a big role in developing the foundation for the University of Miami’s drama department and the Ring Theatre itself in the early 1940s.

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Emily’s PickClipper News: From Treasure Island 1941, Pan American World Airways, Inc. Records, Printed Material, Pan Am, Periodicals, Clipper News from Treasure Island, Box 32, Formerly Accession I, Box 82, Folder 4

This rare set of Pan American newsletters from the 1940s circulated mainly around Treasure Island, a man-made island in San Francisco Bay that served as a gateway to the Pacific for Pan Am. Topics covered within are largely related to the expansion of Pan Am’s transpacific routes and those involved with it, showing the gradual growth of Pan Am’s corporate empire as well as the evolution of travel as people from that era experienced the limitations of travel rapidly being conquered. For the first time ever, all countries across the Pacific Ocean became accessible and within reach, increasing Pan Am’s ongoing efforts towards globalization and bridging gaps between cultures.

Pan Am2

These newsletters also capture the significance of this route expansion by highlighting in the first issue the popularity of the Golden Gate International Exposition that took place from May 25 to September 29, 1940. The exhibit, which ended up being the largest exhibit in the San Francisco World’s Fair, demonstrated to its audience the day-to-day operations of Pan Am’s Treasure Island’s base and built upon the fantasy of finally being able to explore the farthest reaches of the globe.


Steve’s PickThe Exhibitor Catalogue of 1940

Described as “a service volume… designed for the use of the leading theater owners, circuit executives, maintenance engineers, purchasing agents, theater architects, and theater supply dealers of the nation,” this thick, bound book showcases both the interior and exterior designs of several indoor theaters, particularly highlighting the different types of auditoriums, building layouts, and theater equipment. Many of the images included come from actual theaters that existed around the United States in 1940. Of particular interest are the sections dedicated to bathroom layouts and exit sign designs, which indicate the degree of detail and thought put into even the smallest facets of early theaters.

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Captured within these pages is the story of how much theater culture had become the center of entertainment in this era in both small towns and growing metropolises. The vintage designs also reflect the atmosphere of a growing, modernizing society that marked “a period of significant changes within the motion-picture industry.”


Bea’s PickDe anima brotorum commentaria by Francesco Maria Soldini

Translated in English as Commentary on the soul of animals: nature gave us an inquiring mind, this beautifully illustrated book from the late 1700s offers a contemplative narrative in favor of animals having souls. This view was considered controversial during the time it was written because it challenged religious norms and ideals that were widely accepted during the Enlightenment when the Roman Catholic Church exerted much dominance over education, and Soldini’s text sought to usurp its ideals with the very idea that animals exist on a similar level as humans(3).

With Charles Darwin’s theories and studies on evolution still being several years from being penned, the book provides early insight into the connections that scientists, philosophers, and theorists from that time and far earlier were starting to make between themselves and animals, and it also serves as one of the earliest forms of animal rights activism(4).


Though the book is written in Latin, the stunning detail and care put into each of the illustrations are remarkably striking and are largely centered on a variety of animals arranged in exaggerated environments, interacting with one another where they normally wouldn’t. The different dyes used on the illustrations further allow the images to contrast heavily against the text and immediately capture the eyes of the reader.

More pictures can be found here on our Special Collections facebook page.

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Cory’s PickFun-Master Gag-File, Jackie Gleason Collection [Uncatalogued]

These bound scripts contain a collection of gags compiled by Billy Glason in the 1940s that were largely meant for on-stage performance. They depict what kind of humor was popular at the time and often feature racy jokes that would even be considered inappropriate today or perhaps even more so given our generation’s increased emphasis on political correctness.

The jokes range from short, vaudevillian performances with multiple parts to one-liners, stories, topical humor, and so on, and they serve as an excellent study of the different forms of humor that reigned in that era, a lot of which provided a vital foundation for the way performance-driven humor is depicted today.

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Since many of these jokes were meant to be performed, the key to drawing out a laugh would have relied heavily on the delivery, a fact that becomes more and more evident as the pages within these bound volumes are laden with content that reads dryly on paper and needs to be perfectly timed and perfectly emphasized to avoid falling flat. As an example, here is one of the anecdotes contained within Issue #133: “A woman phoned the Missing Person Bureau and reported her husband was missing. They asked her to describe him and she said ‘Well, he’s short, fat and bald. He weighs about 280 pounds, dresses like a bum, wears thick glasses, he’s bow-legged and has no teeth, oh the HELL with it, never mind!’” The amusement derived from that passage is one that can still be applied universally today since spousal frustration is often a much-expounded topic by modern comics, but a performer would have to carefully build up to the punch line in the end to deliver the full effect of that joke.

Cleo Michelson’s Costume Designs

Yvette’s Pick – Cleo Michelson’s Costume Designs, The Michelson and Havens Family papers, 1925-1950, Box 1, Folder 31

In keeping with our accidental theater theme, the final pick for May is a book of hand-drawn costume designs from Cleo Michelson that comes from one of our recently acquired collections. The costumes all feature a great amount of intricate brush work and a mix of textured paints that appear more vibrant up close. Furthermore, they showcase Cleo Michelson’s skill and her eye for design aesthetics, which is to be expected from a dedicated art student.

Cleo Michelson’s Costume Designs

Many of the costumes featured inside come from popular productions, such as Macbeth and Orestes, though there is no indication as to whether or not the designs were ever used in actual productions. The rest of the collection itself is largely composed of correspondence between members of the Michelson and Havens family to Cleo Michelson, illustrating her close relationship with notable Floridian, Kate C. Havens, and the theosophist movement in the early half of the 1900s, which lent much prominence to the nature and subject matter of the letters exchanged between them.

Cleo Michelson was also married to the skilled artist Auriel Bessemer, who had painted several famous historical murals for the first federal building in Arlington, Virginia(5).

(1) Book descriptions by Kelmscott Bookshop.
(2) “History of the Ring,” University of Miami College of Arts & Science Website.
(3) “De anima brutorum commentaria (Commentary on the soul of animals),” Princeton’s Graphic Arts Blog, September 15, 2009.
(4) Barbagli, Fausto. “In Retrospect: The earliest picture of evolution?” Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science, November 18, 2009.
(5) Collection descriptions provided by Denning House Antiquarian Books & Manuscripts LLC.