Welcome to my blog, featuring various pieces from my collection of Oz books, artwork and memorabilia!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Caroline Siedle

Caroline Siedle (1867 - 1907) was one of the first women in America to become a well known stage costume designer. From the mid-1890s until her early death in 1908, she designed costumes for many musicals, including the 1903 production of The Wizard of Oz. Julian Mitchell, the director of The Wizard who also worked with her in Babes in Toyland and other productions, is quoted as saying: "Without her assistance I should never have been able to carry out the musical comedy color schemes which have made beautiful stage pictures. Her taste was always good, and her ability to design amounted to genius."

Some of the original costume designs from The Wizard of Oz survive in public collections. I'm excited to have the one which I'm showing, a design for the Cooks in the chorus of the opening number of the third act. It's certainly a whimsical design - note the silverware in the brim of the hat, the kettle on the bodice and the ample display of the chorus girl's legs. Traces of the original pencil sketch remain under the finished painting, showing that the shorts/apron combo was originally a bit longer - down to the knees. On the rear of the drawing is a list of eight actresses who played cooks, including their measurements for costuming purposes. Only four cooks are listed in the program for the show, so perhaps some of these were alternates?

The photo I'm showing is from Mark Evan Swartz's fascinating book Before The Rainbow, which examines early theatrical productions of Oz. The actress shown is Lola Gordan, and her name is among those on the back of the drawing. The cooks were part of the chorus of Waitresses, Cooks and Laundresses that supported the Scarecrow in his rendition of The Traveler and the Pie, one of the songs using a lyric by L. Frank Baum. This number eventually opened Act Three of the show, and was placed in a setting with a color scheme of lilac and silver, reflected in the colors of the costume design.

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is currently mounting an exhibition through May 2nd called Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designing for Live Performance. Among the pieces being shown is another costume design by Siedle for Act Three of the Wizard, this one for the Witches of the Wind. I've copied it from advertising for the show and posted it on the left - it's a lovely piece. I hope to take a look at the exhibit when I'm in New York in March.

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