Friday, February 25, 2011

More Finds at the Local Antique Shop - Majestic Theatre Playbill

I was about to leave the shop empty handed, when a looseleaf stuffed with ephemera caught my eye. I asked the proprietor to open the glass case and she took it up to the counter for me to browse. This lovely early playbill from the early history of Boston's Majestic Theatre stood out from the other contents for its lovely cover artistry, indicative of the Beaux-Arts / Art Nouveau period.

This item called to me. Perhaps after teaching local second graders about Louis Comfort Tiffany last week as part of their monthly artist enrichment series, this period is on my mind. The turn of the twentieth century was a time for many artists to seek a more modern aesthetic, seeking to offer a new language for a new century.  These particular style(s) of the period were characterized by strong lines and natural elements. The effect was a sort of fancy simplicity of strong curvelinear design used to heighten beauty. This style matched the vision of Tiffany and other artists aiming to make beauty and beautiful decorative things accessible to anyone. Tiffany intended his designs to be affordable. Many artists were hoping that the twentieth century was to be a place of greater equality and greater social understanding.

My little playbill, steeped in the tradition and artistic sensibilities of the time is a perfect fit for the dramatic theater arts. The artist of this image is unknown to me, but his 1907 work matches the design of the 1903 Majestic Theatre building itself.

But within the booklet is a strange combination of advertisements, many relying on old-fashioned design despite the new artistic sensibility. 

This old-fashioned ad with a corseted woman leaning on her husband seems to directly contrast with the modern  woman drawn on the cover of the playbill who lets it all hang out (so to speak)

There is also a strange array of products for the wealthy, such as pianos, furs, white gloves, turkish baths, and chocolates, with few items that would suit a lower class, despite what the nouveau artists believed or wanted for their generation.

We also get a look at some popular culture of the day with an advertisement for Harvard-Yale football and the almost full page portrait of the popular actress Frances Starr.

From a simple piece of ephemera, we can explore the past, learn about the development of culture, try to decipher the sensibilities of a time, and explore community ideals trying to take flight.


Interesting Internet read related to the subject: A Crisis of Tradition and Birth of Contemporary Art

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