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Donald Oenslager collection of Edward Gordon Craig

Call Number: GEN MSS 424

Scope and Contents

The Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig consists of materials collected by Oenslager documenting Craig's life, career and his contribution to the art of the theater. The collection contains correspondence, writings, artwork, materials related to theater design, photographs, clippings, theater programs and other papers. The materials have been arranged into five series: Correspondence, Writings, Artwork and Theater Design, Photographs, and Subject Files, and span the years 1881-1975.

Series I, Correspondence (1911-1975), contains letters to and from Edward Gordon Craig, Donald Oenslager, and several third-party correspondents, particularly Isadora Duncan and members of her family. The Edward Gordon Craig correspondence contains original letters written by Craig, photocopies of transcripts of many letters from Craig to the printer Guido Morris, and a printed version of a letter from Morris to Craig. The Donald Oenslager correspondence contains letters from booksellers, Craig scholars and others concerning Oenslager's collection of Craig materials, and other letters related to his interest in Craig. Also included in this series are letters between Craig, Augustin Duncan, Isadora Duncan, Paris Singer and others regarding their plans to open a dance theater in Paris for Isadora Duncan. Other third-party correspondence contains letters by Max Beerbohm, George Bernard Shaw, and others.

Series II, Writings (1906-1972), contains holographs, typescripts, and clippings of writings by Edward Gordon Craig, including many newspaper articles, proofs and reviews of several of his books, and other writings. Also included in this series are writings by Donald Oenslager, including drafts of his version of Aristophanes' The Birds, and a scrapbook with notes regarding a project for Wagner's Ring cycle. Writings of others include corrected typescripts of a portion of Isadora Duncan's My Life, an article about stage decoration by Ellen Terry, and other writings, primarily about Craig.

Series III, Artwork and Theater Design (1900-1972), contains postcards, clippings, reprints, and original woodcuts, drawings and etchings by Craig, including a two-volume limited edition of his etchings and an original wood block of the alphabet. Also included are designs for two theater productions, a model of Craig's innovative folding stage screens, and a photocopy of his patent application for the screens. Artwork by others contains prints of two etchings by Francisco Goya, a reproduction of a drawing of Craig by Claude Marks, a hand-colored lithograph of Ellen Terry by Pamela Smith Colman and an unidentified sketch of several waiters.

Series IV, Photographs (1888-1960), contains photographs of Edward Gordon Craig and others. Many of the photographs of Craig were taken by David Lees, Craig's son with Dorothy Nevile Lees, his collaborator on The Mask. Each of these photographs includes a negative print along with the positive. Other photographs include pictures of Craig by other photographers, pictures of Craig's Macbeth production, one photograph of Ellen Terry, one of Terry and her family taken by Lewis Carroll, and one photograph of an unidentified exhibit of Craig materials.

Series V, Subject Files (1881-1972) includes newspaper clippings, materials related to an exhibition of "Architects in the Theatre, 1500-1900," catalogs and posters for exhibitions of Craig material, papers related to The Mask and The Page, theater programs of productions in which Craig performed, directed or designed, and other papers including lists of books by and about Craig, book prospectuses and sales catalogs of Craig material.


  • 1881-1975


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Restricted Fragile materials in boxes 12-14 may only be consulted with permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies or photographic prints for reference use have been substituted in the main files. One original color slide came with the collection. A photographic print of the image exists in the papers and the original slide has been stored separately.

Conditions Governing Use

The Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Donald Oenslager, 1976.


10.62 Linear Feet ((18 boxes) + 2 broadside folders)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Collection contains materials collected by Donald Oenslager documenting the life and career of Edward Gordon Craig, including correspondence, writings, artwork and materials related to theater design, photographs and subject files. Correspondence includes letters between Craig, Isadora Duncan and Paris Singer, letters between Oenslager and various individuals concerning his collection and interest in Craig, and third party letters. Writings include holographs, typescripts, clippings and reviews of writings by Craig, Oenslager and others, primarily related to Craig, including articles by Sheldon Cheney and Ellen Terry, and typescript fragments of Isadora Duncan's My Life.
Artwork and theater design contains originals and reproductions of woodcuts, etchings and drawings by Craig and others, as well as an engraved woodblock of the alphabet, a model for Craig's stage screens, prints of two etchings by Francisco Goya and a hand-colored lithograph of Ellen Terry by Pamela Colman Smith. Photographs include pictures of Craig, Ellen Terry, and others. Subject files contain newspaper clippings, theater programs of productions acted in or designed by Craig, materials related to Craig's publications The Mask and The Page, and other papers.


Edward Gordon Craig was born in England on 16 January 1872, the son of the actress Ellen Terry and the architect E. W. (Edward William) Godwin. In 1878, at the age of six, he made his first stage appearance in a production of Olivia, by W. G. Wills. He studied at Southfield Park and Bradfield College, and was a member of Henry Irving's theater company at the Lyceum Theatre in London beginning in 1889.

In 1893, Craig married May Gibson, and moved from London to Uxbridge. Under the influence of the artists James Ferrier Pryde and William Nicholson, he learned the art of wood-engraving, and began his career as a graphic designer. In 1893 he directed and designed his first stage production: Alfred de Musset's On ne badine pas avec l'amour. Around this time he also published a magazine, The Page, consisting mostly of his own engravings, and in 1899 published a book of woodcuts with accompanying verses entitled Gordon Craig's Book of Penny Toys.

Craig's career as a stage designer continued to evolve as he collaborated with Martin Shaw in 1901 and 1902 productions of Dido and Aeneas, The Mask of Love and other plays. In 1904 Craig traveled to Berlin to work with the Lessing Theatre, and in 1905 he published his most famous essay, The Art of the Theatre, which was later expanded and republished as On the Art of the Theatre. In Germany he met the dancer Isadora Duncan, with whom he had a brief but intense affair, ending in 1906. Duncan persuaded the theater producer Konstantin Stanislavsky to invite Craig to Moscow, and there he designed an important 1912 production of Hamlet. In 1913, Craig fulfilled a longtime dream by founding his School for the Art of the Theatre in the Arena Goldoni in Florence, however, it closed shortly thereafter at the outbreak of World War I.

Over his long career Craig became known as an important innovator in theater design, popularizing a modern, minimalist style in contrast to the more extravagant style of his mother's age, and his writings, artwork and design had an enormous impact on twentieth-century theater. His publications include the theatrical periodical The Mask (1908-1929), and the books Books and Theatres (1925), Ellen Terry and Her Secret Self (1931), Nothing, or, the Bookplate (1924), The Theatre - Advancing (1919) and his autobiography, Index to the Story of My Days (1957). He spent the last years of his life in the south of France, and died there in 1966.


Donald Mitchell Oenslager was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on 7 March 1902. After graduating from Harvard in 1923, he spent several years working as an actor, appearing in a 1924 production of Desire Under the Elms at the Greenwich Village Theatre, and working at the Provincetown Playhouse. His first stage design was for a ballet titled Sooner or Later in 1925, and he soon began a prolific career in theater design that spanned the 1920's through the 1960's.

Oenslager wrote and edited several books on theater design, including Scenery Then and Now in 1936 and Notes on Scene Painting in 1952, and served as a member of the U.S. National Commission for Unesco and many local and national theater and arts organizations. He also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1942-1945, and from 1925 on he was a member of the faculty of the Yale School of Drama. He cited Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Craig as the inspirations for his work in theater design, and maintained collections of material related to the two designers, both of which are held by the Beinecke Library at Yale.

Guide to the Donald Oenslager Collection of Edward Gordon Craig
Under Revision
by Kathryn Rawdon
January 1999
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

P. O. Box 208330
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New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.