The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts: An Introduction
Robert Tobin, the namesake of The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts, was a collector from an early age. He had acquired a love of the theatre, and in particular the musical theatre, from his mother, Margaret Batts Tobin, well-known and respected in arts circles for her service to the McNay Art Museum. She also sat on the advisory board of the Metropolitan Opera. Beverly Sills said of Robert Tobin: ''He and his mother were two of the most generous patrons of the arts I have ever known."
Robert Tobin's love of collecting theatre art took flight while he was a student at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1950s. One of his first acquisitions was "Monumenta Scenica," a 12-volume compendium of 17th and 18th century European theatre designs. This whetted his appetite for more books, eventually thousands of them. According to Linda Hardberger, the first curator of The Tobin Collection, he was not content to collect one of something. He felt compelled to collect many. This may seem on the surface excessive, but once one sits in the library, among his thousands of books, or wanders through the galleries of his costume and scene designs, one realizes that it's exactly right.
The range of The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts is astonishing. Linda Hardberger sums it up: "Basically what we have here is a visual history of scene design from the Renaissance to the present." Jody Blake, the current curator of the collection, says it a different way: "The collection really goes from around 1500 to yesterday." Of course there is nothing literally from yesterday, at least not the last time I talked to Ms. Blake, but she has the enviable job of seeing that The Tobin Collection is not static. The museum is ever creating relationships with current costume and scene designers with the intention of staying true to the spirit of art and curiosity which drove Robert Tobin to begin his collection in the first place. Both Hardberger and Blake take pride in The Tobin Collection as alive and well and continuing to grow in San Antonio.
In this first program of a 5-part series, The Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts: A Musical Vision, we examine the range of the collection through a variety of musical selections which will complement the collection's holdings. Linda Hardberger and Jody Blake will describe the collection from their varied perspectives, addressing as well the spirit of philanthropy which defined both Robert Tobin and his mother. From the ancient Roman theatre to contemporary American musical theatre, we will scan The Tobin Collection before sharpening our focus in subsequent weeks upon the strengths of the collection.
The images in the above slide show suggest aspects of The Tobin Collection, beginning with Mr. Tobin's interest in both the early history of theatre, but also the history of printing. Slide two mirrors the cover of Jody Blake's totally engrossing volume, "An Eye for the Stage," while also suggesting the grand stage on which Robert Tobin resided, larger than life. Plate three is a photo of a young Robert Tobin, taken around 1964 by the Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh. This captures Tobin with a backdrop of books and a printing press, two of his passions. Plates four and five show his interest in Shakespeare, but through the contemporary eyes of the Englishman, Michael Ayrton, and the English modernist, Edward Craig.
Slide six illustrates a costume design for the Chinese Emperor in Friedrich Schiller's "Turandot," this from 1808, well before Giacomo Puccini was born and 116 years before Puccini, at his death, left his operatic telling of "Turandot" unfinished. As The Tobin Collection: A Musical View plays over the next 5 weeks, we will see contemporary costume designs for Sarah Caldwell's production of Puccini's masterpiece. Slide seven is a costume design from the folklorist painter Natalia Gontcharova for a character in Tchaikovsky's "The Snow Maiden." A spotlight will focus upon Gontcharova in next week's show.
Finally, we have two slides which illustrate Robert Tobin's interest in American artist-designers. In fact, one week of this 5-week series will look exclusively at American designers and composers.
The Tobin Collection: A Musical Vision will play Friday evenings at 7 o'clock from opening night, April 3, through May 1. The show is produced and hosted by James Baker, with additional commentary provided by Jody Blake, Linda Hardberger, Ben Stevenson, David Amram, Carl St. Clair, and Maurice Peress.