Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 190 – Gates & Morange – Creators of Things Novel and Beautifully Interesting

Part 190: Gates & Morange – Creators of Things Novel and Beautifully Interesting

It was in Chicago during 1894 that Edward A. Morange would meet his eventual business partner, Francis “Frank” Edgar Gates. During the day, they would study fine art and in the evenings they would paint theatrical shows. Later, his brother Richard Henry Gates would join the team. Frank and Richard Gates received their academic training at the School of Fine Arts, Washington University, St. Louis. “The Scenic Artist,” Vol. 1, No. 8 (December 1927, page 8), noted “they were practically brought up on theatre from almost infancy, being in a family of theatrical managers, musicians and actors, it was natural that the stage should appeal to them.”

This is an image from a website that is no longer accessible. The creators suggest that they have many designs created by the brothers, Richard and Francis Gates. These are the only two images that I have found of the pair.

By 1897, Frank, Richard, and Morange, founded Gates and Morange Studio. Although Gates and Morange had worked on many projects together, their first Broadway credits date from 1897. Thhe scenic studio of Gates & Morange was to become one of the premiere scenic studios during the early twentieth century. Although starting in Chicago, they soon moved their company to New York to produce settings for dozens of Broadway shows. Their first Broadway credit in 1897 was “Straight from the Heart” by Sutton Vane and Arthur Shirley. Other clients included Liebler Co., Florenz Ziegfeld and George C. Tyler. Artists that worked for their firm included Thomas Benrimo, William E. Castle, Charles Graham, Alexander Grainger, Arne Lundberg, and Orestes Raineiri. The New York Public Library holds the Gates & Morange Design Collection (1894-1953), containing original set designs, curtain designs, olio designs, trade show designs, and several exhibitions.

Gates and Morange Design Collection (1894-1953) at the New York Public Library. Here is the link: http://archives.nypl.org/the/22927

Although many of the designs are undated, the bulk of the collection appears to be from the 1920s. Among the more than seventy-five production designs are “The Daughter of Heaven” by Pierre Loti (c. 1912); “Dolci Napoli” (c. 1913), “Earl Carroll Vanities” (1923), “For Valor” by Martha Hedman and H. A. House (1935), Gridiron Club productions (1935), “An International Marriage” by George Broadhurst (c. 1909), “The Lady of the Lamp” by Earl Carroll (1920), “Music in the Air” with music by Jerome Kern and Designs by Joseph Urban (1932), “Nancy Brown” (c. 1903), “Song of the Flame” by Herbert Stothart ad George Gershwin, with designs by Joseph Urban (1926), and a number of Ziegfeld productions. Of particular note is “Rose-Marie” by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II (1924), which includes three photographs, showing development from an initial concept to the scenery in place on the stage (1924).

Program for “Rose-Marie” listing Gates & Morange as the scenic artists for the production.

There are also a few studio plans and research materials in the collection. The collection is located in the Billy Rose Division on the third floor at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center. Here is the link for the collection overview: http://archives.nypl.org/the/22927

Gates & Morange’s non-theatrical projects included reproductions for the United States Government of Yosemite, Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, the Grand Canyon, Alaska, Kilauea and many other National Parks.

Design and reference library for Gates & Morange. This shows their research files that were a result of countless sketching trips. Undated image pasted in Thomas G. Moses’ scrap book, Harry Ranson Center, University Texas, Austin.

The studio’s artists constantly took advantage of painting from nature, to attain primary information for various commissions. They had research files from trips throughout the United States, Alaska, Europe and Africa. This provided the artists opportunities to observe various landscapes, customs, and people. They made colored studies and sketches to collect valuable data that was used for their theatrical productions. In 1912, Gates and Morange traveled to the Sahara Desert, accompanied by Hugh Ford, general stage director, to research an actual and ferocious sandstorm for their upcoming show at the Century Theatre in New York.

Advertisement for Gates & Morange, Scenic Artists, in Julius Cahn’s Theatrical Guide (1902-1903).

The 1927 “Scenic Artist” article about Gates & Morange concluded with, “It is refreshing to know that here is one studio housing a large staff of academically trained artists that has kept pace with the insurgent movement with its radical and liberal tendencies, which has been at work in recent years in the theatres of Europe and America. That Gates & Morange have accepted what is sane and beneficial of this movement is readily seen by the numerous beautiful compositions covering the walls of their design rooms and bulging out their portfolios. Through them all is seen the sureness and artistic simplicity that only an artist of thorough and correct draughtsmanship, with a fine decorative feeling, a profound knowledge and delicate sense of color and imagination could create. The present possibilities of producing pleasing or bizarre effects with the highly perfected and easily operated electric equipment of the modern stage, has opened the theatre to the many experiments and fadist illusions that none but an experienced scenic artist could endow with poetical beauty and mystery they exhibit. With all these the stage has not lost its glamour for these artists as the many new ideas and effects around which authors and composers may write plays or revues, upon the initiative of these creators of things novel and beautifully interesting.”

To be continued…

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