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Lasting Legacies

Lasting Legacies is the inaugural exhibition of the Jack E. and Debbie T. Thomas Gallery on Level 1 of John M. Olin Library. The exhibition paid tribute to seven influential Washington University alumni whose work has enriched their respective professions and communities.

Sections of the exhibition were devoted to Philip Mills Arnold, Henry Hampton, Mary Strauss, John Ezell, A.E. Hotchner, Tennessee Williams, and Mary Wickes.

John Ezell: Designing New Worlds

John Ezell is a St. Louis native who spent his childhood peering over the fence of the Municipal Opera in Forest Park. His attraction to the theatre led him to pursue a B.F.A. in Painting at Washington University (1954) and an M.F.A. at the Yale School of Drama (1960).

Ezell has had an immeasurable impact on the field of American scenic design. He has designed sets for significant and challenging works by major American dramatists and theater companies around the world. Ezell’s work is known for its eclecticism, scholarship, and respect for the original text.

The Washington University Dowd Illustration Research Archive’s John Ezell Collection includes original paintings, collages, renderings, and theatre maquettes (scale models of theater designs) that Ezell has created over the span of his fifty-year career. These works have been collected and cared for by Ezell’s archivist and curator, Gene Friedman, before being transferred to Washington University.

Ezell’s remarkable maquettes showcase the imaginative designs he has created in theaters throughout the country. Some notable examples show dragons in medieval villages, a gory setting for Macbeth, a lush English garden, and a dilapidated Victorian mansion. These sculptural theater models invite viewers to examine tiny details and imagine the theater productions that unfolded in the stage sets as they would have been constructed for performances.

John Ezell’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Maquette, 2004), created for a performance at the Repertory Theatre in St. Louis. From the Washington University in St. Louis John Ezell Collection.
John Ezell’s Othello (Maquette, 1990), created for a performance at the legendary Folger Theater. From the Washington University in St. Louis John Ezell Collection.
John Ezell’s Dragons (Maquette, 1988). From the Washington University in St. Louis John Ezell Collection.

Mary Strauss and the Arts

Mary Strauss received a Master of Arts Degree in art and archeology from Washington University in 1969 and has had a long career in supporting the arts in many forms.

Mary is perhaps best known for overseeing the restoration of the beloved Fox Theater in St. Louis and helping to establish Grand Center, St. Louis’ Arts and Entertainment District. Strauss is co-owner of the Fox Theatre and of Fox Theatricals in New York, whose productions have received over 80 Tony Award nominations. She also supports youth arts programs and serves on numerous national and local arts boards.

Mary Strauss collects a broad range of materials, from fine art prints and photographs to film posters, costumes, and props.

Her collection of dresses includes costumes from Cleopatra (1963), Dynasty (1980s), and Titanic (1997) among numerous other major productions. Mary has many dresses by prominent designers, including Edith Head, Bob Mackie, and Helen Rose.

Mary Strauss has generously loaned Washington University Libraries the gorgeous Poker Alice dress from her personal costume collection for the duration of the Lasting Legacies exhibit.

Mary Strauss receiving a Founder’s Day award at Washington University in St. Louis in 2012. Washington University Archives, Photographic Services Collection.
Actress Elizabeth Taylor in the 1987 film, Poker Alice.