Lasting Legacies: John Ezell Collection

Alum John Ezell.

In anticipation of the official opening of the newly transformed Olin Library on May 1, 2018, we would like to preview some of the new spaces and exhibitions. Lasting Legacies, the inaugural exhibition of the Thomas Gallery on Level 1 of John M. Olin Library, pays tribute to seven influential Washington University alumni whose work has enriched their respective professions and communities.

Lasting Legacies celebrates Washington University alumni’s unique passions, diverse accomplishments, and intellectual curiosityand will be on view through Fall 2018.


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).

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.This piece is currently on display in Olin Library’s Thomas Gallery.

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 for theater companies around the world. Ezell’s work is known for its eclecticism, scholarship and respect for the original text. The Washington University Dowd Modern Graphic History Library’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.

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.This piece is currently on display in Olin Library’s Thomas Gallery.

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 Dragons (Maquette, 1988). From the Washington University in St. Louis John Ezell Collection.

John Ezell enjoys using experimental and unconventional materials, and was one of the first American designers to use polystyrene and other thermoplastics extensively on stage.  His collection demonstrates his interest in using a variety media, such as watercolor, gouache, collage, montage, and composite photographic and electronic computer imagery.

John Ezell’s A Mound of Earth in a Parched Landscape (Maquette, 2006), created for a performance of Beckett’s Happy Days at the 4th International Theatre Olympics, Istanbul, Turkey. From the Washington University in St. Louis John Ezell Collection.

On Display at the Thomas Gallery

Pictures cannot do these models justice, so make sure you come by and see them in person in the Thomas Gallery before the end of the exhibit!

The Thomas Gallery fosters discovery and inspiration through the display of Washington University Libraries’ vast and distinct collections. The exhibition space is stewarded by the Department of Special Collections and is a lively pathway that spans the distance between the north and south entrances of John M. Olin Library.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.