Office of Public Information and Communications Columbia University New York, NY 10027 (212) 854-5573
Columbia University received a $65,000 grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation to support the cataloging and processing of the Joseph Urban archives, which have provided modern designers, experts in historic preservation, art historians, social historians and students of the theater with invaluable information and artifacts. Objects from the collection have been lent in recent years to the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, the National Museum of American History and, most recently, to the Kunsthalle, Vienna, as part of a major exploration of the works of Austrian émigré architects. The Joseph Urban archives include some of the most requested items in Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Urban, a Viennese designer, emigrated to the United States in 1912 to design sets for the Boston Opera. Brought to New York City by Flo Ziegfeld, Urban created sets and productions for the Ziegfeld Follies and the Metropolitan Opera from 1915 until his death in 1932. Active as an architect and interior designer as well, Urban designed the Central Park Casino, the recently restored auditorium of the New School for Social Research, the Palm Beach villa Mar-a-Lago, and the Hearst Building.
Urban's contributions to the theater and later to the movies included a dramatic and scenic vision that helped revolutionize American entertainment in the period between the two world wars. His stylistic vocabulary ranged from art deco to international and was characterized by sophisticated innovations in the use of color and light. By the mid-twenties, his name was synonymous with modern design in the United States and his work linked with that of his friends and colleagues Raymond Hood, Ely Jacques Kahn, Ralph Walker, Robert Edmond Jones, and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Among the approximately 17,000 items in the collection donated to Columbia by his wife, Mary, his daughter, Gretl Urban, and his biographers, Randolph Carter and Robert Reed Cole, are watercolor sketches, architectural renderings, photographs, correspondence and more than 300 three-dimensional stage models created by Urban and his workshop.
The Joseph Urban archives are part of the Dramatic Museum collection founded at Columbia in the early years of the century by Brander Matthews, the nation's first professor of drama.
The Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, established in 1976 by Gladys Delmas, recognizes and supports programs in the humanities, libraries, and the performing arts. This Delmas award supplements a grant of $220,000 for work on the Urban archives awarded to Columbia University by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1995. The Delmas grant will enable the staff to inventory, rehouse, and catalog those parts of the collection not covered by the NEH award and to provide increased scholarly access to archives.