There are plenty of legends about journeys and locations of historical objects. The History Channel dissects the tales from George Washington's wooden teeth to Marilyn Monroe's dress from The Seven Year Itch. Then there's how the "Cowardly Lion" costume from The Wizard of Oz was found in a studio's trash bin and restored. These odd fragments and recovered relics visually exist in private collections or museums.
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Russia's treatment of its pieces is different. Since 1900, the Ministry of Culture has overseen the documentation of the theater-arts community. Every costume from every stage production or film has been archived through original costume-design sketches and swatches of the costume fabric. These theater-art pieces are numbered, certified, and stored with either the artist or the theater, or at a museum.
But these works aren't protected and stored by Russia for posterity. In fact, 165 of them are in a gallery in the Dallas arts district, lined against walls, stacked in corners, spilling off of chairs onto the floor of the Elizabeth's State-Thomas Gallery because of Russia's poor economy. The theaters no longer receive national funding, and public funds barely keep the theaters alive, so several theaters in St. Petersburg decided to sell off pieces of theater art to raise money to stay open. "It's sad that they're selling the theater art. It's a piece of their heritage, very unique to that country and time, but the larger goal is to continue arts funding now and make sure there is a place for theater in the future," says Kay Tinner-Petrie, co-owner of the gallery. Her partner, Michael Donnelly, bought the pieces in St. Petersburg in 1996 from artists and theaters.
Russian theater art
Elizabeth's State-Thomas Gallery,
2315 Routh St., Dallas
The pieces contain a sketch of a costume from a play, opera, or film, either alone, surrounded by scribbled notes and directions to seamstresses, or with pieces of the costume's fabric pinned in the bottom left-hand corner. The drawing is usually in pencil, with color added in pencil or paint. The sketches range from almost abstract to realistic to cartoonish. Likewise, the costumes run the gamut from military uniforms and Siberian folk-dancer dresses to flapper dresses and '70s glam-rock jumpsuits. The designs for Madame Butterfly look more like Japanese woodcuts than costume sketches. Though intended for archives, out of context the pieces are more "art" than document or memento, and definitely not anything to be seen hanging over at a table at the Moscow Planet Hollywood.