The Jocelyn Herbert Archive

On Monday 16th February 2015 the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation hosted a reception to celebrate the move of the Jocelyn Herbert Archive to the National Theatre Archive in the NT Studio on The Cut. Speeches were by Sir Nicholas Hytner, Sir John Sorrell, Sandra Lousada and Professor Eileen Hogan- Director of the Jocelyn Herbert Archive. The Rootstein Hopkins Foundation which has supported the Jocelyn Herbert Archive during its time at Wimbledon College of Arts will continue to fund research relating to the collection now that her archive is housed at the National Theatre.

Jocelyn Herbert (1917 – 2003) was a seminal figure in postwar twentieth-century British theatre. Her approach altered the way directors and audiences came to view stage design and contributed to a fundamental shift in the relationship between writer, director and designer. The Jocelyn Herbert Archive is one of the most complete and extensive of the period, covering many world premieres of plays which have since come to be seen as twentieth century classics.  She wanted her archive to be used in a practical way by students and other researchers and made as accessible to them as possible. She had a long connection with the theatre department at Wimbledon College of Arts, was often called in as an external examiner or otherwise to advise the students, and in 2000 she received an honorary doctorate. In 2008 the archive moved to Wimbledon College of Art and was installed in a newly built, environmentally controlled room. This, together with the digitisation of all the drawings and the cataloguing of the archive was made possible by a substantial grant from the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.

The archive consists of over 6,000 of Herbert’s drawings for set and costume designs spanning student work made at the London Theatre Studio in the late 1930s, to the notebook she was using on the day she died. It includes production photographs, notebooks relating to film and theatre and to personal life, sketchbooks, diaries and contact books, three-dimensional stage models, ground plans, research material, budgets invoices and Minutes relating to meetings, posters and programmes, scripts, moulds for masks, masks and puppet figures.  Herbert’s career was characterised by long collaborative relationships with directors, writers and actors, and her archive embraces a significant body of material and correspondence with figures such as Lindsay Anderson, Samuel Beckett, Tony Harrison, John Osborne, Tony Richardson, David Storey and Arnold Wesker. As well as her vital connection with the English Stage Company at the Royal Court theatre, she had an influential role at the National Theatre, designing many plays there and as a member of Lawrence Olivier’s Building Committee for Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre South Bank design.  Olivier’s letter asking Jocelyn to become the company’s resident designer (a role she declined) is among the correspondence relating to her relationship with the National.

From 2008 to 2014 the archive has been used by students and staff from Wimbledon College of Arts as an inspiration for re-enacting historical designs and as a catalyst for new work and exhibitions. It has also been the subject for graduate and doctoral research both within the UAL and externally. Collaborative relationships have been established with the University of Stirling, where Lindsay Anderson’s archive is held, University of Reading in relation to Samuel Beckett’s archive, the V & A, which holds the archive of the English Stage Company, the Archive of Performance in Greek and Roman Drama at the University of Oxford and, most importantly, the National Theatre, host for the Jocelyn Herbert Lectures, first given in 2010 by Richard Eyre and funded by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation for ten years. This lecture series is designed to increase public awareness of a largely invisible discipline within an otherwise closely monitored activity. Other lecturers so far have been the designer ULTZ and the playwright Christopher Hampton.

In 2014 an exciting collaboration was established between UAL and the National Theatre, whereby the National Theatre has become the new home for the archive. This coincides with far-reaching developments at the National which put design and education at the heart of the theatre. The move provides improved access for all students, and annual internships for CCW’s (Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon Colleges of Art) MA Theatre Design and Curating and Collections courses. New PhD and post-doctoral work will be funded by the Rootstein Hopkins Foundation.  A CCW research project to create new work inspired by Herbert’s archive will start in 2015. Wimbledon Space is currently exhibiting Work From the Collections #3: Jocelyn Herbert and Samuel Beckett, curated by students from Chelsea’s MA Curating & Collections course.

Top image: Erin Lee talking to colleagues about the Jocelyn Herbert Archive in the National Theatre Context. Photo by Karen DiFranco.

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