A Theatre of Color: Costume Design for the Black Theatre


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A Theatre of Color:

Costume Design for the Black Theatre by Myrna Colley-Lee

July 20, 2014 - January 4, 2015

Curated by Shirley Reiff Howarth, A Theatre of Color: Costume Design for the Black Theatre by Myrna Colley-Lee consists of more than 100 original costume designs, and over 80 production photographs, including full scale production images from several productions portraying the black experience from before World War II through the Pulitzer Prize-winning works of August Wilson.

Costume design is one of the most important tools that help the playwright bring his artistic vision to life. The costume designer’s creation of the costumes is like a lens that focuses on the essential message of the play and reveals the basic personalities and motivations of the characters. In addition to being a survey and closer look at the costume designs of Myrna Colley-Lee, A Theatre of Color: Costume Design for the Black Theatre encompasses the larger world of theater costume design and, specifically, the world of Black Theatre during the second half of the 20th century — plays, playwrights, and repertory companies, that produced an extraordinary series of works that have become landmarks in the history of black culture, of American Literature, and of the American theater.

Colley-Lee played a pivotal role in creating costumes during a period in American history when black theater was struggling to stay alive and relevant. Her exhibit helps the viewer examine the ideological growth and creative tensions of the different paradigms that make up black theater through the present day.

Myrna webAbout Myrna Colley-Lee: Colley-Lee was born in Hamlet, North Carolina. She completed her BFA in art education from the Women’s College of the University of North Carolina and studied scene painting and properties at Brooklyn College, New York. In 1980 she received her MFA in science and costume design from Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition to her design work, Colley-Lee serves as a commissioner for the Mississippi Arts Commission and is on several boards, including the Charleston Arts and Revitalization Effort, Inc., and the Gertrude C. Ford Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Mississippi. A few of her credits include the CableACE Award–winning video production of Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day Journey into Night, the world premier of the opera X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X performed at Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, and Mothers, commissioned by Bill Cosby and performed at the Crossroads Theatre Company in Brunswick, New Jersey.

A Theatre of Color: Costume Design for the Black Theatre is free with museum admission, and is made possible by Exhibition Partner General Motors Company and Arts & Education Supporter General Motors Foundation.


With generous support
GM Foundation CMYK