Toronto Reference Library Costume and Set Design Collection and the Prague Quadrennial

June 1, 2011 | TRL ARTS

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Toronto Public Library owns more than 4500 stage designs including both costumes and sets. It is the largest collection of its kind in Canada. These drawings are important for research and they are also beautiful works of art. Are you interested in stage design?  Then read about our collection and this year’s Prague Quadrennial.


Do you enjoy interactive exhibitions with all kinds of performances and installations? Are you fascinated by creative stage architecture and extreme costumes? Always wanted to go to Prague? You should book a flight soon – because it is the year of the Prague Quadrennial, the International Competitive Exhibition of Scenography and Theatre Architecture. Held every four years and for the 11th time this year, the Quadrennial certainly is the most important exhibition for theatre design. From June 16 to June 26, artists from all over the world will present their work in the beautiful city of Prague, showing the most innovative set, costume, light and sound designs.


  Video impressions of the last Quadrennial in 2007


This year Canada and over 60 other countries will compete in the National Section of the contest. Over the years, many Canadian artists have displayed their work at the Prague Quadrennial.

One of the best-known Canadian designers is Mary Kerr, who has participated in the Prague Quadrennial multiple times. She has a wide-ranging career in Canadian production design and has worked in drama, opera, dance, film and exhibitions. In 1994 she was the designer for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Commonwealth Games in Victoria. Mary Kerr works as a professor of design at the University of Victoria. To find out more about her, view her personal website with the University of Victoria or check out these two books:


               Prague Quadrennial (2003)       Scenography in Canada

The Catalogue of the Prague Quadrennial 2003 provides a list of participating artists and artwork. Scenography in Canada is a very informative illustrated book, including information about Mary Kerr and some pictures of her designs.


The Performing Arts Department at the Toronto Reference Library owns more than 600 of Mary Kerr’s designs in its Stage Design Collection. This Collection is the largest of its kind in any Canadian public library, including more than 4500 stage designs from award-winning designers such as Michael Levine and Susan Benson. You can also view an online list of all the artists included in the Stage Design Collection.


Costume designs for Jonathan Jeremiah Peacham and Tiger Brown

Costume designs for Jonathan Jeremiah Peacham and Tiger Brown. © Mary Kerr, 1989.


The beautiful designs of Mary Kerr and all other designers can be easily accessed through the stage design facsimile card index on the 5th floor in the Performing Arts Centre. Theatre scholars, artists, students and all members of the public can search the index by designer, production or company to find production information and a photograph of the design.

Not enough inspiration? Then check out the Performing Arts Centre’s Printed Ephemera Collection to view theatre reviews, flyers, newspaper clippings, more than 40.000 programs dating back to the 19th century, film stills, photographs, posters and engravings. Or see the Picture Collection on TRL’s 4th floor to browse through pictures about every imaginable subject.

The Prague Quadrennial has a Student Section as well, giving young artists the chance to show their work in a professional space. Last time, art schools from all over Canada participated, including Toronto’s York University. To read about their experiences and have a look at their project, see York’s Newsletter for students.

If you can't afford to fly to Prague why not visit the Toronto Reference Library. Come use our collections (we're free of charge) and get yourself ready for the full stage design experience! We hope to see you at the library soon.