Imagined Spaces: the NAC’s online maquette collection

Set design by Jean Hazel in the NAC Studio for La Société des Métis (2005), text by Normand Chaurette.

One of my most memorable experiences as NAC archivist happened soon after starting the job in 1989.

On a visit to the NAC warehouse, I uncovered a collection of mysterious black boxes containing maquettes – three-dimensional scale models of sets. They were created by designers for NAC-produced plays and operas going back almost to the very first production in our performance history. For a newly appointed theatre archivist, this collection was a revelation.

Stored along with the stage scenery, props, and racks full of costumes from past NAC productions, the boxes were stacked in a small room at the back of the warehouse. Written on each box was the name of an NAC theatrical production from programming seasons gone by.

The maquettes were very fragile, and someone had taken great care to preserve them, protect them in solid storage boxes, and fully identify each one. Some of the greatest names in Canadian and international design for the stage were represented: Josef Svoboda, Michael Eagan, Guy Neveu, John Ferguson, Robert Prévost, Brian Jackson, Susan Benson, and more.

One of the largest and most important collections of its kind

The NAC has one of the largest and most important collections of its kind and maquettes are added every year as they are created for new NAC productions. And you can explore them and other related archival records of set design in “Imagined Spaces.”  This is very exciting for those of us who have worked so faithfully to preserve the collections.

As archival records of set design, maquettes are unrivaled. Their preservation is an important function because the actual set is almost always disposed of – often immediately after a production closes – primarily due to space and cost constraints of keeping it.

While photographs and video recordings of NAC theatrical productions exist, they do not capture the same sense of three-dimensional production design that a maquette does. Maquettes can reveal colour, texture, perspective, as well as the more pragmatic but equally important elements such as entrance and exit positions.

The maquettes are yours to explore.

– Gerry Grace

Explore Imagined Spaces: Scenic Design at the National Arts Centre.

Learn more about the set design above from La Société des Métis, by Jean Hazel.

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