Through the Eyes of P. W. Costello: Early Scranton Theatre

P. W. Costello and Family Art CollectionNote: This article is the first in a series highlighting the P. W. Costello and Family Art Collection, an online repository for digitized images of original and published artwork by master penman P. W. Costello (1866-1935) and his descendants. This digital Collection was recently donated to the Weinberg Memorial Library by Thomas W. Costello, great-grandson of the artist, and is available to the public online at www.scranton.edu/library/costello.

Scranton, Pennsylvania was at one time a thriving center for live performance – particularly theatre – and was a frequent stop for plays, musicals and vaudeville acts on their way to New York City.  A number of beautiful and often lavish theatres were built throughout the city and housed historic performances by many popular and up-and-coming talents of the day.  Some of these people and events were captured artistically in drawings by P. W. Costello (1866-1935), a talented and highly skilled master penman from the Minooka section of Scranton (shown at left in 1906). Digitized images of these theatre-related drawings are a highlight of the P. W. Costello and Family Art Collection, recently acquired by Weinberg Memorial Library through the generosity of Thomas W. Costello, great-grandson of the artist.

In the late 1890s, P. W. Costello was gaining a reputation for the high-quality engrossings, portraits, and ornamental penmanship he produced from his downtown studio. At the same time, he was a local restauranteur, serving as joint proprietor (with James Fleming) of the Arbor Café on Wyoming Avenue.  Costello used the Café walls as a gallery, displaying his sketches of local and national figures that lined the walls of this restaurant. A number of these drawings depicted actors and actresses who had performed close to the restaurant at such theatres and venues as the Lyceum, the Poli, the Majestic, and the Academy of Music.  Performers captured by Costello who made Scranton appearances included Maude Adams (well-known for her lead role in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, pictured in Costello’s drawing at right), Junius Brutus Booth (father of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth), Maclyn Arbuckle (who, although originally a stage actor, went on to start his own silent film company), Alice Brady (actress and daughter of New York producer William A. Brady) and Robert Edeson (veteran stage and silent film actor who appeared in at least four Scranton stage productions).  Most of these drawings are black and white pen and ink, although there are a few where Costello employed gray or colored shading.

Costello usually based his drawings on photographs, engravings, cabinet cards, or other promotional materials, and these were often paired with an autographed card or letter, which he purchased from a dealer or obtained from another source.  A few autographs are originals, likely acquired by the artist firsthand.  Each drawing manages to expertly convey the unique personality of the particular performer or the character they are portraying.  Costello later went on to create a similar display in the 1920s as co-owner of another Scranton restaurant which featured his work, this time on Adams Avenue, the Oak Café.

In addition to drawing portraits of actors and actresses, Costello also lettered and illustrated theatre advertisements.  One delightful example (shown at left) in the Costello Collection advertises a week-long 1904 production of Cupid and Company, a musical with a book by Scranton newspaperman Tracy Sweet and music by prolific Broadway composer A. Baldwin Sloane.  In addition to Costello’s skillful lettering, the intricate design features Cupid, a jester, a marotte, and other comic elements from the musical, as well as ribbons and acanthus leaves.

One of the interesting and important elements to note about these works by Costello is how they manage to preserve a portion of Scranton’s cultural history that – with few exceptions – has been largely undocumented.  Many of the actors and actresses captured in his drawings (as well as the splendid buildings in which they performed), while well-known in their own time, have largely been forgotten today.  And yet, all these individuals contributed much to Scranton’s arts scene during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and Scranton in turn likely made a significant impact on their careers.  The fact that many of these performers – such as May Irwin (Canadian vaudeville singer and actress), Elsie Janis (American musical comedy soprano) and Ada Rehan (Irish Shakespearean actress) – returned repeatedly to play Scranton, seems to indicate what an important stop the city was on both the national and international touring circuit.

The Weinberg Memorial Library is fortunate to present these digitized images – as well as many other digital reproductions of Costello’s artwork – in our digital collections, and we are pleased to share with the public a rare glimpse of Scranton’s early theatrical history through the eyes of a remarkable artist who lived through it – P. W. Costello.

For more information about the history of theatre in Scranton, check out Nancy McDonald’s book If You Can Play Scranton: A Theatrical History, 1871-2010 – available here at the Weinberg Memorial Library and at several other Pennsylvania libraries.

David Hunisch, Digital Services Assistant
Kristen Yarmey, Digital Services Librarian

The Weinberg Memorial Library is now hiring for an Associate Dean

The Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Memorial Library at the University of Scranton invites applications for a full-time, Associate Dean commencing June 2017. The Weinberg Memorial Library provides superior resources, services and programs in support of the dynamic scholarly, cultural and social endeavors of the University and the community at large. The Library plays an integral role in teaching, learning, and research on campus, fostering a culture of collaboration, interdisciplinarity, innovation, creativity, and sustainability. Our work environment is forward-looking and participatory, with an emphasis on transparency and faculty/staff development.

The successful candidate will bring strong communicative and interpersonal abilities in order to provide strategic/operational leadership for the Library; supervise the day-to-day management of the Library facilities, collections, and staff; collaborate with University faculty, administration, and staff; cultivate student learning and formation; work with academic departments to achieve and maintain accreditation; assess library services, programs, and evolving user needs; encourage integration of technology into the delivery of library services; and advocate in support of library services and programs that promote transformational education that is engaged, integrated, and global.

Qualified applicants should have an American Library Association-accredited Master’s Degree and six years of library/archives experience at a managerial or administrative level, including at least four years in an academic library.

Dr. Debra Pellegrino, Academic Dean of the Panuska College of Professional Studies at The University of Scranton, serves as the Search Committee Chair. Applicants must apply online at https://universityofscrantonjobs.com and include a letter of application summarizing qualifications, curriculum vitae and contact information for three references. Position is open until filled but applications will be reviewed beginning March 13, 2017.

The University of Scranton is a regional institution of more than 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students located in northeast Pennsylvania near the Pocono Mountains. Recognized nationally for the quality of its education, Scranton is one of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States. It is committed to providing liberal arts education and strong professional and pre-professional programs in the context of Ignatian educational principles, especially the care and development of the whole person. Drawing on the strengths that have made it a recognized leader in the Northeast (ranked 8th among the master’s level universities in the North by U.S. News and World Report. Scranton is committed to a culture of scholarship and excellence in teaching and is moving into the front ranks of American’s comprehensive universities.

The University of Scranton is committed to providing a safe and nondiscriminatory employment and educational environment. The University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, age, veteran status, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or other status protected by law. Sexual harassment, including sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The University does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its educational, extracurricular, athletic, or other programs or in the context of employment.

Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Digital Archive Now Available

The Weinberg Memorial Library now provides access to the digital archive of the Philadelphia Inquirer and also the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Below are links to these two digital archives as well as coverage details:

Philadelphia Inquirer (Current coverage includes 1860-2001, forthcoming in 2017 the paper will span 1829-2009) –  http://search.proquest.com/hnpphiladelphiainquirer

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Current coverage includes 1786-2003, forthcoming in 2017 the paper will span 1768-2008) – http://search.proquest.com/hnppittsburghpostgazette

The Philadelphia Inquirer is a morning daily newspaper that services the greater Philadelphia metropolitan area. It was founded in 1829 by John R. Walker and John Norvell, and is the third oldest surviving newspaper in the United States. The Inquirer has the eighteenth largest average weekly newspaper circulation in the country. Throughout its history, the Philadelphia Inquirer has won 19 Pulitzer prizes.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is the largest daily newspaper serving the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. It was first printed in 1786 and has gone through several name changes in its publication history. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has won six Pulitzer prizes since 1938.