Broadway designer’s art on display

Henry Muttoo is hoping the work of Oliver Smith will inspire some young local artists. An exhibit of Mr. Smith's work is on display at the Harquail Theatre through Saturday. Rosaria Sinisi holds the copyright for the images featured here. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

The sketches, paintings and design drawings on display at the Harquail Theatre take Henry Muttoo back to his youth.

The artistic director for Cayman National Cultural Foundation says the framed pieces hanging in the theater’s alcoves are the kinds of work he was enamoured by as a student of theater design. He wanted to share that with the Cayman community, he said.

For the next four days, works by Oliver Smith, one of the best known set designers for Broadway, will be on display at the theater.

Mr. Smith, who studied architecture at Penn State, became a struggling artist in New York City in the early 1940s. His cousin suggested he try using his talents for theater sets.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Smith, who died in 1994, designed the sets for such iconic productions as “Hello Dolly,” “West Side Story,” “My Fair Lady,” and others. Among the pieces in the exhibit are sketches, paintings and blueprints for such productions as “Camelot,” “Gigi” and “Paint Your Wagon.”

“This brings back terrific memories,” Mr. Muttoo said, while showing off the various pieces in the show. “During my time in college, Oliver Smith was one of the people we looked at.”

Mr. Muttoo left Guyana to study theater in the 1970s in London. A friend dissuaded him from pursuing acting, telling him that his accent would keep him from getting work.

“I always liked to draw,” Mr. Muttoo said. “So he said, ‘Do design.’”

Mr. Muttoo went on to do just that, as well as to direct in the theater. He’s hoping that some Cayman students will find the same kind of interest he did. Four schools are scheduled to visit the exhibit, he said.

“The idea is to inspire young artists,” he said. “Hopefully, they can come and fall in love with the idea of design.”

Hosting the traveling exhibit came about as part of a cooperative relationship between the cultural foundation and the University of South Florida.

Mr. Muttoo said the two entities have been engaging in joint projects for the past 12 years. Mostly he has worked with the university’s theater professor, Patrick Finelli.

“When Patrick told me, ‘I’m doing this great exhibition on Oliver Smith,’ I said, ‘We’d like to bring it here.’”

Mr. Muttoo said he hopes people will appreciate the display, not only for its historic importance, but its aesthetic value.

“It’s such beautiful artwork,” he said.

The work is on display here until Saturday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 949-5477 or email [email protected]

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