Lawson, Robert A.

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Lawson, Robert A.

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1926-2019

History

Robert A. Lawson (1926-2019), production designer and teacher, was born in Toronto and attended Riverdale Collegiate Secondary School. Enlisting in the Canadian Army in 1944, he pursued studies at the Ontario College of Art through the Department of Veteran Affairs programme and graduated in 1950. After teaching and doing restoration work at the Toronto Art Gallery (now the Art Galley of Ontario) for five years, he pursued further conservation and restoration studies financed by scholarships both at the National Gallery in Ottawa, and in Istanbul on a Harvard scholarship. On his return from Turkey in 1954, Lawson began working in the paint shop of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) as a scenic artist painting scenery, furniture and props, was promoted to assistant designer in 1956, and designer in 1958. Lawson first designed for variety shows, but attracted particular recognition for his work in opera, ballet, operetta and plays, working closely with Norman Campbell during the heyday of live television performances at the CBC. He subsequently mastered the intricacies of designing for television film work in series such as The Road, Hatch's Mill, Wojeck and Quentin Durgens, M.P. During this period, Lawson, Campbell and colleague Joe Parkinson perfected the special effects Chroma-Key technique which facilitated the melding of two or more pictures into a single frame, resulting in invitations to lecture on the practice throughout North America. Lawson's work attracted Emmy nominations and other awards, and his professional expertise in all areas of production design was recognized in 1977 when he became the first designer elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is a founding member and past president of the Associated Designers of Canada. A self-taught photographer, Lawson acquired a habit of photographing the productions on which he worked, often developing his own photographs. In the process, Lawson created an invaluable archive documenting the early days of Canadian television. In 1980, Lawson was appointed as design and staging director for the CBC in British Columbia, Canada. He retired from the CBC in 1985 in the face of severe budget cuts that effectively closed the design department. Lawson died in Vancouver, BC on 5 August 2019.

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