Robert A. Lawson fonds
General material designation
- Graphic material
- Textual record
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Issuing jurisdiction and denomination (philatelic)
5149 slides : col.
579 photographs : b&w
7 photographs : col.
ca. 5593 negatives
0.3 m textual records
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Name of creator
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.
Scope and content
The fonds consists primarily of colour slides and black and white negatives that chronicle Lawson's activities over 25 years as a CBC production designer, particularly with colleague and friend, producer Norman Campbell, and their collaborations for CBC artistic television productions such as The Gondoliers (1962), Romeo and Juliet with Celia Franca (1965), Hansel and Gretel with Maureen Forrester (1970), Giselle (1975), Cinderella with Veronica Tennant, Jeremy Blanton and Lois Smith (1968), Swan Lake with Erik Bruhn and Lois Smith (1961 and 1967), the Nutcracker with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (1974), la Rondine with Teresa Stratas (1971), The Wonder of It All (1972), and the Karen Kain Super Special (1978). Other programs documented include More Joy in Heaven (1964), Hatch's Mill, The Masseys, Stephen Leacock, Wayne and Shuster television specials, A Case for the Court, Troubled Heart, Wojeck, and The Road among other programmes. There are also previously unseen photographs of pianist Glenn Gould with violinist Yehudi Menuhin in 1965, and in conversation with Bruno Monsaingeon in 1980. The photographs include many candid shots of iconic Canadian stage and television personalities including Gordon Pinsent, Celia Franca, Karen Kain, Veronica Tennant, Nadia Potts, Erik Bruhn, Norman Campbell, Wayne and Shuster, Christopher Plummer, Maureen Forrester, Margot Kidder, Robert Farnon, and others. Records also include some storyboards, drawings, slides and notes related to the Chroma-Key technique developed by Lawson and Campbell, program reviews, clippings, complimentary and congratulatory letters to and from Lawson, and about Lawson's work.
Immediate source of acquisition
Donated by Lawson in 2007.
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Restrictions on access
No restrictions on access.
Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication
Copyright for the Lawson photographs has been transferred to York University in Toronto. Requests for permission to publish should be directed to the University Archivist.
Generated finding aid
Related records can be found in the Norman Campbell fonds (F0476). Other related material may be found in the Robert Christie fonds (F0192), Victor Feldbrill fonds (F0483), Mavor Moore fonds (F0359), Eric Till fonds (F0503).
The fonds comprises the following accessions: 2007-037. No further accruals are expected.
Place access points
Name access points
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (Subject)
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Dates of creation, revision and deletion
2008/07/04 Dubeau:. (Creation)
2008/07/04 Awaiting review by the Data Collection Archivist
2008/07/07 Dubeau. Completed bio sketch and scope and content notes.
2008/07/08 Dubeau. Correction re copyright transfer.
2014/07/22 Migrated to AtoM.
2019/01/03 KCP, NZ. Post-migration metadata clean-up. Addition of GMD and accession numbers. Published description and generated finding aid.