Editor’s note: this post was originally published in February 2013 and has been updated to reflect platform changes.

Did you know that Artstor contains publicly available collections that cover everything from flowers and turtles to medicine labels and political memorabilia–and are are also a great resource for theatre studies? Below, we discuss five collections which offer a fascinating view of the history and art of theatre, including books, costume and set design, and even photographs of productions.

The more than 900 images in Cornell University’s Theatre Prints and Books from Early Modern Japan archive derive from three distinct collections: the William Elliot Griffis Collection, the Maeda Ai Collection, and a private collection that has been made available on request to the University for research, exhibition, or teaching purposes. The library materials consist of woodblock printed books on the theater, from the eighteenth through late nineteenth century, while the bulk of the private collection is single sheet prints, from the same period. Materials on kabuki dominate both collections, although there are also materials on nō, kyōgen, puppet theater, dance, and other performance traditions. Highlights of the collections include a color-printed kyōka (comic poetry) album that takes kabuki as its subject; Bakin and Toyokuni’s surrealistic Pictorial of Actor-Famous Sites; and single sheet prints of actors backstage, preparing costumes, and makeup.

Lawrence University’s Department of Theatre Arts Productions collection contains nearly 1,000 images, programs, and other materials from theater productions produced by the Lawrence University Department of Theatre Arts. The materials highlight the creative work of the actors, directors, set designers, and many others who bring these productions to life on the stage.


The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Motley Collection of Theatre & Costume Design is a rare collection of original materials on the theatre comprising more than 5,000 items from more than 150 productions in England and the United States. These materials include costume and set designs, sketches, notes, photographs, prop lists, storyboards, and swatches of fabric. The Motley Group consisted of Margaret Harris, her sister Sophia Harris, and Elizabeth Montgomery, who designed sets and costumes from 1932 to 1976 for plays by Shakespeare and modern classics, opera, ballet, and motion pictures. Their designs were used in productions in the West End of London, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the English National Opera, and in the United States on Broadway and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.


The University of Rhode Island’s Theatre Department Images collection is comprised of more than 150 photographs of productions with costumes and original costume sketches by resident costume designer Joy Spanabel Emery, her students, and guest artists between 1968 and 2000.

Finally, the Trinity College Watkinson Library: Ephemera: Theater, British Playbills collection comprises about four hundred 18-19th century British theater playbills which  display a wealth of information about upcoming productions, including play and music titles, roles and performers, and related information such as cost of seats and where to purchase tickets.

Find out what else Artstor’s public collections have to offer! Browse the full list of collections here.