This exhibit was created by Mr. Joshua Smead, the Curator of the Charles Lisanby Collection and Mr. John Kimbriel, the Assistant Curator of the Charles Lisanby Collection.
One of the—if not the—most influential television and theatrical set designers in history, Charles Lisanby was integral in developing color television, as we know it today. Along with designing the first telecast in color for CBS—an episode of a 1957 musical show called The Big Record—Lisanby helped develop techniques that expanded the possibilities of what sets could look like. Among these were a means to use neon without producing a buzzing sound, lighted steps, and large block letters that actors could sit on. Charles’ worldly travels and extreme ambition took scenic design to new heights with monumental set pieces such as his Parisian street set, which created an enormous buzz across Hollywood and the entire industry. Charles received his big break in 1948 when Ralph Levy hired him to design the set for an experimental broadcast of Billy the Kid, the first non-news program on evening television. Working for CBS, ABC, NBC and others on everything from made-for-television movies, mini-series, musicals, ballets, and Broadway shows, Lisanby influenced nearly every aspect of scenic design in all mediums in which he worked. For his incredible career, Lisanby won three Emmys, was nominated for thirteen more, and in January 2010 became the first and only production designer to be inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. Over his nearly fifty-year career, Lisanby became inarguably the most influential scenic designer ever.
A lesser-known chapter of Lisanby’s life—but one equally integral to his artistic legacy—is his close friendship with the artist Andy Warhol. After their initial introduction at a party in late 1955, Lisanby and Warhol became intimately related, meeting or at least talking on the phone daily. The two young artists would convene on the weekends to draw the various accoutrements that filled Lisanby’s New York apartment, sharing ideas and techniques that would be greatly influential in both men’s latter careers. In April of 1956, they departed together on a four-month excursion around the world, visiting various countries in Latin America, Asia, and Europe. The influence of this trip on Andy, who had previously never been outside Pittsburgh or New York, was profound. From characteristics like the flat, simple contours and cropping of Japanese prints, the use of gold in Siamese furniture, and the delicacy with which mystical and fantastical fairies are rendered in Netherlandish children’s books, Andy derived a lot of influences for his later works—what is now dubbed his “Pop art”.
In light of Charles’ incredible accomplishments, as well as the generous contributions of him and his family to JMU over the years, the Skyline Museum is proud to announce the opening of Mentor to an Icon: A Charles Lisanby and Andy Warhol Exhibit on Monday, January 23rd. The exhibit will highlight Lisanby’s most important contributions to the arts of television and scenic design, as well as introduce his relationship with Andy Warhol. Central to the exhibit will be an innovative iPad application that will allows visitors to interact with the art pieces, view interviews and videos of and about Lisanby, and learn more about the individual works exhibited. By checking out one of the ten iPads available at the Museum, visitors can to make their way through the virtual gallery and explore the exhibition on their own terms. Within the app, the stereotypical museum request to “not touch or disturb the artwork in any way” is wholly destroyed. On the contrary, visitors to Mentor to an Icon will be encouraged to click, spin, zoom, move, and interact with every piece in the show, as well as with several objects that are not physically present in the gallery. This incredible display of art, television and technology—which is also the grand opening of the new Skyline Museum on the ground floor of Festival Conference Center—will only run through March 2nd, so be sure not to miss it! Skyline Museum is open M-F from 10am-4pm in the Festival Conference and Student Center room 1108.