The Glaser Nobody Knows: 2 Milton Posters For Kappo Phelan’s Shadowlight Theatre

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In 1968, the School of Visual Arts hosted a performance of Kappo Phelan’s Shadowlight Theatre; Milton Glaser created not one but two posters publicizing the event. Here’s how he described the production in Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Overlook Press, 1973).

“[Phelan] created a modern version of a Balinese shadow play behind a screen no larger than a television set, using cutout scraps of paper, pieces of celluloid, and glass to produce tiny theatrical experiences of unusual visual interest. I’m always very moved by the combination of humble materials and intense imagination. What I tried to capture in this poster was the sense of light that was a basic component of this strange and special theatre.”

Milton produced the posters before he found an outlet for a more ambitious exploration of the effect of light on color (in, say, restaurant design and other interiors), but you can see his interest in the properties of color and light starting to take shape in this print project (an even more direct analog is Milton’s “Color Fuses” mural in Indianapolis which employs scale and an actual lighting system).

I haven’t been able to find much else about Shadowlight Theatre or Kappo Phelan, other than the fact that Phelan was the theater critic for Commonweal magazine. While at the artists’ retreat Yaddo in the 1940s, writer Jean Stafford met Phelan, whom she described as “a great (six feet tall) angry Irish girl with wit and charm and furious morality.”

Beth Kleber is the founding archivist of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives and the School of Visual Arts Archives in New York City. Kleber also curated the exhibition Primary Sources: Documenting SVA and the New York Art World 1966–1985.” She lectures on design history and research, and assists students and researchers with inquiries on everything from Push Pin Studios to the activities of the renowned artists who have taught at SVA. Kleber has also worked in trade publishing and began her librarian and archivist career at New York Public Library. For more from the Glaser/SVA Archives, head to Instagram.