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Oliver Smith


1918 – 1994

Oliver Smith (February 13, 1918 – January 23, 1994) was a master scenographer of the American theater. Smith designed numerous sets for Broadway musicals, the American Ballet Theatre, operas, and films over his legendary career which spanning over 40 years between the 1940s – 1990s. Throughout his career, Smith was nominated for twenty-five Tony Awards, often multiple times in the same year, and won ten, most notably for his work on West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Camelot, and Holly, Dolly!

Smith’s Broadway set designs began in the era when settings were primarily painted backdrops, which he painted in the “painterly” tradition inspired by the work of Henri Mattise, an early 20th-century French artist known for his color and fluid brush strokes. However, his work for the 1967 musical comedy, How Now Dow Jones reflects the evolution of his style influenced by geometric forms found in the work of Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, and Wassily Kandinsky. The original design was a collage painted on newsprint with stock quotes from the Wall Street Journal. Smith typically conceptualized a set design on a small scale, and studio assistants would recreate the design as a technical drawing, where Smith would then color the elevations himself. His versatility as a designer led the producer David Merrick to say of him in 1965: “Most designers are masters of a single color. So if the basic color of your show is red, you get so-and-so; if it’s green, you get somebody else. You can get Smith for anything.” 

Smith further expanded on his design process in a 1980s interview, stating: “If it is a musical piece, first I listen to the score. If it is a musical comedy, I listen to the score and the lyrics. Never on cassette. I cannot hear it that way. It has to be performed. I find listening to the score performed by the composer and lyricist, even if they play badly and sing off-key – very few of them are particularly good – gives you an enormous emotional feeling. That generates my excitement. Then I get my ideas. I relate very emotionally to music.” Smith overall had a keen sense of stage space and architectural design.

Smith was on the faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he taught master classes on scenic design for 22 years until his death in 1994.


Myrtle Beach’s Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum strives to be one of the finest visual arts museums in the Carolinas. With 11 galleries that change throughout the year, Myrtle Beach’s only art museum offers exhibitions featuring paintings, textiles, sculpture, photography, video, ceramics, assemblage, collage and more. A visit to the Art Museum’s exhibitions can be enhanced by its lively programming, including artist receptions, tours, lectures, workshops and classes for both adults and children.