Upcoming Talk | Ellen Van Volkenburg, Nellie Cornish, and the Michigan Connection

Cornish (left) and Van Volkenburg (right) standing together in winter coats and hats outside, in front of a brick or stone building.

 "Photograph of Nellie Cornish and Ellen Van Volkenburg, ca. 1932." Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne Papers, Drawer 1. University of Michigan Special Collections Library

Researcher Mark Bocek will join us this Thursday, June 8th at 4:00pm in the Hatcher Gallery for a lecture focusing on actress, puppeteer, and U-M alumna Ellen Van Volkenburg and her role in co-founding Cornish College of the Arts’ Theater Department at Cornish College of the Arts with her then-husband Maurice Browne. 

Pagespread of booklet describing various departments of Cornish's program. Left-hand page describes Theater dept. and Van Volkenburg's qualifications; right-hand side shows photographs of productions.
Publicity Pamphlet. Box 19. Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne Papers, 1772-1983. University of Michigan Special Collections Library

In preparation for the 2018 centennial of the Cornish Theater Department - one of the oldest such departments in the country - Mark Bocek, Media Specialist in the Communications Department of Cornish College of the Arts, has been on a multi-year research journey to uncover the department’s history. His search led him to the University of Michigan's Special Collections Library, home to the Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne Papers.  

Full-body portrait photograph of Ellen Van Volkenburg in a long skirt and shawl.
Photograph of Ellen Van Volkenburg. Drawer 1. Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne Papers, 1772-1983. University of Michigan Special Collections Library

This talk will focus on Van Volkenburg and the remarkable skills she brought to Cornish in 1918, the excitement and glamour her new department brought to the school, and what its creation did to galvanize Cornish’s academic programs. Playing an important role is the intellectual history of of Cornish, whose central tenets found their way from Michigan to Seattle via Nellie Cornish’s mentor and former Michigan professor of music, Calvin Brainerd Cady, a colleague of John Dewey’s in the 1880s. Van Volkenburg and Cornish were two extraordinary women of signature similarities and differences, over-sized personalities who became lifelong friends. Ellen Van Volkenburg and Calvin Cady—the Michigan connection—helped Nellie Cornish create an educational institution the like of which the world had never seen and of a type that is rare even today.

Photograph of stage production at Cornish, with a woman standing in bright light in a large crack/door in a rock wall, with men and women watching her.
Photograph of Cornish Theatre Production. Ellen Van Volkenburg and Maurice Browne Papers, 1772-1983. University of Michigan Special Collections Library

For a peek at Van Volkenburg’s groundbreaking work in puppet theater, watch this clip of one of her Midsummer Night’s Dream productions from British Pathé (1932).

View video on YouTube

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