Fredric Woodbridge Wilson

Frederic WilsonThe Dance Heritage Coalition sadly announces the passing of our colleague and board member, Fredric Woodbridge Wilson (“Ric”). Ric was the curator at the Harvard Theatre Collection. He passed away on Saturday, May 15, 2010.

In honor of Ric and in recognition of his concern that archival dance materials receive the processing and care needed to preserve them and make them available for study and teaching, the DHC board has established a fund to honor him that will support our program for DHC Fellows in Dance Preservation. The Fellowship stipend is awarded to early-career librarians or archivists or to advanced students in dance history or library sciences, and Fellows receive mentorship at one of our ten member dance archives after which they complete a practicum assisting a small- or mid-size dance collection at another institution.

Contributions to the Fredric Woodbridge Wilson Memorial Fund will be used to meet the required match of the DHC's new IMLS 2011 to 2014 grant to support an expansion of the DHC Fellowship Program. All donations will be acknowledged. To contribute, please click the button below.

Please click here to read the full obituary.

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson
Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection

Fredric Woodbridge Wilson, Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, died on May 15, 2010, of pancreatic cancer. He was 62 and lived in Watertown, Mass.

In thirteen years at Harvard, Mr. Wilson curated more than forty exhibitions, on such diverse aspects of theater as Paul Robeson's famous production of Othello, early twentieth-century American musical theater, the crossover between nineteenth-century museums and theaters, and the artwork of Al Hirschfeld. Many of his exhibitions explored his favorite corner of theatrical history, nineteenth-century British theater, including British Theatrical Caricatures, British Pantomime, British Toy Theater, and Gilbert and Sullivan Operas, a subject on which he was widely considered an expert. His last (and largest) exhibition, which opened in April 2009, was a centenary celebration of Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.

Several of his exhibitions traveled to other institutions. His Hirschfeld was shown at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York and at the McNay Museum in San Antonio, and his centenary exhibition on the Harvard Theatre Collection was also shown at the Grolier Club in New York.

Mr. Wilson was born at Point Pleasant, New Jersey, on September 8, 1947. He was raised on the New Jersey Shore, where he had a home until 2008. His father, Fred W. Wilson, Jr., was a school teacher, and his mother, Ruth Chapman Wilson, was a homemaker. His early interests were music, science and mathematics. An ambitious science hobbyist, in his freshman year of high school he won a nationwide contest to design a two-stage model rocket, sponsored by the National Association of Rocketry and Estes Industries, the largest industry sponsor of model rocketry.

He attended Lehigh University, initially as a physics major but ultimately as its first-ever music major, graduating in 1969. At Lehigh he developed a deep interest in choral music, having served as assistant conductor and then as a manager of the university's esteemed glee club. Upon graduation, he returned to his own high school to become its choral director. He spent the next ten years conducting choirs at Wall High School and at several local colleges. While in graduate school in musicology at New York University, he began conducting choirs in New York, including the Washington Square Chorus, the choir of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and several early music groups. Over a period of twelve years he conducted more than 500 choral performances, most of unaccompanied music from all periods.

Mr. Wilson was also fascinated by computer programming, having been one of the earliest purchasers of an IBM personal computerâ??whose cost in 1981 was exactly equal to his accumulated pension from ten years of school teaching. Self-taught in assembly language and C+, he developed computer applications for arts and humanities, especially a suite of text processing utility programs called "DataKit," which was widely distributed in academic and library circles in the 1980s. For several years he was president of the Northeast Association for Computers in the Humanities, based in New York.

While conducting choirs, Mr. Wilson had also been working as an editor and arranger for several music publishers, and published more than 50 arrangements of choral and early music. In 1981 he and a friend, Timothy Broege, a New Jersey-based composer, formed an independent publishing company called Allaire Music Publications. In 1982, he was awarded four first-place awards for excellence in editing early music by the American Choral Directors Association and the Music Publishers Association.

In 1981, Mr. Wilson was appointed to the staff of the Pierpont Morgan Library, now the Morgan Library and Museum, after having become a familiar presence there as a researcher in music and opera. He was the Curator of the Morgan's renowned Gilbert and Sullivan Collection, the largest archive and collection in the world related to the Savoy Operas, a collection that also included music, poetry, journalism, and artwork of the Victorian period. At the Morgan Library, Mr. Wilson curated several exhibitions, most importantly a show in 1989 on the Gilbert and Sullivan Operas that was one of the library's largest-ever exhibitions.

Mr. Wilson left the Morgan Library in 1996 to become the Curator of the Harvard Theatre Collection, the world's oldest collection of theatrical material and still one of the largest, founded in 1901. He was the sixth curator of the collection, responsible for all acquisitions for the collection from the fields of theatre, dance, musical theatre, opera, and all forms of popular entertainment from magic to circus to minstrel shows. A week after being invited to Harvard, he received the news that he had been awarded a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation for his research in the history of theatrical publishing.

Mr. Wilson's publications included books and articles on Gilbert and Sullivan, on the Renaissance composer Jacob Handl, the Ballets Russes, and most recently on the British theatrical photographer Angus McBean, which was published in the spring of 2009 by David R. Godine. He had made a special study of the history of theater and theaters in Boston, and over the past decade he led many walking tours of the city's historical theater sites.

In addition to producing exhibitions and exhibition check-lists, he lectured widely and organized a number of academic conferences. In 1989 he organized a conference on nineteenth-century British musical theatre, co-sponsored by the Morgan Library and New York University. At Harvard he organized major symposia on the choreographer George Balanchine in 2004, and, in the spring of 2009, on Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In 1999, 2002, and 2005, he convened roundtable meetings of the curators of the principal institutional theatre collections, all held at Harvard. In the 1970s he organized two festivals for chamber choirs performing a cappella repertoire.

Mr. Wilson was a familiar figure at Boston arts performances, having attended more than 150 performances in many seasons. He was a subscriber to many of the city's major music, opera, ballet, and theatre organizations, and attended most Harvard student productions and plays as well as operas and concerts presented by other universities and conservatories. He was an active member of the Society of printers, the Harvard Musical Association, the Old Cambridge Shakespeare Association, the Signet Society at Harvard, and the Senior Common Room of Lowell House, and a proprietor of the Boston Athenaeum. He served on the board of directors of the Dance Heritage Coalition, the Theatre Library Association, and the Music Publishers Association, among other organizations.

He is survived by a sister, Elaine Chapman Mazzara, a brother-in-law, Walter Mazzara, of Brick, New Jersey, and two nieces. Arrangements are private.