Oliver Messel Archive


Oliver Hilary Sambourne Messel (1904 - 1978) was a celebrated theatre, ballet and film designer of the first half of the twentieth century.

The personal papers of Oliver Messel that are held here at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection were those that he took with him when he moved to Barbados in 1966 and those created during his residence in Barbados. On Oliver Messel's death in 1978, the contents of his house and studio were left to his nephew Thomas Messel who retained custody of them until they were sold to the University of Bristol Theatre Collection in 2015. 

The purchase of the Personal Archive of Oliver Messel happened with support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Friends of the National Libraries and others.  The cataloguing and conservation of the Personal Archive of Oliver Messel has been made possible with funding from the Heritage Lottery fund, the Linbury Trust and others. 

The Archive has been catalogued as part of a two-year project Sharing the Messel Magic to catalogue, conserve and share this important collection.

To find out more about the project and the Archive please visit our Exploring the Oliver Messel Archive pages which includes an illustrated biography, links to our Oliver Messel Schools' Resources, an opportunity to explore our recent exhibition Wake Up and Dream (including the audio installation The Caviar Outlook) and a link to watch 'I went to a marvellous party' a performance and installation inspired by the Archive by Tom Marshman.

What the collection holds

The Personal Archive of Oliver Messel contain correspondence and material relating to his professional commissions as well as correspondence, sketches and photographs relating to his architectural commissions after 1966. There are also photographs of Messel's friends, acquaintances and of visits to various places. 

The online catalogue for this collection can be viewed here: 

OHM - Oliver Messel Archive

Oliver Messel holding a sparkler in each hand
The magic of Oliver Messel Image credit: James De Vries
Oliver Messel's bluebird dress design
Oliver Messel's costume design from 1976 American Ballet Theatre New York production of Sleeping Beauty. OHM/1/2/4/33. Image credit: University of Bristol Theatre Collection
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