The Shaw Center has Shone Brightly for Three Decades

ShawFrom the day the 1982 Homecoming play The Music Man premiered as the first major production in The Shaw Center for the Performing Arts, to the long-anticipated dedication of the new Shaw at this year’s Homecoming, the vision of a family named Shaw has transformed how the people of southern Iowa and northern Missouri experience the arts.

Thirty years and thousands of plays, concerts, exhibitions, recitals, performances, church services, baccalaureates, lectures and forums later, the Shaw Center continues to shine as the cultural hub where Gracelanders, and many others, gather to be entertained, to rejoice and to celebrate.

JR ’56 and Carol Shaw have made the current expansion of the Shaw possible. The original Shaw Center was a major project that other members of the Shaw family were involved in. The late Leslie E. “Les” Shaw ‘50, (JR’s brother) and his wife Lois Phelps ’50 Shaw, and The Shaw Foundation, provided major funding for what became a great landmark on Graceland’s Lamoni campus.

It was the wish of Les, JR and sisters Dolly Shaw ’50 MacDonald and Bertha Shaw, that The Shaw Center for the Performing Arts be named to honor their parents, Francis and Lottie Shaw, whose bronze busts adorned the Shaw atrium, and will be present in the new atrium. Over the years, this icon of the Shaw family has welcomed guests to myriad events, students to classes and workshops and faculty and staff to a splendid workplace. Francis and Lottie created the Shaw Foundation. The building was constructed at a cost of $3,842,848.

AcrobatsChinese Dragon Acrobats (on the right)

Gracelanders of all ages have experienced the Shaw Center over the years as the one place in our region where you could always expect excellence. International stars in music and theatre, in dancing and acrobatics (remember the Chinese acrobats a few years ago) and Graceland productions (remember A Christmas Carol in 2007 – it was tremendous) have wowed sell-out crowds.

Music Professor Emeritus Dick Clothier was named the first director of the Shaw Center in 1982, a position he held for 20 years. The first official function occurred on August 29, 1982 when a worship service took place presided over by then campus minister Rick Bunch. Joe Hanna was Graceland president at the time. Groundbreaking ceremonies had taken place on October 6, 1979.

Dick ClothierMusic Professor Emeritus Dick Clothier (to the right)

Dick remembers many highlight events at the Shaw during his years there. “Each year there were eight major visiting events, called the Performing Arts Series, including more than 100 individuals and families who were annual subscribers. We always tried to have at least one touring theatre production and one dance program each year, plus or including one “Christmas special. Music events were drawn from choral, opera, orchestral, solo, band, jazz events, etc., whatever was coming to our part of the world in a given season.”

Dick remembers one very special event: “The Canadian Brass flew into the Lamoni airport from K. C. on their private plane and gave an unforgettable concert. This event was sponsored in part by the Shaw family, who, appropriately enough were here from Canada for the dedication weekend for the Canadian pipe organ – described below – they donated to the auditorium, the weekend that included the Canadian Brass performance, of course. It was a match made in heaven – or in Canada!”

Other highlights Dick notes were The Vienna Choir Boys; the famous violin virtuoso Joshua Bell; the a cappella male choral group, Chanticleer; the wonderful choir of Christ Church College, Oxford, England; and The Stradivarius String Quartet.

In conclusion, Dick adds the following about the Shaw Center. “I am reminded that during these 20 years, I cannot recall any visiting group that did not, spontaneously, compliment us on our auditorium; not only the fine acoustics but the general ‘feel.’ Many stated that they wished they could always perform in such an auditorium.”

Oliver HoustonOliver Houston (to the left)

The Shaw Center Studio Theatre and Shaw Gallery have also hosted hundreds of art exhibitions and intimate student/community theatrical productions over the years. There have been a lot of powerful moments as students, faculty and guests showcased their talents. Plays in the Studio Theatre have always been favorites with students – they could get up close and support their friends who were performing. Exhibitions in the Shaw Gallery were a favorite spot to display students’ work so guests attending auditorium events could double their experience for an evening.

Many hundreds of receptions were held over three decades in the Shaw Atrium, hosting dignitaries and providing a place of respite during performance intermissions.

Graceland awarded both Les and JR honorary Doctor of Laws degrees at our 1993 commencement convocation. It was in 1995 that Les and Lois, and JR and Carol, gifted Graceland with the magnificent 23-rank Casavant pipe organ which has bestowed splendor to so many Shaw Center events. Created by Casavant-Frères of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, the beautiful oak console can be moved to any location on stage. Manual keys are dark ebony and rosewood capped with ivory; pedal keys are maple and rosewood. The 1,459 pipes, ranging in size from eight feet to the size of a pencil, speak from both sides of the proscenium. Organ professor emeritus Oliver Houston, who retired in 2004 after 48 years at Graceland, always called the Casavant “a truly uplifting gift to Graceland, and personally uplifting to me as well.” A gala celebration marked the organ’s 10th Anniversary in September 2005.