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Elizabeth Belser Fuller Papers, 1926-1998

Seventy-two items, 1926-1998, of Elizabeth Belser Fuller, a Columbia native and graduate of the University of South Carolina (1931, magna cum laude), focus principally upon her lifelong cultural contributions as a dramatic and visual artist.

Of two scrapbooks containing playbills, clippings and photographs documenting her connection with theatre in Columbia, the first, 1926-1961, includes a section of rare material pertaining to USC's Palmetto Players, 1929-1930. The second scrapbook, 1926-1989, constitutes a virtual history of Columbia's Town Theatre for the period and of her close association with it as a principal actress; publicity, costume, set-design and make-up artist; member of its board of directors; manager and director of marionette shows; and business manager, 1944-1951, during the tenures of such directors as Frank Durham and Delbert Mann. A telegram from Mann to the cast and crew of "Life with Father" on the opening night of the play (which featured Elizabeth Belser in a leading role), 18 May 1949, reveals something of the director's professional approach and personal style-"NOW DONT BE NERVOUS JUST BECAUSE THIS IS THE FIRST NIGHT EVERYTHINGS GOING TO BE ALL RIGHT ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS BE FIRM. MAKE THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTAND THAT WHAT YOU ARE DOING IS FOR THEIR OWN GOOD THANKS FOR ALL YOUR WORK DO THY DAMNDEST." Representing both worlds of art-the dramatic and the visual-is Elizabeth Belser's original watercolor portrait of actress Ruth Hope posing in the costume the artist made for her as the leading player in the 1946 Town Theatre production of Maxwell Anderson's "Elizabeth the Queen." Two years later, this painting would win a First Place award in the South Carolina State Fair's art competition.

A third scrapbook, 1967-1991, contains programs, photographs, and letters having to do with her achievements as a visual artist, especially as reflected in coverage of a retrospective exhibition held at the Anderson County Arts Center Gallery in 1981. In addition to the several original works of art in the collection, is a set of printed cards that serve as specimens of the botanical watercolors for which she gained wide recognition and which characterized her affiliation with the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson University during the 1980s as artist-in-residence.

Several 1970 Anderson County Tricentennial items demonstrate further her aesthetic and geographical ties to the upcountry, where she and her husband, Willis Fuller, moved in 1954. One of these is a copy of the page from the Acts and Joint Resolutions, signed by Governor Robert McNair, showing an illustration of the seal she designed for Anderson County and signifying its acceptance as the official one.

The collection also happens to provide a glimpse into the workings of the Richland County Department of Public Welfare because of Elizabeth Belser's association with it during the period of 1941-1942. In a handwritten letter of 1 December 1941 addressed to "Mrs. Moreton and Mrs. Belser," both departmental workers on study leave in Chicago, Charlotte Stevenson (1902-1983) of the office of the Richland County Department of Public Welfare reported-"Ruth Barber and I are taking the N.C. Exams. I applied for the one paying the top salary and they let me in. Imagine-Director of Public Assistance-and no prerequisite at all in terms of education stated! The salary ranges from $4500-$5000, too. I am second in the State on the old Employment Office exam I tried, but judging by the others who hold those ratings, I'll never get an offer. Miss Bradley resigned after her marriage, and Mr. Dean gets her place. He doesn't have the qualifications, but he does wear pants. Really, I don't see why Negroes howl so about discrimination, and women say nothing."

Another file pertains to the Children's Bureau of South Carolina, 1942-1962, and reveals that Mrs. Fuller's association with this organization, first as a field worker and later as a member of its board of directors. A few items, 1942-1988, also reflect her interest in the Mental Hygiene Society of Richland County as it evolved into the Mental Health Association in Mid-Carolina.

A small file of miscellaneous correspondence holds four congratulatory letters, 1927-1931, from Columbia school superintendent A.C. Flora (1885-1971) and two lengthy, informative ones from friend and colleague Frank Durham (1913-1971), who on 4 July 1958 wrote her while on a lectureship in South Australia-"People here are hospitable-to the point of exhaustion. I think they like individual Americans, but their feeling toward the U.S. is a mixed one-envy & contempt-envy of our wealth & power & contempt for our soft & easier living, which they tell themselves they wouldn't like (because they can't have it)." And on 23 February 1971, from Columbia, after reporting family news and his various activities as a USC English professor, writer and lecturer, he remarks-"I rarely see any of the old Town Theatre crowd. Ruth Hope has vanished completely behind a bridge hand, it seems. Martha Penny fell on the theatre steps and seems in a constant state of frustration. Ruth Graham is still the mother hen at the T.T. In fact, the whole place reeks of venerability. I am unkind. But it needs a youthful transfusion."

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