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Special Collections Online at The University of Tennessee

Robert M. Cothran's Clarence Brown Theater Set Design Collection

Identifier: AR-0757
This collection consists of numerous hand drawn set and scene designs by Robert Cothran for some of the plays he aided in the production of. In addition to these designs, a reel of film pertaining to archival footage of Cothran’s work at the Carousel Theater as well as programs from various plays he had part in and photos of himself and the set of the Twelfth Night are included in the collection.


  • 1970-1995



Conditions Governing Access

Collections are stored offsite, and a minimum of 2 business days are needed to retrieve these items for use. Researchers interested in consulting any of the collections are advised to contact Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in this collection remain with the creator. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library.


0.75 Linear Feet


This collection consists of numerous hand drawn set and scene designs by Robert Cothran for some of the plays where he was the head set designer at the Clarence Brown Theater at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. In addition to the set/scene designs there are photographs and programs from the corresponding plays. The material in this collection ranges from 1970 to 1995.

Biographical/Historical Note

Robert Marion Cothran Jr. was born on May 9, 1930 to Minne Elizabeth and Robert Sr. in Detroit, Michigan. Cothran studied drama at Yale Drama School under Donald Oenslager. His career began as a stage designer in regional professional theater and educational theater. While work production assistant at Vanderbilt University, where he met his wife, Rosalyn. They married September 2, 1955 and had three children three children- David Branscomb, John Hardin and Ellen Elizabeth.

From 1972 to 1998, Cothran was the principle stage set designer and taught courses in set design, drawing, and scenic painting in the Theatre Department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Cothran designed the sets for numerous plays at a variety of theaters, among them Knoxville’s own Clarence Brown Theater; most notably, The Merchant of Venice, The Tax Collector, and the revolving set for A Christmas Carol. In the 1980s, Cothran redesigned and updated sets for the Knoxville Community Nativity Pageant and continued to enhance it for the next twenty years. He also designed and painted settings for several opera productions for the Knoxville Rossini Festival, created set designs for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Throughout his career, he has expressed himself through graphic design, printmaking, and mural painting. His lithographs are in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress, Smithsonian Institution, Ammon Carter Museum, UTK, and other public and private collections.

Cothran and his wife moved to Oberlin, Ohio in 2009 where he created an extensive three-part mural for the community of Kendal at Oberlin. In 2014, Cothran received the Clarence Brown Theatre Society Artistic Achievement Award. June 8, 2014 was also named as "Bob Cothran Day" by Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero for his achievements and legacy of craftsmanship, artistry, vision and for his dedication to the Clarence Brown Theater and the city of Knoxville, TN.


This collection consists of thirteen folders, four oversize folders, and one reel.

Repository Details

Part of the Betsey B. Creekmore Special Collections and University Archives, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville Repository

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville TN 37996 USA