The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures announced that along with the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, they are the recipients of the Richard Balzer Collection, considered to be the world’s foremost collection of pre-cinematic optical toys and devices.
The collection, which was donated by Balzer’s widow Patricia S. Bellinger, is comprised of more than 9,000 objects — including magic lanterns, prints, figurines, shadow puppets and more, that dates as far back as China’s Ming Dynasty.
“Gifting this collection to the Academy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Bellinger said in a statement. “My husband Dick’s passion for collecting pre-cinematic objects was profound, but it was his passion for reaching, storytelling and wonderment that brought him and the collection to life.”
Objects from the collection will comprise one of the Academy Museum’s inaugural exhibitions titled “The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection.” The exhibition will explore the history of visual entertainment which led to the invention of cinema. It will feature shadow play, peepshows, magic lanterns, zoetropes and praxinoscopes to the Cinématographe Lumière, the world’s first successful film projector. In tandem with the gift to the Academy Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (MFA), has also received more than 100 works from the Balzer Collection.
“The magic of the movies began with a sense of wonder at seeing still images come to life,” says Jessica Niebel, Exhibitions Curator at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. “No one was more dedicated than the late Richard Balzer to the marvelous history of pre-cinema.”
Matt Severson, Director of the Margaret Herrick Library said, “This extraordinary collection of pre-cinematic material, so carefully collected and preserved by Richard Balzer, will be studied and appreciated for generations to come at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Margaret Herrick Library.”
The late Richard Balzer (1944-2017) amassed many optical prints and devices from around the world. He was also a renowned photographer and according to a 2018 profile in the New Yorker, and an F.B.I. account, was the official photographer of the Black Panthers during the trial of Bobby Seale in Connecticut following his declared mistrial that is depicted in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Seale is portrayed by recent Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Some of Balzer’s other photographs are on display in museums across the world including the Smithsonian.
Originally slated to open on Dec. 14, the Academy Museum delayed its opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is now scheduled to open to the public on April 30. The Academy will host the 93rd Oscars on Sunday, April 25.