KURTH, HENRY J. (2 Dec. 1917 - 30 May 1999) was a professor at CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY who was internationally known for designing sets and lighting for theater and dance productions. He was born in Columbus, WI to Elsie (Bingham) and Henry Kurth, a Brew Master and President of The Kurth Co. Kurth studied theater design in Chicago at the Goodman Theater and Art Institute. During his studies, he worked as a freelance designer for summer and winter stock and vaudeville and burlesque shows. He began teaching and formulating his unique design process at Western Reserve University in 1946, while continuing to design for productions in Cleveland and New York City. For more than 50 years, he collaborated closely with choreographers and directors, including Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Erick Hawkins to ensure that his designs would mesh with their work. He designed more than 450 theater productions, including James Forsyth's "Heloise," which ran on Broadway in 1958 and 1959. Kurth co-founded the Dance Theater of Kathryn Karipides and Henry Kurth, designing 48 works for this Case Western Reserve University-based dance company between 1969 and 1979. He retired in 1986 after 40 years with CWRU but continued designing for and lecturing at universities. From the late 1980s, Kurth devoted his time to painting with oil and acrylics and exhibited his work at colleges and galleries across the country.
According to one theater critic, Kurth's designs were "beautifully pared to essentials, creating a potent space that waits for the actor's movement to bring it to fulfillment." Kurth was one of only five American scene designers selected for the Prague Quadrenial - a show that focused on the influence of Swiss designer Adolphe Appia, who revolutionized stage concepts in the early 20th century. Appia stressed that all stage design must be related to the actor's movement in a three-dimensional space. Kurth's designs are particularly well-represented in the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio, Texas. In 1983 Kurth won the William McDermott award from the Cleveland Critics Circle for lifetime achievement in theater, especially for his work with the Actors Company. In 1988 the Ohio section of the United States Institute of Theater Technology presented him its Peggy Ezekial Special Career Service Award for his designs for dance at CWRU. Kurth passed away in his home from complications caused by cancer of the prostate and emphysema.