April 29, 2021
Wellesnet, the leading online source of information about the life, career and work of Orson Welles, recently published a discovery made by an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Michigan, home of the largest repository of Welles papers in the world.
For the past few years, a small team of programmers and artists at the university’s Duderstadt Center have been working to re-create one of the Citizen Kane sets in virtual reality for use as a teaching and learning tool. The team includes Stephanie O’Malley a 3D artist in the university’s Emerging Technologies Group and instructor in the School of Art & Design and Center for Entrepreneurship — and recent Stamps alum Lizzy Albinson (BFA ‘ 20).
In the group’s efforts, there was one Citizen Kane set object that had stumped researchers for years: a large, strange, dark object built into the wall at the back of the set.
Lizzy Albinson solved the decades-old mystery as part of her work on the research team: the bedroom set prop was a kachelofen — a tiled European-style stove used to heat a room.
“I’m actually newly acquainted with kachelofen,” Albinson said. “As I was pondering the mystery object, I thought the object was barrel-shaped and maybe held water and my dad suggested it was a water heater of some sort. I zeroed in on heat because that was a good reason to have this object fenced off in the corner.”
She added, “The kachelofen is a tiled stove intended to heat one or more rooms by capturing heat from fast-burning fuel (like wood) in the tiles and then slowly releasing the heat to the surrounding room. Tiled stoves seem to be fairly common but ones with such decorative tiles and ornate structure would only be found in very wealthy homes.”
A Citizen Kane production still depicts the bedroom of Susan Alexander Kane at Xanadu. Assisting in the film’s look were art director Van Nest Polglase, set decorator Darrell Silvera and set dresser A. Roland Fields. The large, strange, dark object built into the wall at the back of the set has puzzled researchers for years. (Courtesy of the University of Michigan Special Collections Library)