costume crafts portfolio
Tara's Costume Crafts Portfolio
Here I am in 1985 making a celastic set of armor at CSU Fresno. Celastic was on it's way out by then due to the toxic nature of the chemicals used to form it, yet it had been so thoroughly in use in the 20 years previous, it was impossible to convince an older TD or designer to hire one in a costume crafts position if one had not trained to work with it. The faculty at CSU Fresno, aware of this fact, allowed me and Madeline, the other design graduate assistant, to make a set of armor not needed for a show during a slack period, so we were able to say we had experience with Celastic.
That Summer, I therefore got to be the Costume Crafts Head at the Houston Shakespeare Festival/Houston Children's Theatre Festival. This is a crown I made for Richard III, at HSF. What you see here is a 20lb stageweight balancing on the lacy gothic fleur-de-lys on the top of the crown. I did this by embedding heavy corset bones inside a sandwich of two layers of wet celastic, that fused together around the bones when it hardened. This crown was made to exactly replicate a photo the director had, as well as be able to be kicked about on stage. Incidentally, the actor found it "unflattering to the shape of his head" (as Richard III?) and so it wasn't used in the show. When students ask me how I manage to be so calm and unannoyed when a costume we worked on for days is pulled from the show for a minor reason, I tell them: "Practice."
Here are some Fairy hats and Bottom's Head that I made for a production of Midsummer Night's Dream. The Director wanted the nose of the asses head to be furry, but also needed to hear the actor's words. Since it is the backing on fake fur that does most of the muffling of noise, I glued fake fur to an open-weave buckram nose fur side down, and then clipped away the backing, so his voice could carry through the fake fur. Designs by Celestine Ranney
This, my first wire-frame hat has two odd stories connected with it. The first is about the dead dove on top, which I stuffed myself! I worked at a Halloween costume rental store one year, and we were constantly short of feathers to trim the hats. The store owner, meanwhile, who had a farm, kept complaining that various pheasants, doves and turkeys kept dying for unknown causes on her farm. I exhorted her to clip off some tail feathers or wings on the dead birds so we could make use of them. So, one day she brought me a very ripe dead dove in a plastic bag which she had sitting in her car all day, and dared me to use some of the feathers---but not for the store hats. So I took it home, and with old newspapers, Lysol, salt and a lot of fortitude, eviscerated, and stuffed it, mounting it in a bird-in-flight position. I then left it outside to stink for a few days and allow California's dry climate to render it stiff. Sure enough within the week, I had the ultimate hat decoration, without having to off some poor bird to do it. It was, by the way, a difficult and repellent procedure, but one that is most interesting and enlightening. The Hat itself I made under the instruction of my Grandmother, who went to Millinery school in Leipzig in 1911. For the longest time she kept trying to tell me how to crimp the wire properly, but without knowing the English word for "drotsange", drotsange by the by, you won't find in a normal German English dictionary, so we were in linguistic limbo over this step for some time, till I figured out that drot=thread and sange=pliers, and so drotsange=needle nose pliers.
This buckram & wire hat shows the strength one can attain with these materials, allowing a huge headdress to remain stationary against the pull of a weighty wind-blown veil. Design by Ann Thaxter Watson
Dominican College could afford either to hire me, or buy proper materials for making these dragon helmets, so I was hired under the stipulation that I had to scavenge for materials. The dragon wings on upper left were made from an old piece of wire window screening, the dragon claw to it's right was foam, fabric scraps, and seed-pod claws, the dragon spine below that was foam and bits of a dead straw hat, and the dragon head to it's left was foam, more seed pods and a mesh from a frozen turkey. All these were hot glued to buckram bases, sprayed gold, and (after this photo was taken) antiqued.
of me at work. I'm inside a tomato costume, for Fat Pig stitching the neck hole of the fabric covering, to the foam and spring steel supports. (I've forgot the designer's name)
Fat Pig's fat suit, in progress. Because the fat suited actor had to be able to bicycle, do push ups, jumping jacks, and other active movements in this quick-change suit, I made the foam "fat" in pieces corresponding to the muscle groups, joints, etc., to allow for natural movement.