To tell the story of how costumes come to life, Donna Meester created the exhibit “The
Life of a Costume: From Page to Stage,” going up Friday at The University of Alabama
Gallery at the Dinah Washington Cultural Art Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.
A reception will be held at the gallery, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., as part of downtown’s First
Friday events. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public; the exhibit will
run through Sept. 25.
Meester, associate professor and director of costume design at the University of
Alabama’stheater and dance department, said inspiration came from an open house
activity at UA. She wanted people to understand what costume designers do, so she
opened one of her apparel design class’s studio rooms to the campus, showing costumes
from first mock-up to final looks. It was a hit, so she thought a similar creation might be
interesting to the community at large.
In the exhibit, storyboards and in-progress costumes help demonstrate the process, while
finished results hang nearby. Most of the designs are by Meester, with a few by students;
students also did much of the hands-on construction.
“Many people think what costume designers do is just go into the closet and pick up a
dress,” Meester said. “It’s not true.”
Sometimes it would take several weeks, seven days a week, to finish about a hundred
pieces for some of the larger shows at UA, she said. Even when costumes might be
borrowed to add to a collection, crafting them into uniform style is also labor-intensive.
To show diversity in concepts, Meester selected 15 finished costumes from a variety of
shows, including a traditional Shakespearean production (“All’s Well that Ends Well”), a
19th-century French farce (“An Italian Straw Hat”) and a contemporary off-Broadway
musical (“The Wild Party”) set in the Roaring ’20s.
There’s an additional piece, a commission from the Smithsonian for a traveling exhibit
called “The Way We Worked,” in which Meester recreated the dress Bette Davis wore as
Regina in the movie based on Lillian Hellman’s play “The Little Foxes.”
Costumes on display also feature accessories, from gloves to hats to armor and chainmail, all stemming
from UA’s shop. The exhibit also includes costume sketches, photos and other research.
Meester earned her bachelor’s degree in apparel technology from Purdue University, and an master’s in
stage design from Southern Methodist University, after a summer theater experience sparked her interest.
She’s worked with the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, The Memphis
Black Red, and The Red Light Theatre in Washington, D.C., among others. Meester received a Golden
Medallion in 2011, while serving as design chair for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
The Dinah Washington Cultural Art Center is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and until 8 p.m. on First
Fridays. For more, call 205-345-3038.