Georgia O’D. Baker
Towson U. theater instructor launched many students to success in regional theater, television and on Broadway
Georgia O’D. Baker, an instructor and costume designer whose work graced theater productions at Towson University for more than 40 years, died Saturday of heart failure at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Pikesville resident was 83. “Georgia Baker was a force of nature and an extraordinary teacher,” Judith Dolan, a Tony Award-winning University of California at San Diego professor of theater, dance and design, wrote in an email. “She was a real personality.”
Dr. Dolan, a Sparrows Point native, was a 1970 graduate of Towson, where she majored in art. She later earned a doctorate in directing and design from Stanford University.
She called Ms. Baker’s mentorship “pivotal as she guided me first to Stanford University to pursue a master’s in fine arts and later as she provided an important sounding board for my professional career. I know that I am not alone in that experience.”
“Georgia was a tough teacher, but her classes were always very full and demanding,” said Jay Herzog, who headed Towson’s theater department for six years and is now professor of lighting design. “Students thought that it was crazy, there was so much to do, but now they know why they’re successful today.”
The daughter of George O’Daniel, a National Weather Service meteorologist, and Alene O’Daniel, a homemaker, Georgia O’Daniel was born in St. Louis. Because of the nature of her father’s work, she spent time in Washington, New York and Kansas, where she graduated in 1951 from Washington High School in Kansas City.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955 in journalism and a master’s in speech and drama in 1963 from Stanford University.
“New York influenced her greatly, and that’s where she fell in love with the theater and went to museums. She always spoke very fondly of that time in her life,” said her daughter, Caroline S.A. Baker of Locust Point. “I think after Stanford, she couldn’t wait to get back east.”
Ms. Baker went to work at Center Stage before joining the faculty at what was then Towson State College in 1966. In addition to teaching a two-semester sequence of her course, Costume, Dress and Society, she designed costumes for theater productions — eventually more than 150 shows.
In addition to her work at Towson, Ms. Baker worked as a costume designer for nine off-Broadway productions and more than 20 regional theater shows, including productions at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre, the Olney Theater, Barter Theatre and Center Stage.
Ms. Baker was a scholar of costumes and design history, and she shared her knowledge with the university, profession and community.
“During her time on the [ Towson] faculty, she maintained a professional profile as a costume designer and design historian, created an historic clothing collection in the department and inspired generations of students, some of whom went on to award-winning careers of their own,” Robyn Quick, head of Towson’s theater department, wrote in a notice announcing Ms. Baker’s death.
She did work for Maryland Public Television, including several productions for the Maryland Playwrights Theatre and “Our Street,” which Dr. Quick said “may have been the first daytime drama to feature an African-American family.”
“As a professor at Towson, Georgia prepared her students for whatever path they took. Her commitment to costume design as an art, her intellectual tenacity to layer that into her designs and, importantly, her sense of humor are a model for many theater professionals,” Dr. Dolan said.
“I was very lucky to have her as a foundational mentor, teacher, and friend,” she said. “I will miss her.”
“She made sure an actor knew the history of the costume they were wearing,” Mr. Herzog said. “She researched their authenticity to the bone. She built costumes like garments, and they were also educational tools. She had a sense of history that went into them.”
Mr. Herzog said Ms. Baker was an earlier supporter of his.
“Georgia was chair of the research committee when I came to Towson, and she mentored and supported me,” he said. “She let me know that it was OK to be demanding. She was not the most warm and fuzzy person in the world, but she was very caring and she cared about her students.”
Dr. Quick said Ms. Baker’s collection of clothing, which dates to the mid-19th century, is a major contribution to the theater department. It has now grown to more than 2,000 pieces.
Of the collection, Ms. Baker once wrote: “We believe that period clothing is a work of art in its own right and that a library of period clothing is of inestimable value to theater designers, artists, historians, and all humanists.”
She was the author of “A Handbook of Costume Drawing: A Guide to Drawing the Period Figure for Costume Design Students” and also contributed to “Projects for Teaching Costume Design.”
She explained her philosophy in a 2011 interview with The Baltimore Sun: “Costumes are moving images. They need to express the characters of the play.”
Ms. Baker retired in 2010, and in 2011 she was a subject of an exhibition at Towson University that displayed more than 50 of her costumes and drawings.
In addition to Dr. Dolan, her former students include Biff Chandler, who received an American Video Award for costume design; and Katie Beatty, wig specialist for “Saturday Night Live” and several Broadway productions.
Other former students such as Will Crowther and Rebecca Frey are prominent figures in regional theater.
Ms. Baker served on the development committee for the restoration of the Hippodrome Theatre, and was a guest curator for clothing and textile exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Maryland Historical Society and the Cloisters Children’s Museum.
She was an active member of the Costume Society of America and the United States Institute of Theatre Technology.
She enjoyed classical music, and was a world traveler and avid reader.
A celebration of Ms. Baker’s life will be held at 4 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Towson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1710 Dulaney Valley Road in Lutherville.
In addition to her daughter, Ms. Baker is survived by a son, E. Christopher Baker of Owings Mills; and a sister, Penny Lilley of Fort Worth.
A marriage to Edwin William “Ted” Baker ended in divorce. In addition to teaching, Georgia Baker designed and collected costumes.