Ge­or­gia O’D. Baker

Tow­son U. the­ater in­struc­tor launched many stu­dents to suc­cess in re­gional the­ater, tele­vi­sion and on Broad­way

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Ras­mussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

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.

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