Friends cel­e­brate life of set de­signer

Body of Lou Stan­cari was found on Metro tracks in mid-Jan­uary

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY KATHER­INE SHAVER shaverk@wash­post.com Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson con­trib­uted to this re­port.

About 100 peo­ple from Washington’s theater com­mu­nity and the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Mu­seum of the Amer­i­can In­dian gath­ered Satur­day to cel­e­brate the life of an award-win­ning set de­signer and the mu­seum’s photo ar­chiv­ist, even as they won­dered what led to his death.

Lou Stan­cari, 63, was dis­cov­ered on the tracks at the Far­ragut North Metro sta­tion on Jan. 15. Metro po­lice are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing, a Metro spokes­woman said. Friends said they can’t be­lieve he would have been on the tracks in­ten­tion­ally.

Friends who gath­ered for Stan­cari’s me­mo­rial ser­vice at the mu­seum said the Washington area has lost one of its most tal­ented set de­sign­ers while the mu­seum lost the per­son who best knew its col­lec­tion of 120,000 pho­tos.

Lou Timmons, a stage man­ager for Sig­na­ture The­atre in Ar­ling­ton County, said Stan­cari was best known for carv­ing in­tri­cate and au­then­tic-look­ing sets out of sty­ro­foam, whether it was a New Or­leans house for “A Street­car Named De­sire” or an es­tate in Swe­den for “A Lit­tle Night Mu­sic.” The un­usual sty­ro­foam de­signs pro­vided rel­a­tively in­ex­pen­sive sets for small-bud­get theater groups, he said.

“All his sets were gor­geous to look at,” Timmons said. “ To never see his art or cre­ations again — he just leaves a gap­ing hole in our com­mu­nity.”

Work­ing for the­aters in the evenings and on week­ends, Stan­cari won a Helen Hayes Award in 1992 for his set de­sign for Sig­na­ture’s “Sweeney Todd.” In ad­di­tion to work­ing with com­mu­nity theater groups, he was a found­ing artis­tic as­so­ci­ate at Sig­na­ture and de­signed more than 25 sets there over 20 years, Timmons said.

At his full-time job at the mu­seum’s archives in Suit­land, Stan­cari or­ga­nized the photo col­lec­tion and made it avail­able to schol­ars, the me­dia, ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams and Na­tive Amer­i­cans, said Jane Sledge, an as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor at the mu­seum. If some­one needed a photo of a Hopi In­dian with a par­tic­u­lar kind of clay pot and a horse in the back­ground, Sledge said, Stan­cari knew where to dig.

“I feel such a sense of loss,” Sledge said. “But he lived life his way and did what he wanted to do 100 per­cent. . . . I think one of the hard­est things for the staff is that we don’t know what hap­pened to him.”

Sledge said she and oth­ers are still strug­gling to un­der­stand how Stan­cari ended up on the train tracks. She said col­leagues had an un­event­ful din­ner with him the night be­fore at a Capi­tol Hill res­tau­rant and es­corted him to his home nearby be­tween 11 p.m. and mid­night. She said friends don’t know why Stan­cari, who of­ten took taxis, was in the Far­ragut North Metro sta­tion.

Sledge said she and other col­leagues can’t be­lieve he would have jumped onto the tracks be­cause he was in the mid­dle of sev­eral projects at work, had bal­let tick­ets for the fol­low­ing week and had men­tioned need­ing to pick up eye­glasses he’d had re­paired.

Metro spokes­woman Lisa Farb­stein said po­lice are work­ing with the med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Col­leagues said Stan­cari got away with of­ten be­ing gruff and de­mand­ing be­cause his sharp wit made him such fun to be around.

Sev­eral of those who gath­ered Satur­day greeted each other with a dis­be­liev­ing “crazy, huh?” As they looked out over the Capi­tol and a snow-cov­ered Mall, the group al­ter­nately wept and laughed over sto­ries of Stan­cari curs­ing out a new boss and jok­ing about his “ bour­geois” fed­eral govern­ment job.

Stan­cari, who grew up in Min­nesota, is sur­vived by his mother Jean Stan­cari, 94, ofWash­ing­ton, and a sis­ter. Friends are rais­ing money for a pho­tog­ra­phy award in his name at the Capi­tol Hill Arts Work­shop.

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