Rosemary Ingham; Theater Costume Designer

Rosemary Ingham, one of the nation's foremost theatrical costume designers, wrote three influential books about her craft and taught.
Rosemary Ingham, one of the nation's foremost theatrical costume designers, wrote three influential books about her craft and taught. (Family Photo)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rosemary Ingham, 71, a theatrical costume designer and teacher who wrote about her craft and helped found a Shakespeare festival in Minnesota, died of a stroke July 13 at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She was a Fredericksburg resident and, at the time of her death, was attending the Great River Shakespeare Festival, which she co-founded, in Winona, Minn.

Ms. Ingham was considered one of the nation's foremost costume designers, particularly for Shakespeare and the classical theatrical repertory. In 1979, she designed the costumes for her husband's play, "Custer," about frontier Gen. George Armstrong Custer, presented at the Kennedy Center. She also created costumes for plays at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre and Arena Stage in Washington and taught at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

She was born in Charlottesville and, while attending the University of Virginia's nursing school in the late 1950s, began sewing costumes for the theater department. As a student at Virginia, she met actor and playwright Robert Ingham, whom she married in 1959.

The two traveled around the country to pursue their educations and careers in theater. Ms. Ingham studied playwriting and design at the Yale School of Drama in the early 1960s and became a founding member of the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Conn., where she headed the costume shop.

After moving with her family to Montana, Ms. Ingham completed her bachelor's degree in English at the University of Montana in 1973. She then went to Milwaukee, where she managed the costume shop at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1973 to 1978.

Ms. Ingham taught for four years at Southern Methodist University in Dallas before moving to Charlottesville in 1982. Three years later, Ms. Ingham and two partners opened a fabric store and workshop called Clothworks. She taught at the University of Mary Washington from 1989 to 2001.

With designer Liz Covey, Ms. Ingham wrote three influential books on costume design, "The Costumer's Handbook," "The Costume Designer's Handbook" and "The Costume Technician's Handbook." The books, considered among the most authoritative in the field, deal with issues far beyond the physical construction and sewing of costumes. They also address theatrical history, audience awareness, shop management and the business of the theater, as well as the safety concerns affecting workers in design shops.

Covey and Ms. Ingham received the Golden Pen Award of the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology in 2004. Two years later, Ms. Ingham received the institute's Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1998, Ms. Ingham published "From Page to Stage: How Theatre Designers Make Connections Between Texts and Images," which codified her conception of the process of theatrical design and how designers could work collaboratively with directors to create a unified theatrical experience. She emphasized that a designer should be a thoughtful reader and needed to have a deep understanding of the script, characters, history, psychology and visual look of a play in order to create appropriate costumes, lighting and set design.

"It's not really about the lighting or design," her son Robert "Ted" Ingham said. "It's about getting the deeper meaning of the play."

Over the past 25 years, Ms. Ingham designed costumes, using both period dress and modern styles, for Shakespearean plays at festivals and theaters around the country. She presented workshops on costume design in China and throughout the United States. In 2003, she was one of the founders of the Great River Shakespeare Festival, which presents Shakespearean plays along the Mississippi River in Winona, Minn., each June and July.

She received a master's degree in liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis in 1995. In her classes and workshops, she was known for encouraging young designers embarking on careers in the theater.

Her husband died in 1992.

In addition to her son, of Montpelier, Vt., survivors include three other sons, Richard Ingham of Alexandria, James Ingham of Palo Alto, Calif., and Stephen Ingham of Verona, Italy; and four grandchildren.

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