By Jim Kane
(News Staff Reporter) Painting plays a great role in Alice Crawford's life. It's as evident in her work as it is on her paint splattered apron and hands.
Besides painting, she also packs the activities of mother, wife, set designer, teacher and nature lover into her busy life.
The native New Yorker attended Oberlin College in 1946-49. While working on a set she met her husband, Clan, from Shaker Heights, Ohio. He is now a local attorney. And they have been building their life together ever since.
After getting married in 1949, Alice transferred to Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. There, she received her bachelor's degree in art. The following year, the Crawfords moved to Ann Arbor. Here, she later earned her master's degree in art, and Clan obtained his law degree at the University of Michigan.
The Crawfords joined the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre in 1953. Since then, she has designed some 30 sets for the organization, sometimes averaging as many as two sets per season. She is now a member of AACT's board of directors.
She said that before AACT obtained its present building on W. Washington, she used to work on sets at an old one-room school house situated at Wagn er and Ellsworth Rds.
"One time, we struck a set during an ice storm and the lines were down. The power kept on going off and there were rats in the building,” she recalled.
“Because the actors and the crew then worked in different places, sometimes we didn't get to see the rest of the cast until we moved into the threatre."
In 1964, Alice did five sets for the closing year of the Ann Arbor Drama Season, a professional theatre organization which sponsored touring stock company performances. She recalled she designed five sets in five weeks.
"I never worked so hard in my life. I remember that I never got to work on some of the individual details for as soon as we finished one set, we had to work on another. Some of these were not my best work.”
Besides working for AACT and the Drama Season, Alice has also designed sets for the Ann Arbor Recreation Department's Junior Theatre and for the Ypsi Players.
Her latest contributions were the sets in AACT's production of “The Visit” and the University School of Music's presentation of "La Boehme.”
She received AACT's award for the best set design for "Kiss Me Kate” for the 1965-66 season. Last year, her set for "Finian's Rainbow” was also voted tops.
Although she lists no favorites among the many sets she has designed, Alice welcomes a challenge where she has to work with interesting shapes and new problems.
She describes “Kiss Me Kate and "South Pacific,” as her two most complex sets. The scenery for the latter show is nearing completion and will be ready for the March 5 opening.
There are a total of 25 scene changes for "South Pacific,” 13 in the first act and 12 in the second.
"I like musicals for you have more leeway with them and they have more visual presence than other types of shows," she added.
She explained that the idea for a set begins with the playwright's script. Further ideas are obtained by conferring with the director.
“The designer is responsible for the visual aspects of a production and a set depends a lot on the theatre and the general concept of the play."
Alice uses a general approach to a set, draws sketches, establishes a floor plan for the scenery, and makes a card
Fairs Not New
Fairs were first held many centuries ago for peaceful trading at certain places where a truce was declared; the "fair grounds" were considered holy and it was thought that fighting or cheating there would bring punishment from the gods.
board model and working drawings.
Sometimes it takes her about a week to do the drawings and the other basic preliminaries for the set. A great deal of research must be done and the people in charge of costumes, lighting and makeup must also be consulted.
She does all of the detail painting herself and oversees the remainer of the painting on the set and selects all of the furniture. After all of the basics are tended to, the crew begins building the set which can take as long as four to five weeks.
"The moment of truth is when you move into the theatre to see if the set fits. Anyway you look at it, theatre is a lot of work."
Alice said an adequate budget is always a problem and that adequate lighting is a big factor in 'a set's effectiveness. She continued that there is a big difference in what you see and what you talk about.
"I tend to use a lot of paint because I'm a painter and because it's very economical and functional.”
She limits most of her work on sets to the evening as she lectures days in humanities to Huron High School students. She has taught local high school students for the past three years.
She has also taught art at the YM - YWCA , for the city's Recreation Department and at the National Music Camp at Interlochen.
Her studio, located on the second floor of the Hutzel Building, is where she does most of her work. Here, she also prepares paintings for various exhibitions in the Ann Arbor area.
Her works, which include oils water colors and drawings, have been exhibited throughout Michigan and in Ohio, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania and as far away as Paris, France and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
She is currently represented by The Lantern Gallery in Ann Arbor, and by two galleries in Detroit and one in Kalamazoo.
"I work on paintings when I have time. I can't do paintings on a deadline basis. I like to do nature scenes and the outdoors serves as a great source of inspiration for many of my works." Her interest in the Audubon Society and the Sierra Club attests to this.
Her husband and 18-year-old son, Peter, have helped on some of AACT's sets. Current| ly, Clan has a role as a sailor in "South Pacific." Other members of the Crawford family include Lloyd, 15 and David, 13. The Crawfords home live at 2024 Geddes.
She sums up her varied activities succinctly: "Painting is my own thing. To communicate with people, I do sets and teach."
Art & Artists
Oberlin College - Alumni
Case Western Reserve University
Ann Arbor Civic Theatre
Ann Arbor Drama Season
Ann Arbor Recreation Department
University of Michigan School of Music
Huron High School
Ann Arbor YM-YWCA
Interlochen National Music Camp
Ann Arbor News
Alice B. Crawford