Making Whims


In the 1950's Joanne Maurer's parents moved from Astoria, New York to Canaan. After graduating from Chatham High School, Joanne and her twin sister went to work at Columbia Memorial Hospital as nurses' aides. Joanne worked on the ladies' floor, her sister worked on the men's floor. One day her sister came to her and said, "Joanne you've gotta come down, there's these two neat guys." So Joanne went down to the men's floor, to the room her sister suggested. There she met a patient named Chuck. He was very flirty Joanne recalls, when she entered the room he called out, "Hiya doll," thinking Joanne was her twin sister. Later Joanne told her sister, "that's the one I'm gonna marry." And she did. They moved to Brewster, she went to college and became an elementary teacher. Her husband had grown up in Harlemville, so they moved back to Columbia County.

Joanne taught for twenty-nine years in the Taconic Hills Central School District, grades three, four and five. "I really love teaching, we only have one son and I always thought it was God's way of saying you have a lot of energy left over for kids," she explains, her eyes soften. "The best thing that ever happens to me is to have a former student come up and say, you were my favorite teacher. You never know when you're a teacher what impact you have on kids until they're gone and they come back and say thank you so much."

One of her third grade students was very shy, so shy he wouldn't even go through the lunchroom line, "I remember telling his mother that he was going to be the Valedictorian of his class." When he did become the Valedictorian he was interviewed in the school newspaper. When asked who his favorite teachers were, Joanne was one of them, "Not for academically what I taught him, but because he said I helped him overcome his shyness." Today he is a computer scientist working on Wall Street, very successful and out going, "to meet him now you'd never guess he was this shy boy. Teaching is a very noble calling. You pray that your kids do well, that you've done your job. It's a good feeling, to be a teacher."

About eleven years ago Joanne had the opportunity to take a sabbatical with the New York State Theatre Institute. From September to June she worked in all phases of theatre, the electrical shop, the scene shop, building sets and learning to use power tools. She also worked in the costume department. That was where her life changed; she knew she had to be a costume designer.

"Why costumes?"

"I love to complete that character, it's such a thrill to create a costume that helps that actor bring out that character."

"Where do you begin?"

"I read the play and I get a picture in my head of what I want the costumes and that actor to look like, how I see that character. I love to make the costumes, build them from scratch." Joanne recently designed and made nearly all the costumes for the Columbia Civic Players' sold out production of "Pirates of Penzance." Reading the script she discovered the father in the play honestly didn't know how many daughters he had, "My take on it was that he identified his daughters by the colors they wore." Joanne designed the costumes and dressed each daughter in a different color. Her idea worked brilliantly.

Joanne's biggest challenge was a production of "Oliver". She had seventy kids to costume and they were double cast, more than 400 costume pieces. "I have copious notes on every single kid, on their size, their shoe size and what they wore, what parts they played, everything." She smiles, "I was never finished." Joanne, like all artists, takes great pride in her work, she loves challenge, "I won't take on a project unless I know I can do a good job."

The day of our interview is Joanne's forty-first wedding anniversary. She lights up when she mentions her husband Chuck, "He is very supportive, a very understanding husband, a great guy." Chuck built her a sixteen by sixteen costume house where she keeps costumes and accessories, shoes, hats, gloves, everything.

Joanne becomes delightfully animated when she discusses the creation of specific costumes; her hands paint the costumes in the air before her. "I just love to create. With each show I learn something new. If you know what you want to do you're gonna find a way to do it."

Joanne retired three years ago from teaching. She now delivers theatre education presentations for the New York Theatre Institute. She also creates and designs costumes, her dream. Her most recent work can be seen in Columbia Civic Players' production of "The Night of The Iguana" opening at the Ghent Playhouse on May 25. Her greatest compliment came when one director said, "You took every one of my whims and made them come true."

"Will you always want to be a costumer?" I ask.

Her answer is immediate. "Yes."

We'll talk next time, From The Road.

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