A few years ago, a certain reporter was in a freak parking accident while wearing his favorite black velvet coat. After being dragged downhill for a bit by a runaway vehicle he and his beloved coat were in shreds. Doctors repaired the reporter, but more importantly, Sonoma costume designer Linda Rawls was able to save the coat and the reporter remains in awe. Also in awe of Rawls is the Cultural and Fine Arts Commission of Sonoma, which named Rawls its 2008 Sonoma Treasure Artist of the Year. A reception in Rawls’ honor will be hosted at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art later this month.
“You need to have the aesthetics and if you’re going to do it well, you’ve got to do your research,” said Rawls of her passion. A former financial aid advisor, is perhaps best known for her work designing costumes for the Sonoma City Opera, Community Center productions, Sonoma Ballet Conservatory, Vintage House, several plays for Hootchie Doo Productions and 42nd Street Moon in San Francisco. “You can’t ever let the history get ahead of the play, but you’re still working to express the director’s vision for the piece of work that he’s doing. So it’s one of those things where you take somebody else’s work, somebody else’s ideas, and you make it fit.”
Making a costume fit – literally – is the easiest part of Rawls’ process. The real challenge, according to Rawls, is the seamless integration of a costume into the visual landscape of a production and aiding the narrative.
“What you’re really doing when you’re a good costumer is you’re painting a picture on stage that’s helping tell the story. The costume you design, but it’s the whole picture you design, too,” she explained.
Beyond the creative challenges Rawls enjoys, she often faces issues of shear volume as when a recent production of “Miss Saigon” at a Napa high school required 75 Viet Cong costumes. Another challenge is the occasional wardrobe malfunction. During a production of the 40s-era musical “By Jupiter,” Rawls created armor for both Greek soldiers and the Amazon women they encounter, the queen of whom, as legend suggests, was missing a breast.
“The actress had both breasts, but the armor only had one breast. After she embraced the Greek solider in a kind of a wrestling match, his armor had caved in against her armor. Then, as he continued to sing, it popped out. I said, ‘Oh my God! What have I done?” I actually fell out of the seat I was in and I turned to the director and said, ‘I’m so sorry!’ He said, “That was a laugh, Linda. We needed a laugh.’ That was pure gold.”
The Cultural and Fine Arts Commission of Sonoma Treasure Artist of the Year reception is open to the public and will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19 at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, located at 551 Broadway in Sonoma. Tickets to the wine and hors d’oeuvres reception are $20 per person and reservations the will be accepted until 5 p.m., Nov. 12. Drop off or mail payment to: City of Sonoma, Attn: City Clerk, No. 1 The Plaza, Sonoma CA 95476. For additional information, call 707.933.2216.