"I'm hanging on to them," said Larabel of the highly-detailed mosaic garments used last fall in the faith-based theater group's production of "The Book of Job."
"They are fragile, and (Master Arts) is having me protect them."
For Larabel's work in designing, assembling and maintaining the meticulous costumes, she has received a 2017-2018 Grand Award nomination for Outstanding Costume Design. The winners of the annual theatrical awards (in dozens of categories) will be announced at an Oct. 21 event at Fountain St. Church in Grand Rapids.
Also nominated for a role in a Master Arts production: Mary Brown as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play for her portrayal of Toinette in the classic "The Imaginary Invalid." For more information visit https://www.facebook.com/grandawards/.
WORKS OF ART
The painstakingly-crafted "Book of Job" costumes were initially made for a 2006 Master Arts' production of the biblical drama.
"Before then, they had rented some costumes... but they were no longer available," recalled Larabel, wife of a retired Army veteran.
She had done costume design for several previous Master Arts shows, and the task of creating the new "Job" attire was given to the skilled seamstress.
"I came up with a design, layout and fabric and colors that would go with the mosaic look and what the designs would symbolize," Larabel recalled.
The labor-intensive part of the work was preparing and applying the 2,000 pieces on each of the 10 costumes. The mosaic look – replicating the Byzantine-era art often found in Eastern Orthodox churches – gives the appearance of tile, cut stones and glass used in the historic technique.
A bevy of volunteers signed on to help with the process under Larabel's tutelage. The sewing of the pieces, including headwear and gloves, was left to her.
Each glove alone has 200 separate decorative fragments.
"When those lights came up on that very first show, tears came to my eyes," she said. "It hit me that I had a hand in that and immediately thought of all those hands and fingers who had part in this creation."
Master Arts executive director Tim Van Bruggen salutes Larabel and her hard work.
"Karen is a consummate artist, and her design and construction of the costumes for 'The Book of Job' are far beyond what is normally called for in theatre," he said. "They are truly works of beauty and art."
THE PLAY'S THE THING
With its formal presentation, there's not a lot of physical action on stage in "The Book of Job." The focus is on the dialogue lifted right out of the scripture – words from the tortured soul Job, his three advice-giving friends, Job's wife, and the other characters.
The strain on the costumes is kept to a minimum.
"They're not too heavy, but it takes one or two people to help put them on," she said of the creations. "And there's an art to getting them off." The facial make-up to match the costume takes a full hour to apply.
Some have called the stage effect "a Byzantine chapel's stained glass windows come to life."
A LIFELONG PURSUIT
Larabel's mother was a seamstress and made clothing for the entire family. Karen first learned to sew at age five and has been stitching ever since. She even taught sewing during her husband's military service.
"I pray each step of the way," she said of her approach. "I'm really thankful that He's guided me in making projects into a reality."
Meanwhile, with Master Arts' limited storage space and its planned move to a larger facility in the future, Master Arts has let Karen store the artistic clothing for now.
"Each time the play is performed, there are actors of different sizes, so there has to be some adjustments," she said of the floor length creations. "I had the foresight to take the extra pieces and set them aside, label and box them. Because to re-do all of these would be insane!"
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