Long before English-born dressmaker Annette Garceau was invited to Minneapolis by Tyrone Guthrie to help found a theater, she had already dressed leading actors such as Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier.
Garceau, who built costumes for nearly 40 years at the Guthrie and helped establish the theater’s high standards, died Aug. 6 at Lakeview Commons hospice in Maplewood. She was two weeks shy of her 104th birthday.
“She was a legend in the field whose creations were works of art and whose influence was expansive because of her love of teaching,” said Dwight Larsen, a costumer who worked with Garceau for 20 years at the Guthrie and continued to be mentored by her even as he put in another 20 years at the Children’s Theatre.
“She basically gave me my career,” he said. “You learned something from her every day, and it often came with her dry wit.”
Garceau’s move to Minneapolis was her second with Guthrie and his artistic team. In 1953, she followed Guthrie designer Tanya Moiseiwisch and costumer Ray Diffen from England to Canada to establish the Stratford Festival in Ontario.
Ten years later, the artistic team repeated the effort in Minneapolis. At the Guthrie, she built costumes for actors such as Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and Sally Wingert. She also worked in Hollywood, dressing the likes of Richard Burton, Ginger Rogers and Christopher Plummer.
Her skill was in translating the sketches of designers into costumes that told the stories of their characters, said Joan Czerniak, her close friend and frequent theater companion.
In 2002, Garceau retired at age 89 from the Guthrie, which held a fashion show of many of her costumes, including dresses for Queen Elizabeth from “Mary Stuart” in 1980, Catherine in “Henry V” (1990) and Hero in “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“Sometimes costumes wear you — you put them on and you’re fussing with them,” said actor Laurine Price, who modeled several of Garceau’s costumes at the retirement party. “But you put on her costumes and become the character. It was such an honor to do.”
At the time, Garceau told the Star Tribune that she had planted roots in this community. “You become attached and you’ve done your tiny little bit to help it succeed, and that binds you, doesn’t it?” she said.
Garceau, who worked under Guthrie artistic directors from Guthrie to Joe Dowling, was known as much for her personal sense of style as her dressmaking. Larsen quoted former artistic director Garland Wright as saying she was the most beautiful woman he had ever met.
Actor Dennis Spence, whose wife, longtime Guthrie star Barbara Bryne, wore many costumes built by Garceau, remembered walking into the theater at an opening once and hearing a woman blurt out: “Oh my god, she must be a Russian princess!”
Spence leaned over to her and said, “Indeed she is.”
Garceau is survived by a son in England.