ELY - As the first live theatrical presentation in the newly renovated State Theater, Jeff Brumbeau’s book The Quiltmaker’s Gift, illustrated by Ely’s own Gail de Marcken, comes to …
ELY - As the first live theatrical presentation in the newly renovated State Theater, Jeff Brumbeau’s book The Quiltmaker’s Gift, illustrated by Ely’s own Gail de Marcken, comes to life here early next year.
Friends of de Marcken are organizing a community effort to present the musical at the Historic State Theater on Friday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 25-26 at 2 p.m. Auditions were held earlier this week. Laurie Kess is the director and Irene Hartfield is the musical director. Molly Olson is the choreographer, and Peter Kess, is the light and sound technician.
The illustrator is now a full-time Ely resident. “When she illustrated this book she was living in Latvia with her husband, whose career with the Peace Corps took them all over the world,” said Muffin Nelson, who is assisting in the effort.
Nelson and de Marcken will make a presentation about the planned musical next week at the Nov. 26 Tuesday Group gathering, beginning at noon at the Grand Ely Lodge. “I will talk about the play and she will talk about getting an author and illustrator together to publish a book and how she did it from afar,” Nelson said.
According to Nelson, de Marcken grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from the University of Minnesota. “She met her husband in Borneo with the Peace Corps in 1964,” Nelson said. “He died about four years ago. He was head of the Peace Corps in many French-speaking African nations and they spent most of their married life around Africa. Their two grown daughters are now both working in Africa.”
Nelson said that de Marcken has illustrated 10 books, the first of which was Bob Cary’s “Born To Pull.” They were living in Tunisia when she made those illustrations. “They have owned property here for more than 30 years, building the cabin they retired to over the course of many summers,” Nelson said.
According to Nelson, the Phoenix Theater in Arizona developed the play and the music. “It has been presented in communities across the United States but never in Ely,” she said.
The musical has grown into a community event. In connection with the production, Nelson and other friends of de Marcken are collaborating with Ely’s Heart of the Woods Quilters to present a quilt show at the Ely Folk School. “When Quiltmaker’s Gift was first published in 2000 it was a sensation with quilting clubs across the country,” Nelson said. “They propelled it to success.
“In addition to the quilt show, the Ely Folk School will host a morning art activity for children and conduct adult classes,” Nelson said.
The Ely Public Library will offer storytelling and activities. ISD 696 art teacher Kelly Chick will lead fabric art classes. “We plan to invite second and third-graders from Ely, Babbitt and Tower to a Thursday afternoon dress rehearsal performance on Jan. 23,” she added.
The Ely Community Resource Reading Pals group will read the book in costume in Washington Elementary School classrooms and the Ely Kiwanis Club will donate a copy of The Quiltmaker’s Gift to each classroom, Nelson said. “The Ely Watercolor Club is willing to help paint the stage sets.”
According to director Laurie Kess, “This is a fable for our times that celebrates the joy of giving.” It is the story of a generous quiltmaker with magic in her fingers who sews the most beautiful quilts in the world, then gives them away,” she said. “A greedy king, his storehouse stuffed with treasures, yearns for something that will make him happy. When the quiltmaker finally agrees to make a quilt for the king, but only under certain conditions, she causes him to undergo a change of heart.”
At times mystical, hilarious, gently provocative and touching, this intimate musical, performed throughout the United States, has delighted audiences, Kess added.
The Quiltmaker’s Gift won the Book Sense Book of the Year Award in 2000 for best children’s picture book, and 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of its publication.
To date, roughly 725,000 copies of The Quiltmaker’s Gift have been sold worldwide and it has been translated into Chinese, Korean, Greek and German. It inspired a sequel, The Quiltmaker’s Journey, two books on quilting, and a number of theatrical productions including a ballet with the University of Utah’s Children’s Dance Theater at the Marshall School in Duluth.
The community production is supported in part by the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust, the Ely Rotary, the Ely Chamber of Commerce, Lake Country Power and the Ely Kiwanis. “Our new website QuiltmakersGiftEly.com is being created and we can be found on Facebook,” Nelson said.