Louise Grafton

Louise Grafton died peacefully at home in Princeton on July 20, 2019. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. 

Born in Philadelphia on December 12, 1941, Louise studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, where she took her BA with highest honors, in 1962, and at Indiana University, where she received her MA in 1964. She then joined the founding faculty at Jefferson County Community College, now Jefferson College, in Hillsboro, Missouri. In 1967 she moved to De Paul University in Chicago, where she was awarded tenure in the Department of English and taught until 1975.   In Chicago Louise started on what became her real career in technical theater. Since her childhood, she had practiced crafts of many kinds. Beginning as a volunteer maker of props at Court Theater, then the summer Shakespeare theater of the University of Chicago, she taught herself to make just about anything needed for a play that was not part of a set or a costume: furniture, armor, weapons, food, statuary. Her summers at Court and a season at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, where she worked with James Bakkom, equipped her with formidable skills.   In 1975, Louise moved to New Jersey with her husband Tony and found a position as a prop maker at the New York Shakespeare Festival. In the decades to come she worked on several Broadway shows and for the McCarter Theater in Princeton, the Prospect Theatre Company at the Old Vic in London, the Big Apple and Royal Hanneford circuses, the Westminster Choir College’s Opera Theatre and the Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival. For many years she taught prop making at the Mason Gross School of  the Arts at Rutgers University. From 2014 to 2019 she made props for the Musical Theatre program at Rider University, for which she had a special affection. She also built historical reconstructions for the New York Public Library, the Princeton University History Department, and PBS, and worked on the Academy Awardwinning film A Beautiful Mind. Louise kept many of her favorite creations. Visitors to her house encountered marvel after marvel: a red dragon, a she-devil, a giant pickle, and a statue of the Madonna and child (which appeared in a number of productions of Tosca).  A devoted and beloved teacher, Louise gladly shared everything she knew with colleagues and students. In 1973-74 she studied upholstery in London with a gentleman she knew only as Mr. Marshall, the retired upholsterer to King George VI. He taught her the traditional craft, starting with bare wood and horsehair. For decades afterwards she initiated Rutgers students into what she called “the way of Mr. Marshall.”   Making and hearing music were central to Louise’s life. As a student she was the first woman to march with the Penn band, in which she played the clarinet. In later life she sang with many choral groups, most recently The Masterwork Chorus, with which she several times performed Handel’s Messiah in Carnegie Hall. Music and prop-making came together for her in the Westminster Opera Theatre: working closely with gifted young singers gave her great joy.  Louise spent long periods in London, Oxford, Pasadena, Berlin, Hamburg, and Vienna with her husband and family, and traveled to Australia, the Galapagos, Alaska, and Russia with her sister Nancy.  She is survived by her husband, Tony; her sister, Nancy; her son, Sam, of Washington DC, his wife Amanda and their daughter Catie; her daughter, Anna, of Brooklyn NY, her husband David and their daughter Alice. 

A celebration of her life will take place in the fall. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to Partners in Health or the Rescue Mission of Trenton.  

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