At a memorial program and costume parade at Ladd Library in February honoring Seeling, Dana Professor of Theater Martin Andrucki gave thanks for the evening’s sponsorship and recalled working with Ellen on costume and set designs for Hamlet, her final Bates production.
Back in the fall of 1999, Jane Andrews saw Twelfth Night, for which Ellen did the scenery and costumes. Jane was dazzled — so much so that she wanted to make it possible for people who had missed the show to see the costumes. And so she made a generous contribution to our department to fund a Twelfth Night exhibition.
Ellen being Ellen, however, that event never happened. Ellen was always too busy with the next project to give such a retrospective the time and attention it needed. Well, now there are no more next projects. And so, finally, Jane, here it is. Thank you for helping it be here.
Ellen taught me something unforgettable about courage and professional dedication.
Let’s begin with professional dedication: Anyone who has ever worked on Hamlet knows what a challenge that play is to produce. Apart from the difficulties of the text and the complexities of the characters, it is just a heck of a big show: 20 different scenes and, in our version, 40 costumes. That Ellen took this on — with joy, with brilliant imagination, with unflagging commitment — during the last months of her life is an absolute astonishment — and an example of professional commitment as total as I’ve ever seen.
As for courage: Hamlet is a play about death, and for Ellen to work on it while she was dying took real guts. I remember during one of our meetings back in August on the sunny deck of her house in South Portland we had an extended discussion of one particular scenic problem: How would we bury Ophelia? There was Ellen looking ghastly, hooked up to an oxygen tank, brainstorming about designing a grave. And absolutely unforgettably, there she was laughing with pleasure when we figured out how to do it. Ellen laughing with creative, artistic joy about Ophelia’s grave while she herself was dying is an image of courage I’ll never forget. Carlyle talks about the artist as hero. I think at that moment I got a glimpse of that phenomenon, and I thank Ellen for it.
The evening at Ladd, Remembering Ellen, included tributes from costume shop supervisor Kathleen Peters and Bates student Sarita Fellows ’04, as well as a costume parade of Seeling’s notable creations for the Bates theater. On display in the library for a time was an exhibition of photographs, drawings and set models from Bates theater productions for which Seeling served as set and costume designer.
Gifts to the Ellen Seeling Design Fellowship can be directed to the Office of College Advancement, Bates College, 2 Andrews Road, Lewiston ME 04240.