Rose Festival costume designer's work celebrated

Published on Tuesday, 8 October 2013 11:41 - Written by By Betty Waters blw@tylerpaper.com

Tyler Museum of Art’s annual fall fete Saturday gave approximately 250 people an opportunity to visit with noted scenery and costume designer Winn Morton as well as a preview of an exhibit of Morton’s artistry.

Morton was the main attraction and guest of honor for the event, billed as “Little Black Dress Goes To Rose Festival,” which raised funds for the museum’s exhibits and programs. Tickets were $125 for museum members and $150 for nonmembers.

The theme was appropriate since for 32 years Morton has designed costumes and sets for the Texas Rose Festival, which will mark its 80th anniversary later this month, Jon Perry, the museum’s communications and membership coordinator, said.

Morton greeted and hugged people as they arrived for the indoor and outdoor party that included a buffet, drinks, dancing, singer Nancy Fisher and music by a combo from the Vicho Vincencio Orchestra that plays for the rose festival coronation.

It was practically kind of a family reunion type get-together since many attendees already knew Morton, guest curator Bob Cook said.

There also was a silent auction. Items auctioned off included trips to New York and Belize, an original sketch by Morton and a cocktail party.

Tents, a stage and dance floor were set up on the museum lawn and parking lot. Tables were decorated with headpieces Morton has designed through the years for rose festivals.

Inside, attendees could stroll through a museum exhibit opening to the public at 1 p.m. today, titled “Winn Morton: Festivals, Pageants and Follies.”

The exhibit consists of approximately 250 sketches, costumes and accessories representing a cross-section of Morton’s diverse, six-decade career in theater, television, expositions, circuses, trade shows and social events. The majority of the displayed items are from Morton’s personal archives, Perry said.

Morton, 84, still works from his home in Lancaster, and one of the first sights in the exhibit is his desk and a scene recreating his studio.

The exhibit is mainly to educate people about what Morton did before he became associated with the Texas Rose Festival in Tyler, Cook said.

Morton designs beautiful costumes for 40 girls and the set for the rose festival coronation. In the past he also designed the queen’s ball and queen’s tea.

The exhibit gives an overview of the development and evolution of Morton’s career.

Attendees saw a painting Morton did at the age of 9 when he first started taking art classes at the Dallas Museum of Art and a circus picture he painted at age 16.

He studied art at the Ringling School of Art in Florida because he loved animals and wanted to be near the Ringling Brothers Circus that wintered there, Cook said.

Morton eventually moved to New York, where he enrolled in Parsons School of Design, and became involved in the early days of television by designing costumes for the Arthur Godfrey show, The Ed Sullivan Show, Studio One, Johnny Cash and other shows.

From there he went to the now defunct Roxy Theatre, a sister theater to Radio City Music Hall, where he designed costumes for ice shows for three years.

Morton then went to Guy Lombardo’s Jones Beach Theater, a summer theater on Long Island, designing costumes for Broadway shows and for Guy Lombardo shows.

Morton worked for many years for Six Flags theme parks. Six Flags produced 15 to 20 different shows per year with an average of 50 to 75 costumes per show, according to a news release.

Morton also designed costumes for the State Fair of Texas Exposition, the World’s Fair in New York in 1964 and ice shows.

Morton designed the décor for President George W. Bush’s campaign dinner.

At one point, Morton was head designer for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus with a $1 million budget for designing and sketching costumes for humans and animal performers.

Morton has worked as a freelance artist since 1960 and returned to Texas in 1977.

The Morton exhibit will run through Dec. 1. Admission is free. Another museum gallery exhibits Japanese Art Deco from 1920 to 1945, which will run through Oct. 20. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students and free for museum members, children under 12 and Tyler Junior College students with a valid ID.