Elizabeth Epperly curated This Anne Place: Anne of Green Gables as Idea, Book and Musical. It is on at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown until Sept 7.
©GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
This Anne Place: Anne of Green Gables as Idea, Book and Musical is a stroll down memory lane, not only for a glimpse of Lucy Maud Montgomery but also the musical that her book inspired, which is now in its 50th season.
This 50th anniversary exhibit is on display in the concourse at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown until Sept. 7.
“This Anne Place is a place in the imagination: it’s a place on the page, it’s a place on the stage, it’s a place geographically, and all of us can get there through Montgomery. That’s what she’s inviting us to do. Her great gift to the world is to give us this place we can all experience for ourselves,” says exhibit curator Elizabeth Epperly, who is the founding chair of the L.M. Montgomery Institute at UPEI as well as author and editor of numerous articles and books on Montgomery.
“Montgomery had a generative genius, and by generative I mean two ways; hers because she produced so many things that are works of genius, but also she actually inspired genius in other people. Hence the play, all these artists over the years, all of the songs, the dances, the sculptures, the paintings, all of these things that she has been able to inspire . . . .”
For the exhibit, Epperly has combined elements of Montgomery’s printed word with the Anne of Green Gables musical, which holds a Guinness World Record for the longest-running annual production.
“Montgomery had a genius for recreating the drama of everyday life and she got it on the page. She made it seem like it was a life or death kind of thing whether you had those puffed sleeves or not,” she says.
“It’s so much fun. When you read it you can laugh at it, but you can sympathize, too, with the emotions behind that.”
Epperly pulled in particular pieces to showcase Montgomery’s flair for fashion and drama, such as an Arnold Smith’s recreation of one of her petite dresses.
“That’s exactly her size by the way. She was 5’4” and she had a tiny little waist,” Epperly says.
Another pertinent piece is a bracelet that is significant in more ways than one.
“It’s one of the very few remaining pieces of (Montgomery) jewelry because all the other jewelry was stolen. After Montgomery had died and her daughter-in-law (Ruth Macdonald) had inherited the jewelry, her daughter-in law had that bracelet on when she was out one night. When she came home (almost) everything was gone,” Epperly says.
“Ruth Macdonald had promised the niece of her best friend, who was dying, a piece of Montgomery’s jewelry so she took off her precious bracelet and gave it to the niece (Joanne Craig).”
Authentic pages of her original Anne of Green Gables manuscript and three first edition books are also included.
“Most people didn’t even know there were three different covers for the first edition,” Epperly says.
Other items like vintage Waterman pen and inkwell, a glass plate camera, old photographs and scrapbooks are indicative of Montgomery’s creative side.
“She loved photography and at the University of Guelph there are almost 2,000 photographs. They are fascinating because they show the pattern of her imagination and the things she repeated again and again. And what I maintain in this exhibition . . . is that she rehearsed in her photographs and on her scrapbook pages the scenes that she was going to produce in her fiction,” Epperly says.
Millions of copies of Anne of Green Gables have been published in more than 30 languages since it was published in 1908.
In the exhibit, Montgomery’s international influence is reflected in the collective image of 18 book covers from around the world, from Arabic to Turkish.
“The image (on one cover) is the Queen Mother as a child. It was a Swedish literacy group that actually did the translation for an Arabic study group — they were teaching them to read — so they did an Arabic translation using the (image of the) Queen Mother as a child for a model of Anne. Talk about international,” Epperly says.
The magic of Don Harron and Norman and Elaine Campbell is an essential element of the Anne of Green Gables – The Musical component of the exhibit.
“The thing that I think makes the play work so wonderfully after 50 seasons is that these three people . . . were so respectful of Montgomery’s story and they said, ‘We’re going to keep the spirit of the original.
We’re going to keep as closely to that as we can.’ And they did that with great determination,” says Epperly, who has seen the play 48 times.
“The play really does pick up that ebullience, that wonder about life that Anne personifies.”
Costumes, set interpretations and images from the musical, including a collage of photographs of different interpretations over the years for Anne’s apology scene to Rachel Lynde, round out the exhibition.
“This whole case together — Creating the Stage — is to suggest the complexity and richness of collaboration, because in a musical there are all kinds of artists and professionals that are needed to make this happen, to orchestrate a single production.”