Making masksinspires new author

ContributedThe cover of the Deborah Shippee’s new book is shown. 

A new children’s book about a costume maker sewing masks out of an old curtain teaches children about how opera productions are made and how artists stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glimmerglass Festival Costume Director Deborah Shippee wrote her first book, titled “The Maestro’s Curtains,” during the COVID-19 pandemic and based it loosely on herself and costume designer Erik Teague, she said.

“I felt that it was a wonderful way to tell kids about how people from our industry found a way to use our skills to help others, and at the same time a way to introduce kids to how opera is made and all the different occupations it takes to make it all happen,” she said.

Shippee said she made more than 1,000 masks and donated them to Bassett Hospital, Helios Care and the Richfield Springs School District. She said Teague and his wife made hundreds of masks and donated them to hospitals in Washington, D.C., where they live.

“I was still on the festival payroll until October first and spent most days there making masks, using my own quilt fabrics and fabrics from the costume shop scrap boxes,” she said. “It was a small way the festival stepped up to help our community.”

She said while making masks at the festival, she offered to make them for the year-round staff, and “Maestro Joseph Coloneri was the first to respond and asked for a couple.”

She said she then “searched for fabric with music printed on it in the costume stock that I had a memory of being there. I found it in the back of a drawer, realized it had been the curtains we made long ago for the maestro’s dressing trailer and decided it was time to give them a new life. In that very moment I chuckled to myself that it sounded like a children’s book. That was the moment the story was born.”

She said she started writing the book in August and sent it to publishers in December. She said Pegasus agreed to publish it and she brought in Teague, who has written and illustrated graphic novels, to do the illustrations. She said he worked on the illustrations from February through June and the book is scheduled to be released July 29. According to the publisher’s description of the book, it is 39 pages.

Shippee said another reason why she wanted to write a children’s book was the thrill of reading to her two daughters. “I have always loved beautifully illustrated children’s books, she said.

Shippee said she is working on a book about the “history of aprons and the story they tell about women’s history,” a series of stories about a mouse, and she may write a play or a book about her great-great-grandmother, “a Victorian woman from Wales, who had a career as a soloist in England and Europe before she came to the U.S.”

She said Teague just finished a graphic novel version of the opera “Fidelio” that was commissioned by Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., and is working on a graphic novel of the “Phantom of the Opera.”

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at or 607-441-7221.

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