To those who know her, she’s the fairy godmother of Nelson theatre.
Retired graphic designer Jane Merks doesn’t have any real official capacity at the Capitol — she doesn’t want one — but likes to swoop in and take care of idiosyncratic requests.
So, when the Star swung by the theatre’s costume dungeon last week to inform her she would be the latest volunteer recognized in our Above and Beyond series, she was constructing a pair of black leather wings for the upcoming musical Rock of Ages.
“I get a lot of strange requests,” Merks said, noting they primarily come from Capitol designer Kyla Hurst. “I’ve been sewing since I was 10, so I’ve been at it for 50-odd years, and I’m a graphic designer. I can come in and make just about anything.”
Merks came to town as a graphic design professor 15 years ago, and continued to do design work locally. Last year she made a decision: “I didn’t want to work for money anymore.
“Instead I work totally for fun. If I don’t like it, I don’t do it.”
That means she recently designed a book for poet Margaret Hornby just because she felt like it. And she’s been creating costumes for the Capitol’s Christmas pantomime for the past four years.
“Coming up with unusual, innovative stuff is kind of my thing,” she said. Another example would be the latex semi-permanent tattoos she’s offered people at the annual Womaginarium fundraiser.
“I’m always part of a team. I no longer want to be in charge of anything. I’ve been there, done that.”
Merks now is devoting a lot of time to her own mixed media projects. A few years ago she dressed all the Lakeside Park trees in corsets, a move that put her in the parks department’s bad books.
“When you do guerrilla art sometimes you lose what you’ve made,” she said, with a shrug. When asked if she’s thinking about doing any more guerrilla art, she laughed: “I wouldn’t tell you if I was!”
Currently Merks has been crocheting circles, and so far has produced 4,000. She’s coy about what she ultimately plans to do with them, though she recently hung them up on Vernon St. to take pictures and then promptly took them back down again.
“They may show up again,” she said.
On Merks’ Facebook page, she lists Nelson as her hometown.
“This is my spiritual home. I’ve lived in 32 places in my life, throughout the United States and Canada. And when I moved here with my husband Peter Bartl, we knew we were home, simple as that.”