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EVERYDAY PEOPLE: Recreating Venice a stitch at a time

Ruth Gmeinder (center) stood with family members and friends costumed in her Ven1 / 2
Ruth Gmeinder held one of her detailed hand-decorated, Venetian-styled masks. Gm2 / 2

Ruth Gmeinder is about to see all of her hard work finally pay off. With one of her most ambitious projects, maybe ever, almost finished, the East Gull Lake resident is strangely calm.

“This actually is my therapy. The more stressed I am, the more it helps. This is my calm,” she said. “I’m finally letting my right brain have some fun.”

Gmeinder is on the tail end of three years of work — designing, creating, and fitting authentic Venetian costumes for An Afternoon in Venice, an event sponsored by the Brainerd Lakes Area Women’s Fund. Gmeinder created more than 100 costumes for the Oct. 8 event. 

“They are all over the top and that was my goal,” Gmeinder said. “There’s no such thing as vanity in Venice.”

Gmeinder said she spent up to 70 hours perfecting a single costume, many of which have thousands of Swarovski crystals hand-stitched in their detailing. Fabric for the outfits came from all over the world. 

“Everywhere I go I look for fabric,” Gmeinder said. 

One costume, Gmeinder’s favorite because it’s orange, is named “Eve” and has Venetian masks on all sides of the head dress and skirt. “She’s Eve because Eve was schizophrenic,” Gmeinder said. “And you have to look good whether you’re coming or going.”

Gmeinder said her interest in sewing and costume design started when she was just 12 years old. 

“My mom never liked to sew,” she said. “So I started doing all her mending.”

A couple decades ago Gmeinder actually owned a costume shop in the Brainerd area. “I love doing this,” she said. 

Gmeinder, originally from Fargo, vacationed in the Brainerd lakes area as a child and spent one summer vacation staying at the Gull Lake Resort, a property she now owns and manages. 

Prior to her current endeavor at the resort, Gmeinder served on the Brainerd school board, and served as the Crow Wing County Health administrator for 14 years where she established Crow Wing County’s Women, Infants and Children program.

“I’ve devoted almost all of my adult life to education,” Gmeinder said. “What better way to get women out of poverty than through education.

“Education is the greatest gift we can give our children.”

Gmeinder said she started her Venetian costume project as a hobby long before she knew where they would be used. 

“We knew we wanted to do it as a package,” Gmeinder said. “But, it’s not about my work — it’s about the Women’s Fund.”

Gmeinder said she was drawn to the work the Brainerd Lakes Area Women’s Fund is doing because of its commitment to supporting and nurturing other women in the community. 

“The Women’s Fund is the most passionate, focused, talented group of women I’ve ever worked with,” she said. “We truly believe in service above help.”

The Women’s Fund was established in 2009 with the mission to help local programs that support women and children.  

Women’s Fund member Tami Lueck said the group’s passion comes from poverty statistics in Crow Wing County she read four years ago: 5,000 people here lived below the poverty guidelines and 60 percent of them were women with children. According to the U.S. Census Bureau that number increased to nearly 9,000.

“That really led to my desire — really this group’s desire — to change those numbers,” Lueck said. “Our goal is to help people understand how important it is to support women in the community.”

Gmeinder’s costumes will be the living decor for An Evening in Venice. “The costumes are authentic like you would see at Carnival in Venice,” Gmeinder said. 

“Not only are they fabulous; they’re comfortable,” added Laura Herman, Gmeinder’s sister who will be wearing a costume for the event appropriately named just for her — Lady Herman.

The event will include a replica staging of the Grand Canal, dessert, wine tasting and a Venetian-style theatrical performance by volunteer area actors. 

“It will really seem like you’re entering Venice,” Lueck said. “It’s really quite amazing.”

For Gmeinder, the event is the culmination of years of service in the Brainerd lakes area. 

“The community has been really good to me, that’s why I give back,” she said. “People say, ‘Why don’t you just give money?’

“That’s not as fun.”  

39 Photos - Venetian Creations  - Spotted© Photo Gallery

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.