Ginger Rogers portrait now resides at Jacksonville Inn

    MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH <br><p>Amber Black sets a table Friday at the Jacksonville Inn, where a life-size portrait of Ginger Rogers resides after being moved from the Craterian Theater.{/p}

    A life-size portrait of Ginger Rogers has been moved to the Jacksonville Inn, a regular dining spot of the late movie star and dancer. Until last year, the painting had been in the Craterian Theater lobby since 1997.

    “The Jacksonville Inn was Ginger’s very favorite restaurant. Every time a visitor came up here, they’d go there for dinner,” said Jacksonville Mayor Paul Becker, a friend of Rogers during the last 18 years of her life and executor of her estate.

    Portrait artist Dona Gelsinger and her husband, Brian, will make the painting available to other locations as a way to remind valley residents of her career and local contributions. The Gelsingers decided to do the portrait as a way to support the Craterian renovation effort in the 1990s, which Rogers participated in.

    Hung in the Jacksonville restaurant’s main dining room, the approximately 4-by-6-foot oil painting depicts Rogers looking over her shoulder while she dances. There’s a balcony in the background overlooking a cityscape. Becker’s wife, Sharon, had suggested the Jacksonville Inn as a location.

    “I’m rather shocked how many people come in and recognize her in the picture. It fits really good in the room,” said Jacksonville Inn owner Jerry Evans. Customers have told him they missed seeing it at the Craterian.

    Dona Gelsinger painted the piece in 1997. It had been loaned to the theater.

    “I’ve always loved those old movies. I thought she was just a fantastic dancer. I was just fascinated by her,” said Gelsinger. “The idea of painting a life-size portrait was really fascinating to me.”

    Gelsinger studied movies and photos to create a concept for the piece.

    “I couldn’t quite get everything the way I wanted it, so I even modeled for it a little bit using my hand and a drape to get the flow of the fabric,” said Gelsinger. Her husband took photos of her moving with the drape to show a little movement so it looks like Rogers is dancing and not just standing there.

    “You have an image in your head, but you never quite achieve that, so I guess that encourages you to continue painting,” said Gelsinger, who works full-time to create licensed images for greeting cards, fabric pieces, art puzzles and other products. She has a degree in art and worked in advertising before becoming a freelance artist while raising a family.

    Rogers was the last life-size portrait Gelsinger painted. Now most of her work is done on computers, but she still likes to do oil on canvas when time allows.

    Rogers had a house on the Rogue River near Shady Cove and spent a large amount of time in the area. Becker became a close friend with Rogers while he was doing a radio show in Los Angeles 18 years before she died in 1995. She backed the Craterian project and made a pitch to the Fred Meyer Foundation to help fund the renovation, he said.

    The restored building was known as the Ginger Rogers Craterian Theater, but that changed to The Craterian Theater at the Collier Center for the Performing Arts when James Morris Collier gave a large donation. But the organization kept the dancer’s name with the Ginger Rogers Stage.

    Rogers performed at the Craterian in 1926 when it was one of the stops on West Coast tours, said Becker. During World War II, all the milk produced on her Eagle Point ranch went to Camp White. She also allowed Women’s Army Corps and military units to use the ranch for bivouac exercises.

    Former Mail Tribune writer and theater critic Al Reiss first brought Rogers to the Jacksonville Inn shortly after Evans opened it, said Evans. She ate there often and bought a lot of their salad dressing, he added. Evans’ grandfather was foreman of her Eagle Point ranch, and Evans bucked hay there as a kid.

    The portrait’s length of display in Jacksonville has not been set, but the Gelsingers will look for other appropriate locations in the area before placing the painting in their personal gallery.

    Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

    Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at

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