Hugh Karraker, a documentary filmmaker, environmentalist and plastics historian, died Aug. 17 at age 74. He was a great-grandson of Leo Baekeland, who invented Bakelite, the world's first synthetic plastic, in 1907.
Karraker founded the L.H. Baekeland Project LLC, which promoted the history of Bakelite through exhibitions and the media. He was executive producer of the film All Things Bakelite: The Age of Plastic.
Karraker's death was announced by the Baekeland Project's website, All Things Bakelite.
Karraker and director John Maher completed the 56-minute film in the fall of 2016, after years of filming. It was shown on PBS and at universities, historical societies, film festivals, schools and museums. The film made a splash in the plastics industry in 2017, when it was screened in a continuous loop at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Antec in Anaheim, Calif.
In a Plastics News profile, Karraker said he wanted to make the film because his mother, Leo Baekeland's granddaughter, had a lot of archival material, including lab notes and diaries.
"She had it, then I got it, and I said, 'I gotta do something with it,'" he said. "I was interested in the fact that, 100 years ago, cars, telephones, plastics were brand new.
"I wanted to sort of show the timeline of how things developed. And how plastics have this surge on the planet. And then maybe, somebody 100 years later will figure out how to solve the problems," Karraker said.
Karraker considered himself an environmental activist. The Baekeland Project's announcement noted that he was "acutely aware that plastic was a double-edged sword and he advocated strongly for the responsible manufacture, use and reuse of this world-changing material."
Karraker died at Regional Hospice in Danbury, Conn., according to the Baekeland Project's website. He had a bachelor's degree in fine arts from the University of Connecticut, and he studied in London at The Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He had a 30-year career as an actor, working in theater, film and television. He also co-founded the Magic Circle Theater in Chicago.
He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Sherry Arell Karraker, whom he met at summer stock in 1974.