Tennessee State Museum, Nashville

With all the emphasis on country music in Nashville, it is easy to forget that the city is also the state capital.   One thing that can sometimes be found in a state capital is a state museum.

State museums are odd ducks.  They are paid for with tax money, and the workers are employees of the state.  History is often presented in a patriotic manner, with large chunks of what might be uncomfortable to present being glossed over or just omitted altogether.  For instance, one Southern state museum I’ve visited talks all about how cotton mills were important to the economy of that state, and goes so far as to talk about the mill village as a product of mill owner’s charity.  Not a word is written about the struggle of mill workers to gain safe working conditions and decent wages.

I’ve come to expect this carefully edited form of history from both state and municipal museums.  In many cases, they seem to have exhibits based on what they think will attract interest, as in the North Carolina Museum of History and its exhibit on Nascar, or the Atlanta History Center and the room full of golfer Bobby Jones artifacts.  And of course, every Southern history museum has a shrine to that enduring lost cause, the American Civil War.

Which brings me to my recent visit to the Tennessee State Museum.  I’m afraid that we really didn’t do the place justice, as the morning had been spent in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and the early afternoon in a place called Honky Tonky Central, which was loud and fun.  But we somehow made our way up the hill (who knew Nashville is so hilly?) and into the museum.

It was not the best conditions for trying to absorb more information, being tired and full of burgers and beer.  But museums are there to be visited, and Tim gamely agreed to a look, though I knew he’d rather be browsing the aisles of the great urban market and bakery we had passed.  As a result, we accidentally missed an entire chunk of the museum.  But because one of the major players in that chunk was Andrew Jackson, I was not concerned.  I’m not a fan of our seventh president.

As one enters the main floor of the museum, there is a large exhibition on the prehistoric story of Tennessee.  We decided to by-pass the fossils and early American artifacts, and headed to a lower level.  In this area we enjoyed the exhibition relating to social movements within Tennessee.  The top photo shows a banner made by members of Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association.

Interestingly, there was also a display of artifacts from the Temperance Movement.  That is a quilt made and signed by the Chattanooga, Tennessee Chapter of the Women’s Temperance Union.

Maybe because we missed part of the early story, I just could not get a sense of time in the museum.  One minute we were looking at items that were important in 1920, and then we rounded a corner to encounter a Civil War scene.

Thrown into the mix was this outfit that belonged to singer Isaac Hayes, who was a Tennessee native.

But there was a quilt room with some fantastic examples of the quilter’s craft.  The one above is the winding blades pattern and was made in Clarksville, TN in the 1870s.  The quilts are mounted on diagonal surfaces which allows for decent viewing without putting too much stress on the textiles.

I loved this idea.  I’ve been to lots of museums and have seen a lot of quilts exhibited, but I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever seen a quilting frame set up in a museum.

Finally, the museum had what is probably the finest crazy quilt I’ve ever seen.  It was started in 1884 by Elizabeth Cheney Cash, and finished in 1954 by Harold Cash.  Unfortunately, that is all I can tell you.  Was Harold the son or grandson of Elizabeth?  The museum does not share that information with the visitor.

All the photos below can be enlarged by clicking.  In doing so you will be rewarded with glimpses of some very fine needlework.

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Mohair Sweater, Circa 1960

My first fashion history teacher was my mother.  In telling me about the clothes she wore as a young woman in the 1940s, I became fascinated with how clothing styles changed and how they reflected the times in which the wearers lived.  I’ve always loved stories about women and the clothes that have been important to them.

While I was young, I witnessed two major changes in the the way women dressed – the switch from the conservative styles of the early 1960s to the Mod styles of the mid 60s, and then from the Mod styles to the 1970s which brought about a greater acceptance of women wearing pants and a more eclectic way of dressing overall.

Growing up in a small town in the mountains of North Carolina, I was made aware at an early age that fashion as seen in magazines and on television was not always what was being worn in my community.  The girls I knew always complained that we were at least two years behind the rest of the country, but looking back I realize that it wasn’t just this area that suffered a fashion lag.  What woman or girl in the 1960s could afford to replace all her clothing every season?  And so wardrobes were made more stylish as clothing was replaced or altered.

One garment I recall from my childhood was the bulky mohair sweater.  Whenever I come across one of these sweaters, I’m instantly reminded of my older cousin Nancy and the other high school girls who rode my school bus.  All these teens were wearing mohair sweaters in the early 60s, but by the time I would have wanted one, they were no longer the style.  I estimate that the girls I knew were wearing them in the early 1960s, and my search for images confirms that this was the era in which they were popular.  The latest image I found was in a 1965 Montgomery Ward catalog.

Like most of these sweaters that I’ve seen, the catalog states that this one was made in Italy of a blend of mohair, wool, and nylon.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of wearing mohair.  Please tell me how itchy it was so I can get over this sense of loss at never getting to wear it as a child.

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Country Music Hall of Fame, Nashville, Tennessee

If you follow my Instagram, then you know that we went to Nashville last week.  It’s only a four hour drive, but not being fans of current country music we had never made the trip.  When the liquidation of the inventory of a huge vintage clothing shop was announced, I decided we now had reason enough to cross the mountains into Tennessee.

But a trip is never just about shopping when there are museums to be seen.  When in Nashville, one must pay homage to the Country gods at the Country Music Hall of Fame.  The place is huge, with permanent exhibits and temporary exhibitions.  It’s a lot to take in, but I thought the story of the development of country music was well told.  I’m not a fan of current country music, but the history of the genre was fascinating.  Simply put, country began as a mix of Appalachian folk, Black gospel, and cowboy tunes.

I had forgotten how much a part of my life country music has been until this visit.  My father was a big fan of both country and folk music, and by the time I was ten I knew every Johnny Cash song by heart.  As kids we thought it was pretty corny.

Country music is often referred to as Country and Western, and the “western” influences are many, especially in the way country performers have dressed over the years.  There were cowboy boots galore in the museum, all of them ornately decorated.  Above are pairs that belonged to Roy Rogers (yellow) and Dale Evans (blue).

There were quite a few items from the famous “singing cowboys” from the movies of the 1930s and 40s.  Early items, like the Roy Rogers shirt above, were quite plain, but as time went on performance costumes got more and more ornate as the stars took their cues from rodeo stars who had been influenced by the look of the Mexican vaqueros.  All this evolution of style would make a fascinating study!

By the late 1940s, many country stars were buying from Nudie Cohn, the Rodeo Tailor.  Nudie (born in Russia as Nuta Kotlyarenko!) gained a reputation for customized suits and boots and his influence cannot be understated.  He was as much a star as the men and women he dressed.

Here is Nudie’s sewing machine.

While Nudie became famous for his highly embroidered and bespangled suits, one of the most familiar suits on display is this one he made for Hank Williams.  The music notes are applique, and look carefully to see that they extend down the sides of the legs.

And don’t miss the Roy Acuff cloth flour sack.  Acuff was from East Tennessee and was instrumental in the popularization of Appalachian folk melodies as a part of country music.

Many performers used their professional clothing to capitalize on the popularity of a particular song.  Nudie made this suit for singer Hank Snow after his big 1952 hit, “The Golden Rocket.”  I assume the song was about a train.

This Nudie jacket was made for Ray Price, who was billed as “The Cherokee Cowboy.”  Price did grow up on a Texas farm, but I could not find any reference to him actually being Cherokee.

These blue suede shoes belonged, not to Elvis, but to Carl Perkins, the writer and original singer of the song.

If you were ever lucky enough to attend an Elvis concert, you know about the scarves.  Elvis’s manager, Col. Parker came up with the idea of Elvis handing out printed scarves to crazed fans during his performances.  When I saw him in Asheville in 1975 (the time when he put a bullet through the TV at the motel where he was staying) he must have given away over a hundred of them.  Stupid and shy me missed out.

One of my favorite pieces was this Mel Tillis jacket, which was made by another famous tailor to the stars, Manuel Cuevas.

There weren’t as many costumes from women singers, and I was, frankly, disappointed in what the museum chose to represent Patsy Cline.  Many photos of her performing show her in full-out cowgirl with fringe costumes, though she also performed in rather ordinary dresses of the day.  Cline died in 1963, so it is interesting that she was performing in slacks, even if they were gold lamé with matching boots.

The guitar suit belonged to singer Don Gibson, a Western North Carolina native, and singer of “Oh, Lonesome Me.”

This costume puts me in mind of a cowboy super-hero, but it is actually another song-inspired suit.  Nudie made this ensemble for Hank Garland, who wrote the Red Foley hit, “Sugarfoot Rag.”

The museum has a special section to celebrate Merle Haggard, who died back in April.  Haggard had a very troubled childhood, and was in and out of juvenile detention centers, and later, prison for a variety of offences.  He was actually in San Quentin in 1958 when Johnny Cash performed there.  Hag managed to get his life on track, and by the mid 1960s was a moderate star.  He had a string of major hits in the late 60s including “Mama Tried” and “Okie from Muskogee” (one of the all time hilariously ironic recordings ever).

To me, Merle’s best years were the “Outlaw Country” 1980s when he performed with Willie Nelson and others.  He played in Asheville in 1983 was was arrested after the show for consuming alcohol on the stage.  I still have the tee shirt I got at the concert.  During his induction into the Hall of Fame, he quipped, ” I thought you had to be dead to get in here.”  I do love Hag.

Dottie West’s outfit above was designed by that master of bling, Bob Mackie.  The boots were made by Di Fabrizio, the bootmaker who made boots for the rock group, Kiss.

And of course, there was a black suit from Johnny Cash.  We also visited the Johnny Cash museum where we saw even more black suits.

In the 1960s, the lines between country and rock continued to be blurred, a process that began with Elvis and Carl Perkins in the 50s.  By the mid 60s, rock singers were going to Nashville, and there is a special exhibition called “Nashville Cats” that focuses on the give and take nature of rock and country at that time.  Many songs of that period just cannot be put into a special box labeled “country.”

A  good example is Gram Parsons.  Here is the Nudie suit he had made for the cover of the album The Gilded Palace of Sin in 1969.  Those are pills, poppies, and marijuana plants.  I guess Gram was into drugs. (Thanks to Janey Atomic Redhead for identifying the poppies.)

By the late 1970s, old style country music was out of style.  Country singers were less flashy, and a lot less “folky”.  Dwight Yoakum ,  with his nouveau honky tonk style was making no headway in Nashville in the established country music industry, so he went to California where he released his first album in 1986.

What really makes Yoakum interesting is his look.  He went to Manuel Cuevas for his jackets which he paired with torn and repaired jeans decorated with Mexican silver conchos and a tuxedo shirt left hanging out.  It was a throw back to the spangled costumes of a few decades earlier, but at the same time, seems to predate the torn jeans look by quite a few years.  In fact, Kanye West wore a similar look to the Met Gala this year.

And finally, I really loved that the Country Music Hall of Fame had a little area where kids (of all ages) could design their own country outfit.

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Vintage Miscellany – May 15, 2016

If I did not know better, I’d say that is a giant smartphone in the pocket of this great circa 1917 cardigan sweater.

But it’s not, so here’s some real news for you.

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Shopping: East Tennessee and Liberty Antiques Festival

Sometimes I think I ought to change “shopping” to “looking” because I do a lot more of the latter than of the former.  I tend to look on “shopping” as a learning experience whenever I find myself not able to find anything I actually want to spend money on.  And these days I’m finding less and less to buy, partly due to the fact that I’ve been collecting for a long time, and pieces of interest to me are getting harder to locate.

Basket bags were big in the late 60s and into the 70s.  You could buy the wooden basket, like the black one above, and then decorate it in any of the current fad crafts such as little painted daisies, or even better, a bit of fancy decoupage.  Daisies were big in the late 60s.  Was it Mary Quant’s fault?

This booth in an antique mall in Kingsport, Tennessee seems to have cornered the local market in this particular type of 1960s daisy luggage.  This was only part of it.

Kingsport has been a place I’ve enjoyed shopping over the past years.  Many of the downtown stores now house antique malls, and the town advertises itself as a sort of antiquers’ destination.  In my recent visits I have not found much to buy, and my favorite place has actually closed.

Still, there are treasures to be found, like this handcrafted Scottie towel that I somehow neglected to purchase.

Part of the problem today with antiques markets is that so much of what is in them is actually newer stuff.  This is a lovely vintage mannequin (dressed in paper and burlap) but all around her I’m seeing new items that would be more in place in a home decorating center.

To add to the mannequin theme, these too lovely ladies are in a mall in Greenville, Tennessee.  I’ve tried (unsuccessfully) to buy the older one on the left, as it pains me to see her so poorly dressed.

And here’s a new entry in the “what to do with granddad’s old ties” contest.  If this is such a great idea, then why didn’t the maker put it in her home.

Sometimes the very best thing about a vintage book is the inside front cover.

The next photos are from the Liberty Antiques Festival, which is held twice a year in tiny Liberty, NC.  The festival advertises that no crafts or reproductions are allowed, and for the most part, the dealers comply.  The dealer above had six or seven big tubs of old clothes and textiles, and I started the morning by plowing through them all.  I was rewarded with two great sports caps, a North Carolina made silk chemise, and a pair of 1950s pedal pushers.

I loved these little guys, but my “Scottie wall” is almost filled.

Have I shown this straw bag in a past post?  I know I’ve seen it before.  That was probably a sign that I should have bought it.

I thought this box of embroidered emblems was interesting.  The ones in the middle are the standard patch one often sees on vintage middy blouses, but what about the radio ones?  Of course when these were new, the radio was terrifically new and high tech.

The part of me that still thinks an auto camping trip would be fun really wanted to buy this portable desk.  But then I started thinking about how my idea of roughing it is a Holiday Inn.

Here is where the saddest episode of the day occurred.  I spotted a 1920s black Jantzen swimsuit (nothing special, actually) displayed on a 1960s Jantzen hanging dress form.   The ticket read $$$ for Jantzen set.  I negotiated a bit of a discount, paid, and asked the seller to hold it for me. So I finished the market and went back.  She had the suit all wrapped up with a 1940s Jantzen ad, but had stowed away the form.  When I asked about it, she said that it was not included.  Nothing I said would induce her to sell it to me!  She did return my money for the suit, which was not what I was after to begin with.  Heartbreak!

And finally, this kid does not need me to tell him how cool he is in his Hoppy sweater.

 

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Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

On a recent trip to Winston-Salem, we took a bit of time to visit Reynolda House.  I’ve been there several times, but there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs that I wanted to see, and Tim had never seen the house.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Reynolda is the story of three women – Katherine Smith Reynolds, her daughter Mary Reynolds Babcock, and granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.  Even more interesting is that the main character in this story in times past was R.J. Reynolds, Katherine’s husband, and the owner of Reynolds Tobacco.  But this house is so much more than the house of a wealthy industrialist.  It was a home created by the Reynolds women.

To be fair to RJ, he only lived there a very short time before he died.  The house was finished in 1917, and he died in 1918, but it did become the family home in every sense.

In 1905, RJ married his cousin and much-younger secretary, Katherine Smith.  He was pretty much a confirmed bachelor, and I’m sure all of Winston-Salem was a bit taken aback by the wedding.  Smith was an accomplished woman for the times, having not only graduated college and having moved from the family home to the city to work, but she was also an expert seamstress who made much of her trousseau.  Over the next few years she had four children.

The family lived in Winston-Salem, but Katherine bought large tracts of land a few miles north of the city.  That is where Reynolda and its supporting farm and village were built.  As you can see, the exterior of the house was rather plain.

The Reception Hall at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

But as you stepped into the front reception hall, you knew this was no ordinary country home.  This was a house to be lived in, but it was also built for entertaining.

After RJ died, Katherine and their children continued on at Reynolda.  In 1921 she remarried, and unfortunately, she died following the birth of a fifth child in 1924.  At the time her oldest child was only twelve.  Eventually, in 1934, daughter Mary Babcock became the owner of the estate.  Her own children were in part reared in the house, which Mary and her husband updated after moving there in the 1930s.

Art Deco Bar at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

While the main part of the house was left intact, Mary turned the basement into a recreation center, complete with bar, bowling alley, and indoor swimming pool.  Her family lived there through the 1950s, when it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain such a huge house and estate.  In the 1960s the property was made into a non-profit that was to further arts education.

Mary’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse became the next woman to shape Reynolda.  She had become interested in American art in a time when there was not much interest in it, and so she was able to start a collection that became the nucleus of the Reynolda House Museum today.  She had a simple strategy for collecting – to buy the best example she could find of who she considered to be the American masters.

The house opened to the public in 1967, and as a high school junior I visited it in the fall of 1971 as part of a statewide tour my class got to take.  I can remember that we all compared it unfavorably to the Biltmore House in Asheville, but one classmate pointed out that it was more like a home than was the Biltmore.  And he was right.

One thing of interest to the fashion lovers among us is that Katherine Smith Reynolds loved clothes, and she used a big room on the third floor of the house as her huge closet.  Over the years, the other men and women of Reynolda used this area as clothing storage, and in 1972 the room was “rediscovered” and found to be full of the clothing of three generations of the family.  Despite the fact that the room had been used by the children as a source for dress-up play, the clothes were in good condition.  Today, the attic is a display space for a rotating exhibit of the Reynolds family clothing.

After my first visit to the house in 1971, I did not make it there again until 2003.  I went because I’d read that the Reynolds clothing was on exhibit, so I went and spent an entire afternoon sketching the collection.  I can’t remember if there was a photography policy, but at the time I was so into drawing that I probably would not have taken them any way.

On this trip, I did notice the policy (Oh, now Instagram has changed things!) and photos are allowed in only two areas inside the house.  I’m sure this is a compromise to satisfy the selfie generation as the two areas are great photo opps.  Still I found myself wanting to photograph the details of the clothing, as with a husband along, the time for sketching just was not there.

But I was even more surprised later when I reread the list of rules and found that one must have permission before sketching in the house.  I really do not understand why an art museum would want to limit sketching.

I do understand the photography rule though, and like it or not, I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the knowledge that I could not whip out the phone and start snapping.  It was a quiet afternoon at the museum, and we had the little audio tour devices which told not only about the house and the Reynolds family, but about most of the works of art on display.  Still, I’d have loved some detail shots of that Boue Soeurs cape.

Click for more about Reynolda House, including some shots of the clothing.

Sightseeing hint:  As a former teacher, I know that school groups have to be at a site early, and they usually have to return to school before it closes between 2:30 and 3:00 pm.  So late afternoon is a quieter time to visit many museums that are popular with groups of school kids.

 

 

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Carlye, Minx Modes, and Saint Louis Fashion

I recently had the good fortune to be contacted by Jeff Fihn, who found me by way of the Vintage Fashion Guild Label Resource.  He was looking up the business with which his grandfather, Joseph Glaser, was co-owner.  This dress business was Minx Modes.  Minx Modes was part of the Saint Louis junior dress industry.  What turned out to be even more interesting was that Jeff’s grandmother, Corinne Fuller Glaser, owned another of the great Saint Louis junior dress houses, Carlye.  And the story does not end there, because Corinne’s father, Aaron Fuller, was a partner in the famous Saint Louis department store, Stix, Baer and Fuller.

In Jeff’s email he asked if I’d like to talk with him about his family’s businesses.  Yes, I believe I would!  And so earlier this week I had a most enlightening chat with Jeff.

Jeff’s great grandfather, Aaron Fuller was one of the founders of Stix, Baer and Fuller.  Fuller had been a peddler in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, eventually owning a business called The Boston Store. By the 1890s he was in Saint Louis and in business with Charles Stix and the Baer brothers.  The store was originally called The Grand Leader, and true to the name, it was a style leader in the Saint Louis area.

Stix, Baer and Fuller was often referred to as SBF.  The company used that abbreviation to its advantage with their Christmas slogan: Santa’s Best Friend.  Jeff recalled that when he was a little boy the holidays were exciting because the children in the owners’ families got to go into the store and choose a present for themselves.

Jeff mentioned the huge effect that the rise of discount stores had on the old, family owned department stores.  Department stores were used to having sales at the end of a season, such as after Christmas, or for Back-to-School.  The seemingly perpetual sales put on by stores like K-mart signaled the end of the independent department store.  SBF was sold to Associated Dry Goods in 1966, and eventually was rebranded as a Dillard’s store.

Aaron Fuller’s daughter, Corinne Fuller Glaser, was born into the retail business, and she kept her hand in it with a store for children’s clothes, Wyndotte.  But her biggest business concern was as the owner of Carlye.  Founded in 1938, Carlye was one of the many manufacturers of junior dresses in the Saint Louis area.  It was a bit more up-scale than many of the other makers, and you can see in my ad from 1957, that this dress was priced at $40 (about $340 today).  Some time in the mid 1960s, Carlye was sold to Leslie Fay.

One of my questions for Jeff was about the set up of manufacturing.  With so much of today’s clothing manufacturing being contracted and sub-contracted, it was interesting to learn that Carlye actually owned the factory where the clothes were made.  In fact, Jeff worked there as a young man, spreading the long lengths of fabric on the huge cutting tables in preparation for the cutters.

Jeff talked about how proud he is of his grandmother, and it is easy to see why.  She not only ran Wyndotte and Carlye, she had and reared her two children, and then helped rear her grandson.  She was very interested in the arts, especially the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.  Jeff has recently learned that during World War II, she assisted relatives still in Europe to escape from the Nazis.

Corrine’s husband Joseph Glaser, Junior, was the co-owner of Minx Modes, part of the R.J. Lowenbaum Manufacturing Company.  Jeff did not know when Minx Modes was established, but he guessed it was the 1930s, as Lowenbaum made uniform dresses during WWII.  (I found a site that said Minx Modes was formed in 1947, but I know that is an error, as there is a trademark for Minx Modes perfume that dates to 1946.)

Minx Modes made dresses for young career women.  The 1954 ad above shows a dress priced at $20, half the price of a Carlye frock.  At some time Joseph Glaser attempted to form a Saint Louis Designer’s group, but it never materialized.  Their manufacturing took place, as Jeff remembers it, in Tennessee, but he did not know if R.J. Lowenbaum actually owned the factory.  Minx Modes closed sometime in the late 1960s, around the same time that Carlye was sold.

But what is really interesting is that Joseph Glaser made a recording of the history of Minx Modes.  Jeff is going to have it transcribed or made into a digital recording, and he has promised me a copy when that is complete.  So hopefully we’ll have an update with even more information about Minx Modes.

My thanks to Jeff Fihn for sharing his memories about the Saint Louis fashion industry.

 

 

 

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