Category Archives: Museums

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 2

Georgia O’Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1929, and she continued to travel there to paint every summer until her husband, Albert Stieglitz, died in 1946. After settling his affairs in New York, she moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949, returning to the city only for visits.  It’s during her time in New Mexico that I tend to think of her, seeing as how I can remember her in television interviews (60 Minutes?) that she gave from her homes in the desert.

After O’Keeffe moved to New Mexico, changes began to occur in her wardrobe. All of the existing early clothing is either black or white, but in the desert, color began to creep into her closet.  Not wild, bright color, mind you; but colors of the earth and the sky.

Another change is that few of her garments from this later period are home sewn. It could be that she was too busy painting and running the two homes in NM. Or perhaps she was simply able to find suitable clothing for her lifestyle.  One example of this was a fondness for Marimekko. There are four Marimekko dresses (including the one above) existing today in the collection. They are more muted colors like gray and brown and black and green. These dresses have the early 1960s Design Research label as well as the Marimekko one, so they must have come from the Design Research store, either in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or in New York.

Here’s another view of the striped Marimekko, along with another one in the middle. The dress in front is from Claire McCardell.  O’Keeffe must have liked this dress, as she had a copy made in blue.  There is another McCardell dress in the collection, though it is speculated to have been a gift, as it does not look like the other garments O’Keeffe choose for herself during this period (little flowers and stripes…)

It was at her desert homes that O’Keeffe also took to wearing rugged workwear. There were several denim shirts, plus that great gingham one that was a gift from a friend. She wore jeans, and there is an early pair of Levis for women in the collection.  She also liked Keds and BF Goodrich sneakers.

It’s hard to tell, but in the photo of O’Keeffe (taken by Don Worth, 1958) she is wearing the same dress and jacket as in my photo from the exhibition.  The jacket is a French worker’s jacket. The dress appears to be made from a sari fabric, as the purple parts and the red have the same weave pattern. It is possible that this one was made by O’Keeffe, or it could have been made by one of the local dressmakers who came to make her clothes in the later years of her life.

I really hated not being able to get a better look at this dress, though I can see why the exhibition designer wanted to show it as it was worn in the archival photograph. There is an excellent photo of the dress in the accompanying book.

Here was a surprise – this dress was from Emilio Pucci, 1954. What made this so interesting is how right next to the dress was this work by O’Keeffe:

This work by O’Keeffe, In the Patio IX, was painted around 1964.

And this was one of the real strengths of this exhibition. It clearly showed how O’Keeffe’s aesthetic was her life – in her clothing, in her surroundings, and in her art.

When you have good friends, you get really great gifts. Actually it’s not clear whether or not this was a gift, or if O’Keeffe commissioned it.  You may recognize it as the work of Alexander Calder.  Later, O’Keeffe had this piece copied by a craftsperson in India. She was always having the things she loved best reproduced.

There are many photos of O’Keeffe and her Calder pin. In this photo by Bruce Weber, 1980, she is also wearing what must have been a favorite belt, made by Mexican artisan Hector Aguilar, circa 195o. It is in many of her photos.

Click for a better view of the shoes.

Beginning around 1960, O’Keeffe began to make the wrap dress one of the key parts of her wardrobe. In her closet were twenty of them, all pretty much of the same design. One has a Neiman Marcus Model’s smock label, and another one is labeled Sidran, Dallas. The others are copies made by her dressmaker in Santa Fe.

The shoes are also in multiples, the ones on the left being by Ferragamo, and the ones on the right a design labeled Saks.  There are eight pairs of the Ferragamos, and to my delight, the ones on display were arranged so that the labels could be read. One pair has the older “Creations Ferragamo” label, and the others, a label, “Salvatore Ferragamo” that dates from the late 1950s. It is apparent that she bought these shoes over a long period of time.

This blue pair is a bit different from the others, which have a little leather tie. These must have been reserved for special wear, as they show much less wear that the others. Or maybe she decided they were not to her taste.

Starting in the 1950s, O’Keeffe did quite a bit of traveling. She brought back textiles and had clothing made for her in Hong Kong. She also shopped in Santa Fe for kimono and other Asian textile objects.

This silk suit was made for O’Keeffe in the late 1950s in Hong Kong.

You can see that O’Keeffe never gave up her beloved black. Most of the formal portraits she posed for continued to show her in black. This suit was probably acquired in Spain, as it has the Eisa label – the label Balenciaga used in his home country.

The hood on the right is unlabeled, but O’Keeffe is shown wearing it in a series of photos taken in 1952.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern will be at Reynolda House until November 19, 2017. It then travels to Salem, MA, where it opens on December 16, 2017 at the Peabody Essex Museum.  If you can’t make it to either location, but are a big fan of O’Keeffe, I do recommend the accompanying book, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern by curator Wanda Corn. The book adds another dimension to the story, with views inside O’Keeffe’s New Mexico homes.

And finally, a big thank you to Reynolda House for bringing this fabulous show to North Carolina.

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 1

I wasn’t too disappointed about not having a trip to New York City planned for this summer until I read about Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. I even gave some serious thought to forgetting about our trip to Chicago, and instead, planning to head to NYC. But as it turned out, that wasn’t necessary, as I discovered that the exhibition would be traveling to Winston-Salem, NC, a mere two and a half hours’ drive from my home.

There’s so much to show and to say that I’ll be dividing this exhibition review into two, and maybe even three parts. O’Keeffe’s life is well-documented, so I’ll keep the biographical information to a minimum. It won’t be so much her art and life that I’m writing about, so much as the way she lived her life. And that was in a very modern way.

For a while, O’Keeffe worked as an art teacher, and she sometimes did illustration work for Vanity Fair magazine. It is thought that the fashionable work above was used by her as an example in her classroom. It’s very much a work of it’s time, 1916-1917, but I’d never have guessed it was by O’Keeffe.

After a time teaching in Texas, O’Keeffe moved to New York, and the first group of garments in the exhibition date to her time in the city. Several themes are shown. O’Keeffe was consistent in the details she liked in her clothing. She followed fashion in her own way. She loved black and white, and often wore a combination of the two to produce a desired effect. She and her photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, carefully crafted her image using her clothing.

Take the dress above. It is one of the garments in the exhibition that has been attributed to O’Keeffe. She was, like many women of her time, an accomplished needlewoman. Many of her clothes from her years in New York are thought to have been made by her. You can tell that this dress dates to the 1920s, even though it might not be considered the height of fashion. She loved ties, and here you can see them at the neck and the wrists. And this dress is in a shade of white.

There were four dresses in the same shade of creme. The one you get the best look of is dated to 1937, but it looks  earlier to me, maybe early 30s. But regardless, it shows O’Keeffe’s commitment to the color over a period of years. All the dresses are made of silk, and all seem to be expertly home-sewn. It is possible that O’Keeffe made all these dresses.

Because there is such a good photographic record of O’Keeffe’s life, the many photos of her were used to help date the garments, especially the later ones.

It’s regrettable that my photo is so poor. My “real” camera malfunctioned, with the flash stuck in the on position, so I had to rely on cell photos. Still, I hope you can appreciate this grouping of the other main color in O’Keeffe’s early wardrobe – black.

The cape on the left has a label, Zoe de Salle, who, it seems, specialized in capes. Is it the same cape as in the iconic photo used in the exhibition promotion (the one at the top of my post)? No, as that photo was taken by Stieglitz in the early 1920s, and Zoe de Salle’s salon dates from 1936. Still, it’s a look she turned to on many occasions.

The dress on the right was probably made by O’Keeffe in the 1930s. Of interest is the white tie at the neck and the white cuffs. And although this dress looks like it has a fitted waist, what you are seeing is actually a cummerbund.  O’Keeffe was photographed wearing this dress for years. A favorite, perhaps? From the archival photographs, it looks like she had two versions of this dress, in wool and in silk. It appears that she loved vertical pleats and tucks.

This 1920s coat also appears to be made by a dressmaker, though the quality is not as high as some of the other garments. Still, you can see touches of O’Keeffe’s style in contrasting white on black collar.

These three white blouses are also in the “attributed to Georgia O’Keeffe” category. Stylistically, they date to the 1930s. The one on the right is the plainest, being made like a shirt, from silk. The other two are a bit more interesting to ponder.

click to enlarge

Can you see all the pintucks? If not, be sure to enlarge the photo, because they are an important feature in this 1930s blouse. The tucks are quite finely executed, and the question has been brought up (on Facebook), was it possible for a hobbyist sewer like O’Keeffe to execute such a difficult design, with the tucks providing all the shaping of the blouse?

Click

And what about this one, with the complicated crossing of pintucks, and the faggotting between that panel and the small ruffles? Would a busy artist have the time to devote to such a time-intensive sewing project?

We’ll probably never know for sure, but do note that the blouses have elements that put them squarely in O’Keeffe’s style, with the tie at the neck and the vertical lines of the pintucks. Consistency of style is one of the hallmarks of O’Keeffe’s clothing. When she found what she liked, such as a little tie at the neck, she stuck with it and adapted it to fit the fashion of the day.

Starting in the late 1920s O’Keeffe had been spending her summers in New Mexico. Stieglitz died in 1946, and O’Keeffe moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. Over the years she had painted New York many times, and the painting above, of the Brooklyn Bridge, was her last. It’s full of symbolism, with the dark of the bridge representing the city, and the blue sky New Mexico. As a final nod to Stieglitz, there is a heart in the center.

Next, O’Keeffe in the desert.

 

 

 

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Reynolda House Costume Collection

When I first started documenting my visits to costume collections and exhibitions in 2003, the first place I visited was the Reynolda House in Winston-Salem. Reynolda was built by the RJ Reynolds family, who had made a fortune in tobacco. RJ’s wife, Katherine Smith Reynolds, was actually the driving force behind Reynolda. She bought the land as a working farm and later planned a sixty room house for the family.

Before falling in love with Katherine (who was his personal secretary, second cousin, and 30 years younger than he) RJ had long been Winston-Salem’s most eligible bachelor. Katherine was a good example of the “New Woman” of the turn of the 20th century. She was educated, earning a degree in English in 1902. She taught for a while, and then went to work for RJ Reynolds. In February, 1905, the two were married.

Reynolda House stayed within the family until 1964, when the estate was incorporated as a nonprofit dedicated to art and education. In 1967 the house was opened as a museum of American art. The Reynolds family had not been big collectors of art, but it was a good time to be buying art and the collection was able to grow.

In 1972 many articles of clothing belonging to the Reynolds family were found stored away in the attic of the house. After conservation, the clothing collection was put on display in the attic, where special cases were built. Because most of the original wearers of the clothes were then deceased, the curators used family stories, photographic evidence, and the house archives to figure out who wore each item. Some are still not entirely attributed.

The dress above is an example. It was most likely worn by Katherine Smith before her marriage. The style is very much what a young woman would have worn around the time she graduated from college in 1902.

According to family interviews taken when the clothes were found, Katherine was an accomplished seamstress. Even though she came from a privileged background, it is likely that fancy hand sewing was part of her education. This negligee was said to have been made by her for her honeymoon.

Her wedding suit still exists, but I’ve only seen photos of it. Some of the articles are too fragile to display, or it could be that I’ve just missed it as the clothes are rotated from time to time. Again, family tradition holds that she made her suit, but she would have to have been a real expert as it is quite elaborate.

For their honeymoon, RJ and Katherine did what rich people usually did – they went on a tour of Europe. While in Paris, Katherine commissioned two gowns from the couture house, Compagnie Lyonnaise. The one here is made from crepe de Chine, and is decorated with multiple lace medallions, silk embroidery, and tiny buttons.

All those ovals are inset lace, and I wish you could better see the embroidery. Quite nice!

Here’s a very fancy sleeve, and a tiny taste of the back detail.

The couple first lived in Winston-Salem, but in 1912 Katherine’s house in the country was begun. It was finally finished in 1917, but unfortunately, by that time RJ was seriously ill. He died in 1918, having lived in the new house for only a few months. Katherine and their four children remained at the house. She quietly remarried in 1921, the groom being the principal of the estate’s school, and a much younger man.

This dress belonged to Katherine, and was made for her by New York dressmakers, Frances and Co, around 1922.

Without a doubt, this cape is my favorite of the pieces currently on display. It from Paris design house, Boué Soeurs, who were known for their use of constructed flower ornamentation.

I love how the tie ends are pulled through the wreath of fabric flowers.

Sad to say, but Katherine died in 1924, after giving birth at the age of 44. The four Reynolds children were put under the trust of relatives and continued to live at Reynolda. I didn’t take photos, but one section of the attic is devoted to their toys.

There are also some clothes that belonged to Katherine’s daughters.  This stunning gown and mantle was made by New York designer Jesse Franklin Turner for Mary Reynolds Babcock. The dress is a rich satin, and the mantle is velvet. There is a 1937 portrait of Mary wearing this dress on the Reynolda website.

This Hattie Carnegie gown with matching jacket was worn by Katherine’s daughter Nancy Susan Reynolds Bagley. It dates to the mid 1950s.

Horrible photo, but you get the idea, right?

The attic also contains lots of hats and accessories. These were probably worn by Katherine. Note the transparency of the lace hat on the left. So beautiful!

There are also some very nice hats from the 1930s and 40s that belonged to the Reynolds daughters.

I first visited Reynolda House in 1971 while on a class trip to see the historical highlights of the state. The clothes had not yet been found, but I remember so much from that first visit. Since then I’ve been back several times, and each visit brings new discoveries. Even without that lovely attic, the house is worth a visit. There is the best miniature Calder mobile, and one of my favorite Grant Wood paintings, and the most exquisite Maurice Prendergast painting.

And to make it even better, right now they have a special exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern. Because I was going anyway to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show, I requested permission to take photos in the attic and was thrilled when I was granted permission.  So this is a rare glimpse of a truly stunning collection. My thanks to the publicity office at Reynolda.

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Batik Textiles of Java at the Art Institute of Chicago

For my last post about the museums in Chicago, I want to show you what to me was a revelation. Being a teenager in the 1960s and 70s, I thought I knew batik, that ubiquitous dorm room decorator fabric. It was cotton with designs painted in hot wax to make a resist, then dipped in indigo. So I was not prepared for the range of colors and designs on exhibit in the textile galleries of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The process of dying batik is not terribly old, dating only to the early 19th century. It was developed on the island of Java, located in Indonesia, and used in traditional Javanese garments.

Because this was so new to me, my time spent looking at the batiks was one more of discovery than of learning, and my post will be pretty much the same – a visual introduction to some of the most beautiful fabrics I’ve seen in a while.

The fabric above was dyed in the early 20th century by Eliza van Zuylen. It was fashioned into a sarong, which is still intact.

These pieces are huge, as they were intended to wrap the body. This piece is a ceremonial hip wrap called a dodot.

The closeup shows that this is a forest scene, with all the universe of Java.

This stunning hip wrapper was made in the early 20th century.

This sarong was one of my favorites. Made around 1930, this piece is unusual in that it was stamped using a copper plate, rather than drawn by hand. The printing process was developed in order to speed up the production time, but it also meant a drop in the quality of the design.

The topic is that of a moonlit garden; the artist is Obin, who has been working to re-establish traditional batik techniques since the 1970s.

Click to enlarge

At first look I thought this hip wrapper was patchwork, but no, it is entirely hand drawn and dyed. Made in the mid 20th century, it symbolized the afternoon garden. Note the difference in pattern on the two halves. That meant the wearer could change the direction of the wrap for a whole new look.

This early 20th century shoulder wrap shows the influence of the large Muslim community in Cirebon, on the north coast of Java.

On display until September 17, 2017.

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Making Mainbocher at the Chicago History Museum

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Chicago was a visit to the Chicago History Museum, and the highlight of the museum was a current exhibition, Making Mainbocher. You may know the name Mainbocher, as he was a major designer from 1930 through 1971. Though he got his start in fashion in Paris, Main Bocher (as he was originally named) was from Chicago, and the exhibition began with a look at his time in the city, and the influences the city had on his long career.

Bocher always loved the arts, and during his school days in Chicago he studied drama and music. He later started a course in illustration at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and to help make ends meet he worked at Sears, Roebuck, answering customer complaint letters, a job that later he credited with teaching him the value of good customer service.

At nineteen, Main Bocher left Chicago, and never again lived there. In the years before World War I he lived in New York, with long stretches in Europe. He had just had his first major commission as an illustrator (above) when the US entered the war. He enlisted, and remained in France until the outbreak of the next war. During the 1920s Bocher tried fashion illustration, and ended up at Harper’s Bazar as an artist. The exhibition had quite a few examples – typical 1920s illustration, all signed Main Bocher. His big break came in 1923 when he went to work for French Vogue. In 1927 he was made the editor.

But Bocher felt he had more to offer in fashion. He quit his Vogue position to open his own couture house. Unfortunately his timing was poor, as a few months after he quit, Wall Street crashed. He put the plan on hold while he scraped together the money to start the business. In 1930 he opened his salon, named it Mainbocher and Frenchied up the pronunciation. He was forty years old.

Things were slow at first, but his persistence paid off, and the business became a great success. Probably the biggest boost to Mainbocher came in 1937 when Wallis Simpson had him design her wedding dress and trousseau for her wedding to the Duke of Windsor.

The earliest clothes in the exhibition date from 1937. The dress on the left is actually two pieces, a tunic over a long dress. The coat in the middle is really beautiful. It is a wool tweedy plaid cut on the bias, and has a lovely drape. Mainbocher donated these two pieces to the Chicago History Museum in 1968.

This suit is also from 1937, and is quite special as it is one of the designs that originated with the Duchess of Windsor’s trousseau. Her version was grey with blue and white accessories.

This suit belonged to Mrs. Stephen Ingersoll of Chicago. I’m not sure it is possible for a suit to have a prettier neckline.

When it became obvious that Paris was going to fall to the Germans, Mainbocher and his partner (who was also his illustrator) Douglas Pollard, left France and settled in New York. To raise money to restart his business, Mainbocher partnered with Warner Corsets with a line of corsets. As far as I could tell, this is the only time Mainbocher did a line of any type of ready-to-wear.

The two evening dresses above (1945 and 1946) are good examples of Mainbocher’s philosophy toward embellishment. The dresses themselves had spare, elegant lines. Mainbocher added the decoration so to eliminate the need for jewelry.

This dress is from 1945, and was made for Mrs. Watson Armour III. The dress was originally designed in yellow, but Mrs. Watson requested it in grey.

One of the real strengths of the exhibition is the presence of a book of facsimiles of the original sketches and swatches. Here is the same dress in the original yellow.  Almost all the designs had the accompanying sketch, and it added so much to the show.

During WWII, the scarcity of materials forced designers to develop ways of stretching the wardrobes of their clients. Mainbocher made cocktail aprons that matched his gowns. He continued the idea with the 1947 gown on the right. He also came up with the idea of the embellished evening sweater, which went on to be a classic of the 1950s.

This 1951 ballgown rated  its own revolving pedestal. It was a good way to see how Mainbocher used four different colors of satin to make the skirt.

Mainbocher was a master of the strapless gown, which he first designed in 1934. By the late 1940s it was a big part of what he was best known for.

And while Mainbocher is best known for his ball gowns, I do believe that his suits are my favorites.  There were only a few suits in the exhibition, but they were all stunning. The original sketch shows that the applied motif on the jacket and the waist band is also in a matching off-white silk blouse. Details matter.

Possibly my favorite in the entire exhibition, this navy suit dates from 1948.

I love Mainbocher’s continued use of the self-applique. It adds detail without being obvious. This was another case where I really wanted to go up and unbutton the jacket so I could see the rest of it.

I need to see this dress as well. The bodice has an interesting criss-cross that tends to mirror the points of the lace decoration of the skirt.

In the 1960s when the fashion world was going mad, Mainbocher continued to do what he did best – making beautiful clothes for women who wanted to look sophisticated. 1964 and 1966.

In the 1940s Mainbocher did a bit of uniform design work. In 1942 he was contracted to design uniforms for the WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

I especially loved this grey and white seersucker work uniform.  It is actually a dress with jacket.

In 1948 Mainbocher redesigned uniforms for the Girl Scouts of America.

And in what is probably the chicest nurses’ uniform ever, he made this one for the student nurses at Passavant Memorial Hospital (which is now Northwestern Memorial in Chicago).

It was a beautiful exhibition, and I left feeling like I really knew what Mainbocher was about. Curator Petra Slinkard did an excellent job, and if you are in the Chicago area and have not seen this show, it is well-worth the time and effort to see it.  Closes August 20, 2017.

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The Art Institute of Chicago

High on my list of things to do in Chicago was a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was so great that I went twice, so I could spend extra time with some of the works I found to be most fascinating. First, I have to say that I was actually surprised by the scope of the collections at the Art Institute. Sometimes we (or maybe I should say I) make the mistake of thinking about artists through their most familiar works and need to be reminded that most artists made works that, while not as well-known, are still masterful. The Art Institute has its share of the most famous, like American Gothic, Nighthawks, and A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884, but it is crammed full of lesser known delights from Winslow Homer, Auguste Renoir, and many others.

I could write about the collections at the Art Institute of Chicago for days, but I’ll be limiting this review of my visit to things mainly of interest to textile and clothing fans.

This work by American artist Charles Demuth is titled Spring. Can you guess why?

This is actually a painted collage of textile samples of the sort that were sent to makers and designers to advertise the new season’s fabrics. The year was 1921, and Demuth was commenting on how the changing seasons were now marked by what people could buy rather than by nature.

John Singer Sargent is best known for the wonderful society portraits he painted, so this work, The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frescati, Italy, 1907, was a delightful surprise. I love pictures that show women actively involved in crafts. And I would love to see what Jane von Glehn, the woman portrayed, was herself painting.

It seems as if a woman sitting with her sewing has always been a popular theme for painters. Maybe because having the work helped the sitter hold the pose. Anyway, here’s a pretty example from Renoir, Young Woman Sewing, 1879.

This portrait, Madame Pastoret and her Son, was painted by Jacques-Louis David in 1791/2. I usually find works by David to be gloomy, but this one seems to be cheered a bit by the reddish-brown furniture.

The unmistakable work of Mexican artist Diego Rivera, The Weaver shows weaver Luz Jimenez using a traditional loom with a back strap.

I think my favorite gallery was one containing several works by Winslow Homer. The painting above, Croquet Scene from 1866, might be familiar to readers of fashion history books.  It is commonly used to illustrate the dress elevator, a device that drew up the skirt to protect it while the wearer was participating in outdoor activities.

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I have never seen the above painting by Homer, Mount Washington.

When this was painted in 1869, a type of nature tourism had taken hold in the eastern United States. While real pioneers were roughing it on their way west, wealthy Easterners could experience nature while staying in grand hotels and wearing fashionable clothing.

Peach Blossoms, from 1878 is another example of the types of outdoor scenes Winslow Homer created. The placard notes pointed out how the manner in which the blossoms were painted shows how he was influenced by Japanese prints.

Is she wearing pants? I could not tell. This is Nouvart Dzeron, A Daughter of Armenia, painted in 1912 by Chicago artist Ralph Elmer Clarkson. It wasn’t just Paul Poiret in Paris who was pushing “exoticism” in 1912.

Another favorite was Paris Street, Rainy Day, by Gustave Caillebotte. The painting is so large that you feel yourself being drawn into it. The artist used math to figure the perspective, but the wet stones give an air of complete immediacy.

So often parodied, but still, so very good, Hopper’s Nighthawks is one of the best known works in the Art Institute.

Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 better known as Whistler’s Mother, was there on loan from the  Musée d’Orsay. The Art Institute does have large holdings of Whistler’s work, which were displayed along with his mother in a special gallery.

Another example of the influence of Japanese printing, The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt was painted in 1893. The museum has a large collection of Japanese prints, and it was interesting to view them after reading about how so many Western artists in the late Nineteenth Century were influenced by them.

And finally, another American woman artist, Georgia O’keeffe, was well-represented. I’ve seen reproductions of this painting, Sky Above Clouds, IV many times, but I had no idea of the magnitude of it.  The painting is twenty-four feet long and is hung above a stair landing.

I just found out that a major exhibition Georgia O’keeffe: Living Modern will be traveling to Winston-Salem, NC later this summer. If you are in the New York area, better see it before it closes at the Brooklyn Museum in July. In December it travels to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

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National Museum of the US Air Force, Dayton, Ohio

One of the big surprises on our recent trip across the Midwest was the National Museum of the US Air Force. It wasn’t one of my choices, but it did end up being a favorite.  I’ve been in enough military museums to know that there are always plenty of textiles, usually in the form of uniforms, but this one proved to be loaded with things of interest.

The museum is huge, and it begins with the earliest of days of aviation. It is appropriate that the museum is located in Dayton, the home of Wilbur and Orville Wright, pioneers of winged flight.

It’s important to note that the Wright Brothers got started in transportation with their bicycle shop in Dayton. Opened in 1892, by 1896 they were making their own brand of bikes. The bicycle was not just a toy; it was an important method of transport, and was especially embraced by women. I was happy to see an example of a Wright bicycle in the museum, and was especially happy to see that it was a woman’s bike.

Starting with World War I, there were plenty of uniforms on display. Most of these items belonged to Stephen Thompson of Dayton, and includes a sock with a bullet hole. Thompson was shot in the leg and because of the unavailability of medical help, he used his own pocket knife to remove the bullet. The bullet is there somewhere.

These items belonged to Lt. Robert Wanamaker, who survived the war, and Lt. Fred Morton, who did not. Wanamaker was shot down by German ace Ernst Udet who took some of the fabric from Wanamaker’s plane as a souvenir. Even though he was badly injured, Wanamaker autographed the scrap for Udet! When they met again in 1931, Udet returned the fabric to Wanamaker.

When the war ended, many french women embroidered banners in appreciation of all that American squandons had done in service to France.  This illustration by George Barbier was in a 1919 issue of fashion magazine Gazette du Bon Ton.

The museum had a display of six of the banners. I’m sorry this photo is so poor as these were so beautiful.

As expected, there were lots of World War II leather jackets. Members of flight crews sometimes decorated their own jackets, but in many cases there was one member of a crew who became the unofficial designer. The jacket above was worn and decorated by Robert Dean of Dayton. All the bombs are dated and labeled.

Artists at the Walt Disney Studios designed many of the official  squadron insignia.

You can’t really tell, but that is Donald Duck and his nephews on this jacket worn by nurse 1st Lt. Evelyn Ordway, on the bottom right of my photo.

All the above items were worn by nurses, most of whom flew on evacuation missions and tended to the wounded. It’s interesting how different the items the women wore for their work from the official uniforms.

The museum has a large display of items from woman flyers and pilots.

WASP stands for Women Airforce Service Pilots, a paramilitary group of women pilots who were trained to fly non-combat aircraft.

There was also an area dedicated to the Tuskegee Airmen.  This jacket belonged to Colonel Edward Gleed.

There was an interesting exhibit on the Holocaust, and the role of the Air Force in freeing captives in concentration and prisoner of war camps.

On a much lighter note, there was a nice tribute to comedian Bob Hope, who did fifty-seven tours for the USO, entertaining American troops.

During the Korean War, American airmen took to decorating their headgear. At the top, a Korean painter decorated this helmet with scenes from Korean life. The middle cap was painted with the Thunderbirds emblem.  On the bottom cap, Major Joseph Turner kept a record of his 101 missions.

The museum does a really good job of showing a wide range of uniforms and personal artifacts.  Had this museum just contained aircraft, I’ve have been looking for the nearest bar.

But even some of the “planes” were amusing.  This is not a UFO; it’s an Avro Canada VZ-9AV Avrocar, a 1950s attempt at making a vertical takeoff craft. It was an expensive failure, but an fun ending to our visit.

The National Museum of the US Air Force is located at Wright Patterson air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. It’s free and well worth a visit.

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