Category Archives: Museums

Homespun Museum at Grovewood Village

I recently found myself with a free afternoon and a desire to see something interesting. Sometimes we forget to be a tourist in our own towns, so I decided to take in an old favorite, the Homespun Museum, which is tucked behind the Grove Park Inn in Asheville. I’ve written about the museum before, here, and here. 

The Homespun Museum is not actually about homespun fabric. It is built around the artifacts left from Biltmore Industries, which closed in 1981. Biltmore Industries was established in 1905, and for a while was a school of handicraft. The products were sold to the increasing numbers of tourists who visited Asheville. By the 1920s Biltmore Industries had moved from Biltmore Village to the grounds of the famous Grove Park Inn. The focus was on making woolen textiles, though woodcrafters were still employed to build looms and furniture and such for the enterprise.

The woolen fabric production was called Biltmore Homespun, even though the yarn was not handspun at all.  The business was much too large to produce cloth from yarn spun on old fashioned spinning wheels, though Biltmore Industries did give the impression through store displays that spinning wheels were employed.

The yarn was, however, woven by hand on people-powered looms. The looms were based on ones brought back from an information-gathering trip to Sweden. Many of the looms still exist, and one is set up in the museum.

The looms were very large, as you can see, and a special long and narrow loom building was built to accomodate what was eventually forty looms. At peak production, Biltmore Homespun produced 950  yards of cloth a day. It was marketed in magazine ads across the country, and in the museum you can see letters by celebrities like Eleanor Roosevelt praising their purchases.

It’s interesting that so much from Biltmore Industries still exists, When the business closed in 1981, much of the inventory of wool was given to former employees and local crafters, but the machinery, furnishings, displays, and ephemera was just left in the old buildings.

The table above is a cutting table used to cut the yardage. There was a shop in one of the buildings where visitors could shop for the fabric and other items.

There were quite a few of these samples on display, along with many larger samples, and garments made up from the cloth. The man in the photo is Harry Blomberg, who bought the business in the 1950s. His family still owns the property.

I’m telling you, my fingers were itching to feel these samples.

This visit was made even better because the owners have opened up the old dye shed, which has much of the machinery set up with notes about how each was used. Until seeing all these machines and reading about how each was used, I had no idea this was such a huge operation. These barrels are the dye vats where wool that had been cleaned was dyed.

After the dyed wool was dried and mixed, it was sent through a huge carding machine. It in no way resembles the hand cards (they look like brushes on a paddle) used by families who spun their own fiber.

Carded wool, ready for the spinner.

The fiber was then ready to spin into yarn. Above is the spinning machine, a mule spinner. The machine has moveable parts (see the little wheels) that pull out the wool, seen on the left, twisting it and winding the finished yarn on the right. For some reason they used red wool on the bobbins to show the finished product, but the unspun wool is white!

1068 bobbins were needed to set up the loom for weaving. The bobbins on these racks were ready for the warp roller.

After the yarns were organized on the roller, the roller was placed on the loom where each yarn was attached by hand.

This vintage photo shows the looms in the weaving shed. Today the shed contains Harry Blomberg’s antique car collection.

The woven wool was then washed in the machines above using Ivory Soap and pure mountain spring water. The moisture was extracted, and the cloth dried out-of-doors. It was then shaved to smooth it, and was carefully inspected for flaws. A group of women workers repaired any flaws with needle and yarn.

I’m still amazed by all the stuff that remains at Biltmore Industries. Bags and bags of wooden spools…

machines that still contain bits of fleece…

and fabric still on the machines. It’s like a moment in time, frozen.

The tour through the dye house is open April through November, and the museum is open April through December.

 

 

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Moravian Galleries at MESDA

I love a good treasure hunt, and that’s why I head to my local Goodwill bins dig a couple of times a month. And while I always hope to find a clothing treasure, my first stop is always the books bins. Almost every visit turns up at lest one clothing or textile related book. And usually the find is some old out of print book from the past; something I’d probably never know of otherwise.

A recent find was Needlepoint in America by Hope Hanley. A quick look at the photos guaranteed that there would be plenty of information about clothing and accessories, so I bought it and read it. I can remember trying needlepoint in the 1970s during the “colonial” crafts revival craze. By that time most needlepoint came in the form of kits and pre-worked designs. But if you look back to early American needlepoint, you see a freshness and creativity not seen in a kit.

I enjoyed the book because I learned so much. I had heard the term “Berlin work” but until reading this book did not realize it meant the work was made according to a pattern, the first of which where manufactured in Berlin around 1806.

I recently revisited the wonderful Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, or MESDA, in Winston-Salem, NC. I wanted to see needlework, and my husband wanted to see flintlock rifles. We were both pleased with the visit. We did a self-guided tour (more on that later) with the aim of concentrating on items actually made in Salem, NC by the original settlers, Moravians who migrated from their towns in Pennsylvania.

For the interior of North Carolina, the Moravian settlements are quite early, dating to 1753. They were meticulous recordkeepers, so much is known about their lives. From the time Salem was established in 1772, it was a crafts village and marketplace. Workers there were renowned for pottery, silversmithing, and gunsmithing. The arts were acknowledged and encouraged, with there being a town band, and an artist’s studio. Girls were well educated in both academics and needlework.  And because the houses and properties tended to remain in Moravian hands, much of their crafts heritage has survived.

And here is where my recent reading of Needlepoint in America came in handy. The dog and cat drawings are a pattern to make needlework slippers, much like the ones seen above. The exhibit notes described the pattern as “Berlin Work Shoe Pattern, P. Trube, Berlin, Germany, 1820-1840. It was exciting to actually see a Berlin work pattern, just like I’d just been reading about! This one is on loan from the collection of Salem College, the school Moravians established for girls.

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This needlepoint pocket book dates to 182o through 1840.

This Berlin work picture is attributed to Moravian Louisa Lauretta Vogler, circa 1835.

It wasn’t all needlepoint. This embroidered linen pocket was made in Salem around 1780. The maker was probably Martha Elizabeth Spach.

This is a little silk sewing bag with a fish-shaped pincushion attached. It was made in Salem circa 1800-1820.

This tiny sewing box has all the original pieces. Unfortunately, the maker is unknown.

Not all samplers have mottoes and alphabets. Maria Steiner practiced her stitches on this piece of linen in 1808.

Each of the ovals is different.

This creation is a mix of embroidery and painting. Made in Salem between 1825 and 1835, the unknown maker used a variety of materials to construct her picture, including silk thread, chenille, silk fabric scraps, and ribbon.

This rare Southern bandbox came from a Salem milliner’s shop. that of Sarah A. Fulkerson, mid nineteenth century.

This is a needle case, made in Salem in 1838.

Made by tin and silversmith John Vogler, these are silver cape clasps made between 1815 and 1830. Vogler was a prolific craftsman and he lived to be 98.

The early Moravians were pacifists who refused to participate in the Revolutionary War. By the time of the Civil War eighty years later, their stance had softened, with many young men from Salem joining the fight. It appears that many in Salem were against secession, but once the fight started the town provided Confederate soldiers, their brass band, and fabric for Confederate uniforms from a Moravian owned mill.

All this makes the little hand-stitched flag a bit odd. It was made by Emma Miller in Salem in 1865. At the time of the war Moravians as a group were suspected of being Union sympathizers due to their close relationship to the church in Pennsylvania. There’s little evidence supporting the claim, but still, the flag exists.

Here’s Emma with her husband. Maybe she was trying to make something concrete to show her loyalty once it was obvious the war was lost.

The Moravians also had a pottery business, and they made both items that were similar to those of other potters in the region, and pottery that was reminiscent of their Central European heritage. I thought these animal jars were particularly charming.

Salem had a homegrown artist in town, Christian Daniel Welfare. In 1824 he traveled to Philadelphia to study with Thomas Sully, and then returned to Salem the next year, when he painted this self portrait. I loved how the museum put a door frame around the portrait, which seems to invite the viewer into the artist’s studio. Do you think he could have been influenced by Charles Willson Peale’s painting of his sons, which Welfare could have seen in Philadelphia?

Many Salem residents had their portraits painted by Welfare. This is Elizabeth Hege Ruez and her son Zacharias, circa 1825.

And this a a quite sour looking Christina Hege, 1928. She was artist Welfare’s sister-in-law. Note that Christina is dressed in the style of the 1820s.

You can see a marked contrast between the clothing of Elizabeth and Christina and the woman in this portrait, Anna Maria Benzien. This portrait of the Moravian sister was made in London around 1754 before she and her husband went to America. She is wearing the proper dress for a Moravian woman at the time. By 1825 the old rules of dress of the sect were giving way to fashion.

If you are ever in the Winston-Salem area, MESDA should be high on your list of places to visit. Tim and I took the self-guided tour, which gets you into only a small part of the general galleries plus the Moravian galleries. Spend the extra money and take the guided tour, which I have taken in the past. You see so much more.

 

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Currently Reading – Mary Quant

This new book, Mary Quant, is the catalog (of sorts) of an exhibition currently showing at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  The exhibition and book have been a long time in coming. I’m not going to fight the old did-she-or-did-she-not invent the mini skirt, but I am going to say that Quant’s work influenced how we all dressed in the Sixties and beyond.

Before this book, the best account of Quant’s life was her autobiography with was published at the height of her career in 1966. And while the book is fantastic, it was a bit of a letdown to a person like me who tends to dwell on details. The lack of dates in the book was extremely annoying.

But curator and author Jenny Lister and her collaborators on this book have definitely filled in those gaps. It was greatly enhanced by an appeal on the museum’s social media sites to get women to share their Mary Quant stories from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Some of the stories and the garments connected to them actually ended up in the exhibition and the book.

Besides showing many of the garments shown in the exhibition, we also get to see photos from the Quant archive of the clothes as worn by models. This Ginger Group dress probably dates from 1966.

Here’s the same dress in a different colorway. The V&A acquired this dress for the exhibition. I know this because they got it, and another one, from my friends at Style and Salvage.

Because the curator had access to the Mary Quant archive, we are treated to the supporting material of many of the designs featured.

This dress, “Stampede”, is quite early, 1962. Skirts were getting shorter, but the mini was still a couple of years in the future.

In 1963 Quant released her Ginger Group line. It was less expensive than the clothes she made for her own Bazaar boutiques, and was wholesaled to stores. The Quant girls in the ad were designed by Maureen Roffey.

The dresses in the whimsical advertising were actual clothes included in the line. Do you recognize the famous face on the left?

And here are the design details for the dress on the right in the ad. It dates to 1965.

With the exception of the three Bazaar boutiques which were all closed by 1969, Mary Quant was a wholesaler. She maintained a design and sewing workroom to make samples, but her clothes were made by other firms. She (or actually Archie McNair, her partner along with her husband Alexander Plunkett Green) made lots of deals to sell her designs. In the US, JC Penney made and sold Quant designs, as well as Puritan. Starting in 1964 Butterick patterns released Quant designs as part of their Young Designer line.

Often the clothes designed for one line ended up in some of the other collaborations. Some of the Butterick patterns are very similar to the JC Penney clothes. The early Butterick design above was also produced as a completed garment.

To a collector and complete label fanatic, this chart is incredibly helpful. The Quant labels have been confusing people (me) for years, but the V&A staff was able to match extant garments with dated material with the archive to come up with this lovely timeline. Because of this I was able to correct some errors in the VFG Label Resource, and to more correctly date the three Quant garments in my own collection.

People interested in the history and culture of the Sixties will want to read this one, as well as those of us who grew up in the Age of Quant. The only beef I have with the book is that as a catalog of the exhibition, it is not complete. I’ve seen so many Instagram photos of the exhibition that I know that much more was included than what we are shown in the book. I wish they had at least included a listing with thumbnail photos of the entire exhibition.

There’s still plenty of time to catch Mary Quant at the Victoria and Albert. It’s on until February 16, 2020.

 

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Kimono Refashioned at the Cincinnati Art Museum

The main reason for our recent trip to Cincinnati was to view the current fashion exhibition there, Kimono Refashioned: Japan’s Impact on International Fashion. The second I read that many of the garments in this exhibition were from the collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute, I knew this was an exhibition I simply could not miss.

From the first exhibit (above) to the last, this was a feast for the eye and the mind. At the end of the exhibition the museum had set up ipads for visitors to give feedback. One of the questions was, “Did you learn anything from this exhibition?” I actually saw and learned so much that I had no idea on how to respond.

The garment in the foreground was refashioned from a small sleeved kimono called a kosode. The bodice and overskirt were made by court dressers Misses Turner around 1876.

The exhibition included many diagrams to help visitors visualize the concepts presented. Here you get a good picture of how a kimono could be disassembled and cut into pieces to make a fashionable Western dress.

The garment in the background of the top photo is kimono styled in the manner of Western dress with a wide belt instead of an obi. The big difference between the remodeled dress and the original kimono is a matter of shape. In the Western dress the body conforms to the garment; in kimono the garment conforms to the body. In other words kimono is flat, whereas an 1870s dress is three dimensional.

But there’s more to refashioning the idea of kimono than merely cutting one apart to make a Western style dress. In the late nineteenth century Japonism was a very popular area of collecting. Many artists and fashion designers were collectors of Japanese prints and clothing. One collector was the designer of this dress, Jacques Doucet. Dating from the late 1890s, the dress has a typical silhouette of the day, but the applied iris ornamentation was inspired by Japan. There is even a relatively unadored area around the waist, as if the dress might have an obi.

This evening coat from around 1910 more clearly shows the influence of kimono in the  loose shape and the motif of the brocade.

This loose fitting evening coat is from Chanel, and was made around 1927. The gold chrysanthemum motif is woven into the silk fabric.

The sleeve cuffs are padded, much in the manner of padded hems commonly seen in kimono.

This dress from Lucile dates to around 1910. The influence of kimono is clearly seen in the wide sash that imitates the obi, the loose fit, the dolman sleeves, and the wrap front.

Sorry about the sorry quality, but I did want to show off the front, if for no other reason than to point out what a great job was done by the exhibition designers in making a plan that allows the visitor to see both the front and the back of the garments. This is so important if one is to get a good understanding of how a garment works.

The back of an evening coat from the House of Worth…

and the front, circa 1910. The wrap front and the dip in the back of the neck are both borrowed from kimono.

And here is the front of this amazing coat from French couturier Georges Doeuillet.

Motif and shape tell us this circa 1913 coat from Amy Linker was heavily influenced by kimono. In fact, this style coat was referred to as a manteau Japonaise  in French fashion publications.

Scattered throughout the exhibition were actual kimono, like this early twentieth century example.

The evening coat is attributed to Liberty & Company, and the dress beneath is a Fortuny Delphos gown. The ideas adapted from kimono went perfectly with other garments associated with the dress reform movement.

Does it get any better than this?

This dress is a 1920s Paul Poiret. It is a one-piece dress that was constructed to look like a haori worn over a kimono, with the sash serving as an obi.

This Vionnet dress brings us back to the idea of flat garments. The 1924 dress uses an adapted T motif, which is patched together from pieces of gold and silver lamé.

Also from Vionnet is this wedding dress from 1922. It’s not quite as obvious, but this dress is also made almost entirely from square and rectangular pieces.

Another great feature of this exhibition was the use of paintings that showed the influence of Japonism on Western culture. This 1890 work, Girl in a Japanese Costume is by American artist William Merritt Chase and was on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.

And I’ll end this tour with a look at another kimono from Cincinnati Art Museum’s collection. The exhibition pointed out that the origins of the kimono have been traced back to the Han Dynasty in China. So you see, borrowing good ideas from other cultures is nothing new. I’ll revisit this idea next week.

I am only covering one half of the exhibition because photos were not allowed in the second half which featured more modern garments. I will just say that the more I see the work of Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo, the more I understand and love it.

Most of the garments were from the Kyoto collection, with other coming from Cincinnati. The show was a collaboration between those two museums, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and the Newark Museum. It will be on display through September 15. I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

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Vintage Miscellany – August 25, 2019

1932. It’s almost chilly here in the Western North Carolina mountains so maybe fall really is on the way. Here’s my dream hiking ensemble: snappy pullover sweater, rolled cuff trousers, high laced boots, and a hat that’s part tam, part beret with hair neatly tucked away inside. Was she posing, or simply caught in a pensive moment?

And now for some news…

When I first started writing this blog around fifteen years ago, most museums I visited did not allow visitors to take photos, so I carried a sketchbook to record the highlights of fashion exhibitions. Today, most museums do allow photos, due mainly, I’d think, to social media. When people started documenting every small detail of their lives on Facebook and Twitter (and later Instagram) museums very quickly realized that every post on these sites was free advertising.

There are still plenty of people who object to the practice, saying that the photo has become more important than the experience. To some degree I agree with that thought. We’ve all seen people rushing through a museum or historic site, camera in hand, ready to get that perfect Instagram shot.

I try to use a strategy when visiting an exhibition that I want to photograph for this blog. Ideally, I view the entire exhibition, reading the show notes and absorbing the message the curator is trying to put out there. Only after looking and thinking and studying, I go back and take photos of what best tells the story.

This strategy works best where an exhibition is located all in one area of the site or museum. Often, in house museums like the Biltmore Estate, it’s just not reasonable to take the photos separately from the first viewing. Things are just too scattered about. But I do find I learn more and see more when I have the opportunity to look at an object twice.

 

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Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

The 1930s Union Railroad Terminal in Cincinnati had been closed for several years for renovations so I had never been inside it. Since 1990 it has housed the Cincinnati Museum Center, and that includes the Cincinnati History Museum.

The installation of exhibits is ongoing, so parts of the museum had an unfinished feel. Still, there was a lot to see. Unfortunately, it was the day before area schools started and it seemed like every family in Cincinnati was there. So it was a bit noisy, but how nice to see parents and kids experiencing the museums together.

The building is spectacular, with a half dome ceiling surrounded by a mural of a historic nature. I hope that the many visitors stopped to appreciate the structure itself.

The first display in the history museum was a miniature Cincinnati with train layout. This was a train station, after all. It takes the visitor back to the Cincinnati of the 1940s. Interesting, and very popular with the youngsters.

In the basement of the museum is a recreation of Cincinnati’s early days as a river city. It’s located on the Ohio River, which is still used to move freight today. But in the early days, the river was the city’s heart, and Cincinnati was the major river port in this part of the country.

These little recreated towns seem to be somewhat standard in regional history museums. I’ve been to quite a few, but this is the best experience I’ve ever had in one. Usually the visitor is left on the outside looking in through shop windows, or marginally better, behind roped off areas. But here in Cincinnati, we got to ramble through the buildings where there were enough interactives to engage even grown-ups.

Who could resist exploring a riverboat?

People across the region went to Cincinnati looking for opportunities. Here we see the imagined contents of a young woman’s trunk. We might suppose that she is looking for employment as a seamstress.  Lucky for her, Mrs. H.B. Ruggles had a dressmaking and ladies’ goods establishment nearby.

Inside the dressmaker’s shop there was this display on choosing fabrics, which is of course, where a woman started when getting a new dress in the mid nineteenth century. The presence of ready-to-wear clothing was several decades in the future. The fabrics in the display look to be good natural fiber reproductions.

The sewing machine was a new product in the mid nineteenth century, and much of the sewing continued to be done by hand. We can only imagine how excited a dressmaker would have been when she was able to add this terrific time-saver to her tools.

Exhibits of this nature seem to always be a mix of new and antique .  It’s a good way for a museum to show items from the collection, like the Godey’s Lady’s Book, that might otherwise remain in storage.

And we all appreciate a good cage crinoline.

There was a nice explanation of how a dressmaker used a paper pattern (another relatively new development) to transform the flat fabric into a three-dimensional garment.

I liked this reminder that people in the past did not just discard clothing if it became damaged.

I’d like to think that the women of Cincinnati were a bit more fashionable than this display suggests.

There were other businesses to explore, and my favorite (only because the German beer garden had no actual beer) was the photography studio. This photo was taken by placing my phone lens on the eye piece of the camera. The original was, of course, upside down.

There are other museums, including a nice one devoted to the  natural history of the region (with a “cave” to explore} to a hands-on kids’ museum. There is also an IMAX theater, and when we were there a special exhibition on Ancient Egypt. Maybe we will return some day when the displays are finished, and the kids are in school.

 

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L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters at the Taft Museum of Art

A recent trip to Cincinnati included a visit to the Taft Museum of Art. I had never visited the Taft, but had heard that it was a gem of a collection. And there was a special exhibition I wanted to see, L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters.  The show features the work of artists Jules Chéret, Eugène Grasset, Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen, Alphonse Mucha, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who all worked in Paris in the latter years of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth.

I especially loved how so many of the posters showed women ice skating and biking. This great poster, Palais de Glace, or Ice Palace is by Jules Chéret. It was an 1894 advertisement for an ice skating rink.

This poster for Marque Georges Richard was made in 1899 by Eugène Grasset. Although this poster is advertising the bicycle, the focus is on the woman and the open road in the background which beckons her.

It’s hard to imaging a more perfect example of Art Nouveau than this 1896 poster by Alphonse Mucha. This poster, Zodiac, was designed as the illustration of an advertising calendar for the firm that did his printing. This example does not have the advertising text as poster collectors were beginning to want copies without the ads. Many of the posters, most of which were designed as advertisements and were hung on kiosks and walls throughout Paris, were made both with and without the text.

This Mucha poster for Cycles Perfecta also highlights the woman over the bicycle. Even though she is at rest, her hair streams out as if blown by the wind, adding motion and excitement to the image.

In 1899 Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen made an image of the New Woman riding a motorized bicycle through the countryside.  She calmly disperses the flock of geese as she journeys forth.

I’m breaking with the theme here, but this poster is just such a perfect depiction of greedy cats begging for a sip of milk. The little girl is Steinlen’s daughter Colette, and the family did have several cats. The poster is an ad for a dairy farm, Quillot Brothers.

Probably the best-known of the five artists is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  I’m not a big fan of his, but I found this ad for La Revue Blanche (The White Magazine) to be quite nice. Even though her feet are not seen, it is likely that the woman is ice skating, at the Palais de Glace, perhaps. The forward angle of her  body suggests movement, and the fur muff and matching coat suggests a skating costume.

And I’m finishing with a poster that is neither French nor sports themed. Also on display was a small grouping of posters printed in Cincinnati. This delightful poster advertises Prof Morris and his dog and pony show, circa 1880.

It was just too good not to share!

L’Affichomania: The Passion for French Posters will be showing at the Taft Museum of Art until September 15, 2019. Organized by Chicago’s Richard H. Driehaus Museum, the exhibition has more show dates around the USA. You can check here for the schedule.

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