Category Archives: North Carolina

William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016

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I’m always up for a good surprise, and that’s what I got when visiting The Mint Museum recently. I was going to meet a long-time online friend, Lynn Mally, who writes AmericanAgeFashion, and I hadn’t really thought too much about the exhibitions. I knew they were showing theater costumes from William Ivey Long, but since the show wasn’t “historical” I wasn’t too enthused about seeing it.  I was wrong.

One of my first thoughts about this show is it is a fantastic example of just how much clothing exhibitions have changed from just a few years ago. This is not a bunch of costumes lined up to show how pretty or extraordinary they are. Instead, the visitor is treated to mood boards, sketches, fabric swatches, historical inspirations, and, yes, some pretty spectacular costumes.

Long is best known for his work on Broadway, but he also did the costumes for a famous North Carolina play, The Lost Colony. This drama has been presented during summers since 1937 at Manteo, NC, and as a youngster, Long’s family all worked on the play. In 2007 the theater’s costume shop was destroyed by fire, and William Ivey Long was called on to design new ones.

For each play featured in the exhibition, there were tables set in front of the display to show Long’s design process. One of the first steps is to establish a color palette, which Long does using watercolors.

Using historical references, and in this case, photos of the costumes that were destroyed in the fire, Long made detailed sketches for each character. Swatches of potential fabric choices were obtained, and studied until narrowed down to the ones that would be used to make the costumes.

It’s a bit jarring to see theatrical costumes so close up, as they are designed to be seen at a distance. So close one can see that Queen Elizabeth’s fine gown is not silk and gilt, but polyester and metallic trim. Her strings of pearls are obviously fake. But it is how the costume translates to the audience that counts.

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This costumes are from Little Dancer, a play about artist Edgar Degas, and the girl who inspired his famous sculpture.

Here you see the material that gave further meaning to the costumes. Long’s sketch is surrounded by the material he used to develop each costume.

You can tell that these dresses are representing the 1930s, right? While these are not faithful representations of what women wore in the 1930s, to me it was obvious what period of fashion they represented. These are from On the Twentieth Century.

And here are some of the swatches Long worked with in his design process. I love how he used the plaid, but cut it on the bias.

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These costumes are from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This costume was designed for Laverne Cox for her role in the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can only imagine how amazing this show was!

Long put thought into the smallest detail, including the accessories for Cox’s role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

In 2015, Fox presented Grease Live! with  Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit in the starring roles. And while it may be hard to image Grease without Travolta, Hough was a superb Sandy. There were several of Long’s costumes on exhibit, including these from the Hand Jive sequence.

A real strength of this exhibition was the use of video to show the costumes as they were seen in the shows.

And here’s Lynn, standing proudly beside the costume we “draped”. Another strength was the hands-on activities like this one. There was also the opportunity to design a costume using a clever set of drawing templates. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get a photo of our efforts.

How do costumes help develop the character on stage? The Mint gives visitors an opportunity to think about how the costumes relate to the character.

My thanks to The Mint for such a beautifully presented exhibition. You can see William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016 in Charlotte through June 3, 2018.

 

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Early Southern Stitchery at MESDA, Winston-Salem, NC

Last weekend it was my great fortune to attend the MESDA Spring Seminar, Stitching a Southern Identity: Defining Female Culture in the Early South. MESDA is the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and is located at the southern edge of Old Salem, a Moravian town dating to 1766. The museum is located in a converted Kroger supermarket, and dates to 1965.

I signed up for this seminar on a whim. I’d planned to go to Williamsburg, VA for the Costume Society symposium, but a conflict prevented me from getting to make that trip. So this was a bit of a consolation prize, but as it happens, I’m really glad things turned out this way. I was pushed out of my comfort zone of 20th century clothing, and into a field about which I probably knew less than any of the other participants, at least it seemed that way by the learned conversations going on around me. And I can’t remember ever learning so much in two short days.

As the title suggests, this was all about the manufacture and decoration of textiles, mainly for use in the home. Most of the research presented was on samplers and quilts, but we also saw quite a bit of  other types of embroidery and of weaving. Without a doubt, my favorites were the samplers.

The word sampler tends to pull up an image of a school girl practicing her stitchery, and that’s a valid thought. But what was so surprising to me was the skill these girls exhibited in their work. Because girls tended to not only sign samplers, but also recorded their ages, we can see just how young these stitchers were. Even eight-year-olds were doing embroidery that would put me to shame!

Today samplers are valued not just as charming reminders of past childhoods, but also as historical documents. A girls would often include the names of family members, where she lived, important dates. But what is really interesting is how researchers today can look at a sampler and see so much more than the bare facts. This unusual sampler was stitched by Salley Keais, in 1793 in Washington, NC.

Researcher Marquita Reed was able to piece together a very good family history, just from the names and dates on the sampler and through searches in period newspapers. Her research helped explain the mermaid and the ship as it was found that hers was a family in the shipping business.

Another great sampler is this one by Sarah Hatton McPhail of Norfolk, VA. Other samplers of a very similar composition, including one by Sarah’s sister, were known to have been made in the Norfolk area. This tends to suggest that this was the style taught by the girls’ teacher. The fact that similar samplers were produced in the same school is a big help in identifying samplers, and has even led to the discovery of multiple samplers made under the direction of a particular teacher.

This close-up shows just how skilled Sarah was. She was eight years old at the time.

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This remarkable sampler is part mourning tribute, part family register, and part scrapbook. The stitcher, Mary Ann Colboard, made this sampler in 1821 in Charleston, SC. It is thought that they are mourning the death of Mary Ann’s stepfather. The church is easily recognizable as St. Philips, where Mary Ann was married the year after she completed this work.

We also learned about quilts and other bed coverings. This is part of an album quilt. Each square was made by a different woman, and then put together and quilted by Catherine Palmer, near Charleston in 1848.

The squares were appliqued. Each maker would cut out a design from printed chintz (often combining elements from three of more different prints) and then stitch the new design to a square of cotton. Then it would be assembled and quilted.

Even though this quilt is attributed to Catherine Palmer, it is very possible that she had help in the form of her slaves. Documenting the work of slaves is extremely difficult as their labor was an expected part of the household work and was not often noted. However, careful examination of quilts often reveals that the stitching was done by more than one hand. It stands to reason that these other hands could have been enslaved.

Weaving was another task often carried out by slaves. Again, curators and researchers take what they know about a piece and try to determine whether or not it is possible that the item was made by an enslaved person.

It’s not possible for all the museum’s textile holding to be displayed all the time, but I was really surprised when the curatorial associate opened this cupboard to reveal a trove of handwoven coverlets and blankets.

I was surprised to see a few wallpaper covered bandboxes. For some reason I tend to associate them with the North, maybe because they are so seldom seen for sale here in the South.

Boys of the Powell Family by Samuel Moore Shaver, Knoxville, TN, circa 1850-1869

Just so you won’t get the idea that MESDA is just needlework, here are some details from their great collection of paintings. You will also find furniture, pottery, silverwork, clocks, books, woodwork and architectural elements, and ironwork.

I’ll close with this portrait of Mary Hawksworth Riddell and her daughter, Agnes Riddell. It was painted in the early 1790s by Charles Peale Polk (of the famous Peale family of artists).

I love that this sweet picture includes a basket of needlework.

My thanks to MESDA for such a rewarding experience. You can see more of their collection online.

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Getting Exercise at the Biltmore Estate

One of the things that amazes visitors to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the size of it. As a kid of twelve years visiting for the first time, I could not believe that this was the country home for three people. What was not explained back then was that it was home to the George Vanderbilts, but also a “hotel” for their friends, family, and acquaintances. Visitors to the estate were common, and many of the bedrooms were set aside for them.

The house was finished in 1895, and it was located way out in the country outside the very small city of Asheville. For people used to New York and Newport I can imagine that visitors wondered how they would spend the time at the estate. What would they do?

In planning Biltmore, Vanderbilt took this into consideration. He built a large library for the book lovers, and there were walking trails – eventually as far as Mount Pisgah which was fifteen miles away. He also built an indoor recreation area.

The gymnasium had been a popular idea for several years. Doctors and educators had begun to see the importance of exercise as a structured activity. But Vanderbilt’s gym area was not all work. He also had a two lane bowling alley.

It would not have been appropriate for the men and women at Biltmore to go traipsing around the house in their exercise attire and bathing suits, so a line of changing rooms was built between the bowling alleys and the indoor swimming pool.

It’s pretty much impossible to get a photo of the pool that shows it properly. It is in a tiled and vaulted room, with the deck built around three sides. It’s a large space, but feels a bit claustrophobic, as the walls are so close to the pool. If the tilework looks a bit familiar to those of you in New York, that is because it was designed by architect Raphael Guastavino, who worked extensively in New York, and designed many of the early subway stations.

There was once an outdoor swimming pool, which has been filled in.

The gym had some basic exercise equipment like the rowing machine above, but it was mainly an area for free exercise. On the wall you can see a row of “Indian” pins or clubs, which an exerciser used to swing around and build up the arms.

Or one could workout on the parallel bars, or use the wooden dumbbells located on the wall. There are even two showers.

This image is from an 1895 book, Artistic Work and Gymnastic Games by Henry S. Anderson and Stanley Schell. I love the thought of women thus attired in the Biltmore gym.

 

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Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring, 2017.

I’ve been attending the big outdoor antiques show at Liberty, NC since 2005, and in those years I’ve only missed the show one time.  That’s because this antiques show is good. In the past few years I’ve reported that the festival was shrinking, with fewer vendors, but I’m happy to say that this spring’s show seemed to be the most robust in years. I’m hoping that is a sign that the economic recovery that began in 2010 is finally making sellers, and buyers, more confident.

Not only were there more vendors, it seemed as though there were more buyers. In years past I’ve noticed how the majority of buyers seems to be in the plus 60 demographic.  This time around I saw lots of younger people out looking to build collections.  It’s a cheering thought.

Still, one woman I talked with, older than me, was lamenting the state of things, saying I’d missed the golden years of Brimfield.  That may be the case, but I still managed to see so much great old stuff here at Liberty, and I even added a few prime pieces to my own collection.  There will be more on that later, of course. For now, here are some other items of interest.

The days of stumbling across big stacks of vintage fashion magazines seems to belong to the past.  I spotted only one, and as luck would have it, I already have this issue of Vogue in my collection.

Continuing with the doggie theme, I spotted a salesman’s book of textile samples, got all excited only to find that the swatches had been removed and the book reused as a scrapbook.  There were some adorable Scotties in it so that made me feel a bit better.

A lot of clothing dealers don’t like to do outdoor markets, but Liberty has a few that are always there, regardless of the weather. It was warm and dry this weekend which made looking even better, as some dealers only bring textiles if it is dry.

It seems like there are always a few great old dressmaker’s dummies. This one with the bustle back was the oldest one I saw at the show. (And check out the Serro Scottie camper!)

This was a new-to-me item – a homemaker’s workbook.  All aspects of keeping a 1935 house were covered, from sewing to laundry to cooking. My guess is it was used in home economics classes.

This Kickaway box held underpants for little girls, but the company also made knickers for gym wear.  I have a pair in my collection.

Great old poster for Indian motorcycles had a great (big)  new price tag.

These double knit poly bells made a stunning display! Seriously, these are some of the best I’ve ever seen for sale, and all dead stock.

These are probably the oldest roller skates I’ve ever encountered, and only the high price tag kept me from buying them.  The wheels are made of wood, as are the soles.

I’ve also noticed that the Liberty show is attracting more sellers of country antiques.  There were lots of old rustic furniture, handmade baskets, and North Carolina pottery. This is not really my thing, but sometimes these dealers have great older textiles, which makes for a good learning experience.

All in all, it was a very good day!

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Air and Light: The Photography of Bayard Wootten

I was recently in need of a museum day, and so I drove out to Cullowhee, NC to the Mountain Heritage Center.  I was interested in seeing a group of photographs by North Carolina photographer Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten, whose archive is held by the library at UNC Chapel Hill.  Wootten’s is not exactly a household name, not even here in North Carolina, but I’d read enough about her to know I wanted to learn more.

The very short version of her biography is that she was born (1875) and reared in New Bern, NC, was educated at what is now UNC Greensboro, which was at the time a school to train women to be teachers.  She did teach art for a while, and eventually married and had two sons.  Her husband went off to the West, looking for fortune, leaving Bayard and the small boys abandoned.  Back in New Bern she worked as a decorative painter, but realized that there was more money to be made in photography.

She set up a photography studio in 1904, and her biggest money-maker was taking the portraits of guardsmen at nearby Camp Glenn.  Her reputation grew, and in the 1920s she moved her studio to Chapel Hill, where she was the official photographer of Yackety Yack, the UNC yearbook.  But her interest went beyond the studio, and during the 1920s through the 1950s, she traveled the Carolinas documenting people as they lived.  As a result, there is a vast archive of photographs showing the people of the Carolinas.

These top two photos are of Bayard, and were probably taken by her brother, George Moulton, who was her partner in the Chapel Hill studio.  The Wootten Archive contains over 90,000 items.  Unfortunately there was a fire at the studio in the early 1930s, so most of the photos and negatives post-date the fire.  Still, this was the time when Wootten did most of her documentary work.

All the illustrations for this post are my photos of the exhibition, so please pardon the reflections.  All the photos can be enlarged with a click.

Information for each photograph was somewhat limited, and I’m not sure if that is due to curatorial decision or the lack of documentation in the archive.  This photo was labeled Mrs. Wilma McNabb’s Porch, Western North Carolina, 1930s.  I love Wilma’s stylish dress, and the fact that it reputes the idea that mountain women were still in sunbonnets and prairie-style dresses in the twentieth century.

Gossips, [Western North Carolina] 1930s

Wootten was often commissioned to make photos to illustrate books.  This one can be found in Olive Tilford Dargan’s 1941 book, From My Highest Hill: Carolina Mountain Folks.

Weaver at Penland, North Carolina, circa 1934

Wootten also made many photos of crafts people at work at Penland School of Crafts.  Located near Spruce Pine, NC, Penland was founded by a cousin of Wootten’s, Lucy Morgan.  In this case we know that the weaver is Mae Gouge.

This photograph was labeled as being in a Greensboro textile mill, 1940s.  It’s actually earlier, as evidenced by the clothing and hair of the women workers.  They are inspecting the bolts of cloth.

Late 1920s, early 1930s is my estimate.  And even though child labor laws had been enacted, look at how young some of the girls are.  And even though their pay was very small, these young women managed to be somewhat fashionable, even on the job.

This is a textile spinning room, possibly in the same mill as the above one.  By the 1930s, mechanization had reduced the number of workers needed in a spinning room, and the spindle tenders were often very overworked.

This was probably my favorite of all the photographs.  Taken in Crossnore, NC, the surgeons are doctors Mary and Eustice Sloop.  Mary Sloop wrote a book about her experiences as a mountain doctor, and the formation of a school in Crossnore.  The couple preferred to operate outdoors due to the poor lighting in the buildings.  The presence of the three women in street clothing is a bit puzzling.  Maybe they were family members of the man on the table.

The Mountain Heritage Center is part of Western Carolina University.  The exhibits are in temporary quarters in the library, but will be moving to a new visitor’s center when it is completed.  That’s good, because right now the set-up is so limited, being split across two locations in the library.  And there is a quite large collection of artifacts concerning Western North Carolina, most of which are not on display.  There are also thousands of print items, some of which are available for viewing on their website.

All original images are copyright of the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library.

 

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Liberty Antiques Festival, Fall 2016

The late September Liberty Antiques Festival has come and gone, and with it the year’s flea markets are pretty much over.  It’s a sad time but I have plenty of things to show and talk about, and I’m sure it will cheer me up a bit.

Above is a hooked rug, Scottie theme.  I took the photo, and tried to forget about it, but I could not, so hours later I made my way back to the booth, thinking that it had surely sold.  But it was still there, and the vendor even offered a generous discount.  So this one is now in my office.

I love seeing the contraptions that women have worn under their clothing in order to accomplish a fashionable silhouette.  One could sit, but not recline while wearing this bustle.

I thought this late Victorian tennis player was so lovely.  I especially like her hat.

Even if I were to not buy a thing, going to a market like this one is invaluable in the education department.  These old riding boots were way out of my range of knowledge, but it was fun to take a few minutes and study them.

I have to make myself take ten deep breaths when I encounter a nice grouping of vintage sewing patterns, especially when they are as great as these.  My new rule is that if there is no chance I’ll ever make it, then I cannot buy the pattern.  Still, I was so tempted by the 1920s one.

I was also tempted by this grouping of shoes.  It did not matter that I really do not need any 1920s sports shoes.  I stood there and tries to come up with a good reason to spend over $200 for these.  Common sense prevailed.

There are times when I turn down an object based purely on price.  In the 1950s when jet travel became available and people besides the rich leisure class could afford to travel abroad, handbags with travel destinations became popular.  I have several, but would have added this one as well, but I felt that it was over-priced.  These were not high quality items to start with, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a lot of money into something that is already well represented in my collection.

This is about the oddest Collins of Texas bag I’ve ever seen.  It was made after Enid Collins sold the company to Tandy, so it is probably 1970s.

I loved this uniform, and I had to remind myself that I’m not a uniform collector.  I do think women’s uniforms would make a fabulous collection though.  Anyway, the seller did not have any information about the dress and hat, which were a set.  The hat and one collar have plastic sword pins, and the other collar has a Red Cross pin.  The dress and hat looked post WWII to me, and were in incredible condition.  I’d appreciate any ideas you might have about them.

This 1940s poster really made me want to shop in that store.

And finally, I really do need an aviatrix’s ensemble, don’t you think?

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Mount Airy, NC and The Andy Griffith Museum

Last week we found ourselves with a few hours to waste, and we happened to be near the small town of Mount Airy, NC.  Mount Airy is like thousands of other towns across the USA, except they have a big advantage in that an a celebrity, Andy Griffith, was born and reared there.  In the early 1960s Griffith had a hit TV program, The Andy Griffith Show, in which he starred as a sheriff in the small North Carolina town of Mayberry.

In case you aren’t familiar with the program, it is one of those that continues to live on in reruns, but more than that, it seems to symbolize to fans the small town America that so many people feel has been lost.  As such, the show still has many fans, most of whom seem to be of a certain age.

Of course this small town paradise, though actually based on the town of Mount Airy, was complete fiction.  It was the early and mid 1960s in the South, and most of American television showed few Blacks or other racial minorities, and Mayberry was no exception.  There were Black extras on the streets of Mayberry in many episodes, but not until the near of the end of the show’s run was a black actor actually cast in a guest role.

But what is authentic is that in the early 60s in most small towns in the South there would have been very little interaction between blacks and whites.  Andy would not have had a Black deputy and Black children would not have attended the same school as his son.  (I first attended school with Black children in 1966.) So like many other books, movies, and TV programs from the mid twentieth century, The Andy Griffith Show reflects a reality that most people would not find acceptable today.

It seems like I’ve been watching this show all my life.  I’m old enough that I watched the episodes when they first aired, in their original form.  Today when reruns are shown, the shows are cut so badly that much of what made it great has been lost.  Fans like to go on and on about how the program shows “a simpler time” but that isn’t what made the show great.  And it wasn’t the plots.  It was the tiny little interactions between the actors, and unfortunately, it’s those parts than tend to be replaced by ads for the latest miracle drug.

But back to Mount Airy.  It’s as though there is a complete Andy of Mayberry industry.  The downtown is full of businesses that sell souvenirs and memorabilia about the show.  There are the usual tee shirts and coffee mugs and such, but there are quite a few show-specific things that only a real fan of the show would understand.

This is a poster of a portrait that was in an episode about a haunted house.  That’s Old Man Rimshaw.

Another interesting item was this jar of pickles.  Aunt Bee was notorious for her horrible pickles.

Of course there is an Andy Griffith Museum, and I was quite amazed by some of the objects, even if presentation left a bit to be desired.  Especially interesting were the costumes.  The suit above was Barney Fife’s (as portrayed by actor Don Knotts) best suit, “the old salt and pepper” .  The suit has a label from the Cotroneo Costume Shop with Knott’s name typed on the label.

Andy Griffith almost always wore his sheriff’s uniform that included this shirt.  What a surprise to see that the shirt had a Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors label!

Probably the most interesting thing to me, though concerns two dresses worn by Maggie Peterson who played Charlene Darling in the program.  The dresses and matching shoes were not worn on the program, but were worn by Peterson on a variety show special in which she appeared with Griffith.

The museum also has the original sketches from designer Bob Mackie.  Who would have ever thought there would be Bob Mackie costumes in a small town in North Carolina?

A new exhibit at the museum features items from actress Betty Lynn, who played Thelma Lou, the girlfriend of Barney Fife.  Among the items she had donated to the museum are a USO uniform , trunk, and pistol she used while touring Asia near the end of WWII.  She was only seventeen when she joined the USO.

The museum was quite entertaining, but it really suffers from being in too small a space.  The walls are completely covered in memorabilia, much of which is redundant.  I’m pretty sure I saw the same photograph of Andy with his classmates in front of his school about three times.  Since visiting we learned that the museum will be in a larger space by the spring of 2017.  I sincerely hope so.

 

 

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