Tag Archives: Cincinnati

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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Harford Frocks Sales Cards, 1940s

I think most of us would be familiar with at least one company that marketed direct to consumers in their homes. Examples are Avon cosmetics, Longaberger baskets, and Fuller brushes.  In most cases the salespersons were (are, as some of these are still in business) not employees of the company, but were private contractors who took orders for a commission. There were also several companies that sold clothing. One was Doncaster, who first used members of the Junior League as their “fashion consultants”. Doncaster recently closed after eighty-seven years.

Another fashion company that used direst sales was Harford Frocks of Cincinnati. Consultants were usually women, especially homemakers who wanted to make a little extra money. Each consultant had a sales kit that included cards showing all the available styles. The best part was the attached fabric swatch on each card, allowing the customer to actually feel the fabric.

I haven’t spent a lot of time researching the company so I can’t give a complete history of the company. The president was Clarence Israel, who arrived in Cincinnati in the early 1930s. His papers are held by the American Jewish Archives, but there is probably not much about his time at Harford. His more important work was as a social activist, and he worked to benefit the Jewish community of Cincinnati.

There are several interesting tidbits I want to share, however. I couldn’t find any firm dates for when Harford was in business, but the best source for trying to figure it out was Pinterest. Lots of cards are on view there, with the earliest ones dating to the mid 1920s, and the latest to the mid 1960s.

The company advertised in cheap magazines and comics, and according to the ads, the consultant got a free dress for every three she sold. I also found ads in the want ads section of Popular Mechanics.

The company was located in what is today the American Sign Museum. In 1937 the Ohio flooded, and the building was damaged. They sued their insurance company because it would not pay for damages. The insurance company won the case.

I have thirty-seven cards, but they are double-sided. They are not dated, but the designs look to be 1946 ish to me.  There are all kinds of garments, including  socks for men and “Curve Curbers” (aka girdles). There are suits for women and a few designs for little girls. But by far the best represented garment is the frock.

Each design has a fabric swatch or two, and included are the sizes available. They had three size ranges, what we would today call juniors, misses and half sizes. Some of the designs went up to a 44 inch bust.

The designs marketed to the teen market often had novelty features, like the pockets above.

This two piece dress looks like it has Schiaparelli-inspired buttons, but look closer and you’ll see that the buttons are round, and the top of the notes are embroidered onto the jacket.

Noticeably absent are pants. These shorts were the only pants in the entire set, though I have no way of knowing if some cards, which may include pants suits, are missing.

There were several sundresses with jackets. The horse fabric is a printed pique.

This is a versatile set, but it would be even more so if a pair of shorts were included.

One of the best things about post-World War Two fashion was the return of lots of color. Note that even the shoes are a bright, cherry color.

Like so much of the clothing advertising in the first six decades of the twentieth century, the fabric was up front and featured. Bates was a well-known brand of textiles, and Harford was quick to point out the connection.

Pleated to capacity!

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High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent a lot of time this past spring and early summer looking at the Instagrams of people in San Francisco and being really jealous.  That’s because they were torturing me with their fantastic photos from a traveling exhibition from the Met’s Costume Institute, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.  So I was delighted to hear that the last showing was to be in Cincinnati, which is only a five hour drive from me.

We decided to wait for a good weekend weather-wise, and that gift came earlier than expected.  Last week we loaded the car and headed north to take in the exhibition, and to explore Cincinnati, a city we’d never before visited.  I’m not going to beat around the bush.  If you are anywhere near Cincinnati before January 24, 2016, when the show closes for good, you must see this exhibition.

This is especially true if you did not have the opportunity to see the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion show last year.  Much of the James material, including some amazing computer deconstructions of the clothing on exhibit is included in this show.  I’ll tell more about that in part two of this review.

The exhibition covers the 20th century, and includes both fashion from Europe and the United States.  Above is the back of a Jeanne Lanvin silver lamé dress, summer 1923.  Many of the garments were arranged so that the front was on view, and then you turned a corner to see the back.  To me the back of this dress was the most interesting, with the obi-like train and its (barely visible) Lanvin blue lining.  The embroidery was made with very thin ribbons.

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Here are what are probably my favorites in the entire show.   The two capes or wraps are from Liberty & Co. of London, and they are effectively displayed over Fortuny dresses.  Both capes are silk brocade, woven in a peacock feather pattern, a design by Liberty textile designer Arthur Silver.

To the right you get a glimpse of two Callot Soeurs ensembles, both made for Rita de Costa Lydig circa 1913.  Lydig was a collector of antique lace which Callot Soeurs used in their work for her.  Note that the “dresses” under the lace vest and tunic are actually pants.

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In the center are two 1920s dresses.  The lace dress is from Jeanne Lanvin, 1925.  The red is from the lesser-known Suzanne Talbot, but it is a real stunner.  Also from 1925, it is made from one long length of silk.

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The simple frock on the left is from Jean Patou.  Patou was known for his sports clothes, and was very influential in establishing the sporty look of the 1920s.  The middle evening dress was not attributed, but proves that a dress need not have a label in order to be fabulous.  The beaded and embroidered dress on the right is from designer Edward Molyneux, 1925.

And just in case you were wondering why I included a photo of the Patou, here’s a close-up of the details.  It is a not-so-simple, simple little frock.

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Both of these dresses are by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was well-represented in the exhibition.  That is a very good thing, as Schiaparelli garments are rarely seen, so it was a real treat to see not only the dresses, but also some of her surrealist jewelry.  The butterfly dress and parasol date from 1937. The blue dress is actually appliqued using cut-outs from a fabric printed with seed packets, one of which forms a pocket.  There is an exposed zipper in the back, a common Schiap treatment, one that  has been repeated in recent years.

One of the real stars of the show (no pun, seriously!) was this Schiaparelli jacket from her 1938 Zodiac collection.  The embroidery was by Lesage, the Rolls Royce of French embroiderers.  Simply amazing.

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The lovely Grecian creation on the left is from Hungarian-American designer Eta Hentz.  Manufacturing under the name Ren-Eta Gowns, it’s a bit hard to imagine that this dress was ready-to-wear.  1944.

One the right is one of the many Elizabeth Hawes dresses that was in the Brooklyn Museum collection.  When the collection was taken to the Met in 2009, many of the Hawes pieces were deacquisitioned and sent to auction,a move I did not understand considering the rarity of Hawes pieces.  But it is obvious they kept the masterworks if this dress is an example.  Look closely to see that there is gold piping between the pieces that shape the waist, and the shaping continues to the back where the pieces seem to ripple like a waterfall to the hem.  It is a stunning dress.

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The dark pink dress (and jacket)  is from Madeleine Vionnet, circa 1935.  It is, of course, made from a bias-cut silk.  The black dress is also by Vionnet.

The white evening dress is from Madame Alix Gres, 1937.  It’s construction is interesting, as each half (left and right) is actually just one long length of uncut fabric that goes from the hem in front, is folded to form the peplum, across the shoulder, folded again, and then to the hem.

The copper dress is also from Madame Gres, and is maybe the oddest Gres I’ve ever seen.  Still, there is plenty of her trademark pleating and volume.

I’ll continue my tour of High Style in my next post.  I want to finish this one by saying what a great job the Met and the Cincinnati Art Museum have done in making this exhibition such a great experience.  The exhibition space was spread out in such a way that one could view the clothes without feeling crowded or rushed.  Most of the clothes were not behind glass, and so it let the visitors get really close to examine the details.  It was simply a great fashion history experience.

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University of Cincinnati Women’s Atheletic Association, 1927

This little booklet was a lucky flea market find recently. It was published to be a guide to athletics for women at the University of Cincinnati. Every female student was automatically made a member of the WAA, and students were encouraged to participate in at least one sport. As the guide pointed out:

The possession of unusual ability in a sport is not necessary to make a team, instead, whole-hearted enthusuasm and the “play spirit” are the essential qualities.

And there was a wide variety of sports available, everything from the expected tennis and swimming, to rifle and fencing. There was even a modern dance club – the Choritides. And every spring they held Greek Games for the freshmen and sophomores.

The acting president of the university, Herman Schneider, made a very interesting observation in the booklet:

When I compare the modern conceptions of physical training for women with the tennis and croquet in which girls occasionally indulged when I was young, I have no difficulty in commending the advance in this particular development of education for women. Unquestionably, the training of women for many of the professions has been a distinct gain, but in no field of endeavor can I find an advance equal to that in physical training for women.

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