Tag Archives: museum

The Atlanta History Center

While in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I revisited the Atlanta History Center.  My main reason for visiting was to see the latest fashion exhibition, Fashion in Good Taste, but I also took the time to look through the permanent galleries.  It seems like there is always something great to study in the exhibition halls.

Above is a pair of stockings made by Mrs. Henry Clay Hughes in Roswell, which is just north of Atlanta, from her own home-grown cotton.  Circa 1913.

The Atlanta History Center seems to have this overwhelming desire to put everything behind glass, so I’m sorry that the photos are so poor.  From the North Georgia Collins family, accomplished weavers.

English lace making by Betty Kemp.  My mind is officially blown.

It seems like the latest thing in museum curation is the “??? in 50 objects” exhibition.  The Atlanta History Center got in on the trend with Atlanta in 50 Objects.  This is a 1969 Delta Airlines (which is based in Atlanta) stewardess uniform.  It has a sort of mod-meets-granny vibe.

I’ve written about the “Fabulous Fox” before, and it is scary to think about how close Atlanta came to losing this theater.  In 1974 Atlantans joined to raise $3,000,000 to save the theater, which was slated for demolition.  The property was bought by a newly-formed non-profit, and today, instead of a parking garage, the Fox still is home to live performances.

Rich’s was Atlanta’s biggest department store, before being gobbled up by Federated Department Stores (later, the Macy’s chain).  Starting in 1959 Priscilla the Pink Pig monorail took children on a tour over the toy department each Christmas.

The exhibit above is a bit puzzling, as the items are actually more connected to Athens, Georgia, than with Atlanta.  The dress, wigs, and boots belonged to Cindy Wilson of the B-52s.  Wilson designed the dress (see her sketch) which was worn in performances and on the cover of Whammy! their 1983 album.

Before the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Atlanta was home to a minor league baseball team called the Atlanta Crackers. Above is a boy’s uniform from the early days of the team.

Unfortunately, the utilization of so many artifacts combined with the use of glass made for poor viewing of some exhibits.  The visual clutter was quite distracting at times.

Both the suit and the “Votes for Women” sash date to 1918.   The original owner of neither was identified, and it was not made clear whether the suit was actually worn by a woman working for the right to vote.

There was this great display of bathing attire, which was easier to see than my photo suggests.  The white object on the right is a set of Ayvad’s Water-Wings.   The bathing suit on the right was identified as a man’s suit, but I’m not so sure.  By the 1920s, when this suit was made and worn, the tank portion of men’s suits had developed deep armholes.

Of all the objects shown in Atlanta in 50 Objects, this carpetbag is possibly the most significant.  After the end of the Civil War, many Northerners moved south, looking to profit from Reconstruction policies.  These “carpetbaggers” were often poor, and used bags made from carpet scraps to carry their belongings.  Outsiders to the region are still sometimes referred to as carpetbaggers.

And what would a Southern history museum be without its Civil War displays?  I love a great sailor middy, and so here is one.  It really has no connection to Atlanta that I could tell, being worn by Stephen Roach, a sailor in the Union Navy.

Having visited the AHC several times, I spent my limited time there just looking for clothing and textiles.  I was not disappointed.

1 Comment

Filed under Museums

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.

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Museums, North Carolina, Road Trip, Viewpoint

Uniformity at the Museum at FIT

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York, the purpose of which was to play guide to my friend Jill and a pair of twenty-four year olds who wanted to experience the big city. As such, fashion things were not number one on our list, but Jill and I managed to fit in two exhibitions.  First up is Uniformity, the latest at the Museum at FIT.

Uniforms are not fashion (though they can be fashionable) but they do influence fashion and designers.  The museum chose to show this influence though four categories of uniforms: sports, school, work, and the military.  Above, the curator, Emma McClendon, set the stage by giving us an example from each category, with an extra military uniform thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps that is because there are so many military influences in fashion that the category deserved extra representation.

Here we have on the left, a US colonel’s dress blue uniform from the 1950s.  It does not take a lot of imagination to see how designer Mainbocher took the men’s original to develop the US Navy WAVE uniform of WWII, center.  It does take a bit more of an imaginative stretch to see how Coco Chanel was inspired by blue military uniforms, but there it is in the brass buttons and navy wool of her suit from around 1960, right.

And that is how great designers work.  A garment is not so much copied as it is re-interpreted.

On the right you see the famous “Ike Jacket”, named for General Eisenhower, who favored the style.  During the war, and even afterward, the style became a favorite of both men and women as returning GIs found the jacket to be functional for civilian wear ( My father-in-law’s well-worn Ike jacket still hangs in the coat closet of his home.)  Designers like Claire McCardell adapted the look, as in her shorts ensemble shown above.  Note the bit of red plaid halter top, with was definitely not a part of the uniform.

On the left is a 1998 jacket and skirt from Comme des Garcons designer, Rei Kawakubo.  It is a pretty faithful copy of an olive drab men’s army jacket, but the sleeves have been ripped away.  Literally. You can’t really tell from the photo but the armholes are rough and a bit frayed.  On the right is Marc Jacob’s 2010 “army” jacket, which he paired with a long, romantic skirt.

Probably my favorite grouping of the exhibition was this one featuring the influence of the sailor’s uniform.  In the middle you see the typical summer and winter uniforms of a midshipman.  Though they seem timeless, the white suit is from 1912 and the navy is from 1915.

With their middy collars, the midshipman influence in these two very different dresses is unmistakable.  On the left is an 1890s dress made of red and white cotton, and intended for casual summer day wear.  One might even attempt a round of tennis in such a dress.  In an interpretation from the late 1950s, designer Norman Norell turned the dress into a luxury look, using silk instead of the expected cotton.  This dress was definitely not for playing tennis.

You might have mistakenly thought that the center look is a typical French sailor uniform, but instead, this is one of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s many adaptations of the mariniere, or Breton shirt.  In 1984 Oscar de la Renta did a sequined version for evening.  The lace and striped look on the right is from designer Chitose Abe for her label, Sacai, 2015.

Work uniforms also influence fashion.  The flight suit of aviators has been adapted into fashionable looks many times.  The suit on the right could be a uniform if not for the bright pink color.  Made in 1976 by Elio Fiorucci, this jumpsuit came to the museum from Lauren Bacall.

Another work uniform that has been much adapted is the typical French waiter’s costume.  This ensemble is from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 2015, so you may remember the Chanel show that was staged like a Parisian Brasserie.  All I can see that that perfect cardigan.

Though designed for children and very young adults, the school uniform also has been an influence on fashion.  The blazer dates to 1825 when members of a rowing team at Cambridge University wore “blazing red” jackets.  The garment became associated with college men’s uniforms.  On the left is what is thought to be a Princeton blazer from the 1920s.  The one on the right is a 1944 Princeton blazer.  Today the blazer is more associated with office attire, but it still has preppy connotations.

Here we see an influence of an influence.  The 1927 girl’s school uniform of the left clearly mimics the sailor’s uniform with the navy color and tied collar.  Unfortunately, you can’t tell that the uniform also reflects fashion in the dropped waist and pleated skirt.  On the right is designer Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 version of the schoolgirl’s uniform.  The sailor influences are still present.

Also go back to the very first photo.  What looks to be an additional school uniform is one, though it is from Japan and dates from a much more recent era.

And finally, you can see the influence that sports uniforms have on fashion.  In 1967 designer Geoffrey Beene made fashion news with his sequined football jersey dress.  It was featured in all the best fashion magazines.  In the middle is the real thing, a 1920s football uniform.  The craziness on the right is from Stella Jean.

The outfit on the right is very interesting.  It really could be mistaken for a uniform for an active sport, but it is actually from French designer, Ungaro, 1969.  It’s like he was inviting the wearer to join  Team Ungaro.  The set on the left is a cycling ensemble fro the 1980s, and the Swiss jersey on the wall is from 1972.

It’s interesting how sports teams have capitalized on their uniforms by marketing hats and jerseys to the general public.  Is that fashion?

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well-presented exhibition.  We went late, an hour or so before the 8 pm closing, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.  I really loved having Jill with me, as although she does love pretty clothes, she is a professional educator, not a fashion-obsessed crazy like me.  She was seeing some of these concepts for the first time, and I loved the way the museum made the crossover between uniforms and fashion so clear to her.

Now through September 16, 2016.

12 Comments

Filed under Museums

Unveiled, Wedding Attire at the Charleston Museum

Wedding attire must be the theme of March, as I was able to attend another exhibition dedicated to weddings, this one at the Charleston Museum.  I’ll write more about the museum in another post, but for now I’ll just say that it functions mainly as a history museum for the South Carolina Lowcountry region.  They have a fantastic clothing collection, most of it coming from Charleston families.  In presenting special fashion exhibitions, they explore not just the clothing, but they have the advantage in many cases, of knowing who owned a garment.  Many of their garments are also documented in period photos.

Traditionally, the museum used some of the costume and textile collection as part of the larger displays that told the history of Charleston.  About twelve years ago they started having special clothing exhibitions, but the problem was that there was no space to adequately show clothes.  I remember looking at a 1920s Worth evening coat that was displayed in a flat case, in a light-filled atrium.  Not an ideal situation, in any sense of the word.

Today the situation is entirely different, as a gallery dedicated just to textiles was opened in 2010.  It’s a beautiful light-controlled space, with a variety of viewing areas, and with seating for those who need to sit and contemplate (or sketch).  The only thing I do not like about it is that all the display areas are behind glass, and that does hinder viewing somewhat, especially if there are interesting details on the back of a garment.

The photo above shows the introduction to the exhibition which consisted of three dresses from different eras.  On the left is a dress from 1927, worn by Mary Gaillard, in the middle is a 1892 dress worn by Ethel Sanford in 1892, and on the right is a 1925 dress worn by Emily Gladys Canaday.  The rest of the exhibition is arranged in chronological order.The oldest dresses were early 1800s Regency style, but my photo is so poor that it is pointless to post it here.

So I’ll take up the show in 1830, when the dress on the left was worn. The bride was Margaret Izard, and the groom was Nathaniel Russell Middleton.  The dress is hand embroidered throughout.  In the middle is the 1842 dress of Middleton’s second wife, Anna Elizabeth DeWolf.  On the wall is a portrait of the second Mrs. Middleton in her dress.  Look carefully to note that her waist was not as small as it first appears to be.

The dress on the right is also from 1842, and was worn by Elizabeth Mary Lesesne Blamyer.  And on the far right is a lovely selection of groom’s vests, all of which were made of silk and worn between 1848 and 1860.

The Charleston Museum is very lucky to have this set in their collection.  The dress was worn by Louisa Jane Dearing, and the vest was her groom’s, Henry Edmondston.  They were married in 1859.  According to the notes concerning the dress, “The bodice laces in the back with 28 pairs of tiny bound holes.” Unfortunately that feature was not visible to museum visitors.

Yes, I know this photo is really poor, but the story behind the dress is too good not to share.  The dress was worn by Louisa Rebecca McCord in June of 1865.  The American Civil War had just ended, and materials were scarce.  According to Louisa’s diary, the bride finally located ten yards of white organdy, the only white goods available in Columbia, SC.  The price was so high that the family sold their remaining carpet, some chairs, and butter and lard from their plantation in order to pay for the fabric.

These two dresses date from 1883 and 1884, and were creatively positioned in order to show the most prominent features of the dresses, their bustles.  These were in a corner with glass on two sides and so visitors could see the slim silhouette of the front and the fullness in back.

I probably need to pause here and talk about color.  The overwhelming number of dresses shown were white, or whitish.  I made the comment when writing about the bridal costumes at Biltmore that I found it interesting that all the dresses were white when the vogue of white wedding dresses did not come along until 1840.  Of course, white wedding dresses did exist before that date, and by the look of things in this exhibition, they were common.  An interesting comment was made by Jessamyn: :The main thing that changed in the 19th century was the idea that white was obligatory for a bride.”

Here’s another look at the 1892 dress of Ethel Sanford.  The museum also has a matching evening bodice.

At this point I need to stop and put in another plug for Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa.  Having just read that book helped me see the changes from dress to dress.

The silk dress on the left dates from 1906 and was worn by Sarah Francis.  The suit was worn by bride Alma Grace Van Keuren in 1910.  What is really interesting is that the suit has a department store label, Louis Cohen & Co, Charleston, S.C.  Ready-to-wear for women was still in the early years, and in 1910 most clothing for women was still being made by professional dressmakers or at home.

This dress was worn by Alice Prioleau Ravenel in 1914.  Note how the train curves around to the front where it is attached to the dress with a spray of artificial orange blossoms.

These three dresses are from the 1920s.  On the left, a velvet dress worn by Harriett C. Arthur in 1922.  The middle dress belonged to Annie Kangeter and dates to 1921.  The bride’s sister made the dress, which you can see on the bride in the photograph  on the wall.  The third dress was worn in 1924 by Septima Toomer Holmes.

You can see how styles were becoming less ornamented in the 1928 dress on the left.  It was worn by Cornelia Milam, and was made by her mother.  The dress in the middle was worn by Ruth Petty Pringle in 1931.  It was bought in a Charleston specialty shop, The Frock Shop.

Left to right:  1937, bride Martha Kirk; 1942, bride Jean Walsh; 1945, bride Ruth Raymond Huegel; 1948, Bernice Alice Byrd, but altered in 1989 for her daughter Amy Bassett Cole; 1952, bride Elizabeth Lamis.

The textile gallery also has a section of casees and drawers to display accessories.

And, of course, what is a fashion exhibition without some shoes?

Unveiled runs through July 19, 2016, and I highly recommend it to anyone living or traveling in the Charleston, South Carolina area.

9 Comments

Filed under Museums

Iris Van Herpen at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Today I’ve got something just a bit different from the usual fashion history post.  It’s New Years Day, a day when we all look to the future, so I thought I’d give a look at some very futuristic design, that of Iris Van Herpen.  Van Herpen is Dutch, and she is renowned for her use of  unusual materials.  Her first collection, Chemical Crows, was in 2007, and the museum has a selection of three designs from each of the shows she has created through 2015.

I’m not going to go into my usual analysis of the clothes, other than to give the name of the collection, and the materials used.  Other than that you are on your own.

If you can’t get past the thought that these clothes are unwearable, let me tell you that Van Herpen’s collections also contain clothing made of more conventional materials.  More conventional, but still stunning in a way that is rarely seen these days.

Chemical Crows, 2007:  wire umbrella ribs, industrial yarn, leather

Refinery Smoke, 2008:  metal gauze, leather

Mummification, 2009: leather strips, ball chains,  laced metal eyelets

Radiation Invasion, 2009: strips of leather

Synesthesia 2010: metalicized leather strips, metal eyelets

Crystallization, 2010: Plexiglass, leather, metal chain

Escapism, 2011: hand processed plisse fabric

Capriole, 2011:  transparent acrylic sheets, tulle, cotton fabric

Hybrid Holism, 2012:  3-D printed polymer

Micro, 2012:  3-D printed polyamide with copper treatment

Voltage, 2013:  mirror foil, acrylic sheets, viscose fabric

Wilderness Embodied, 2013:  laser-cut fabric

The work is astonishing, to say the least, and I suggest that if this show comes to a museum near you that you make an effort to attend.  The show will be traveling to other museums in North America, but I have not been able to find a schedule.

Iris Van Herpen: Transforming Fashion, at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta through May 15, 2016.

10 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums

Greensboro Historical Museum

We spent a pleasant afternoon at the Greensboro Historical Museum, which is a lot more than just the holder of that fantastic Dolley Madison collection.  I’ve been to a lot of museums, big and small, and I’ve found that the measure of a good one is how it tells the story it sets out to tell.  In this case, it is easy; the story is the history of the City of Greensboro and the surrounding area.  And this little museum has a very good exhibition that tells that story with artifacts and interactive displays.

I always tend to focus in on the parts that tell women’s history and the history of textiles and clothing.  Above are pictured artifacts from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina.  Founded as a normal school in 1891, WC is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  At one time it was the largest college for women in the country.  Men were admitted starting in 1963.  My friend Carole who attended Women’s College before the name change still refers to UNC-G by the old name.

North Carolina is historically known for textiles, and Greensboro in particular is known for the production of denim.  There were interesting displays showing the large producers of the area – Blue Bell, the maker of Wrangler jeans, and Cone Mills, maker of denim fabric.

Considering the importance of textiles to the growth of Greensboro, I’d have expected a bit more about the industry.  But though the exhibit was small, there were lots of interesting things to see, and I learned a bit more about Cone.

There was a display on mill towns which included some photos and quotes about how children and education were valued.  Some mills provided kindergartens for the workers’ children.

On one floor the museum has set up a replica of some of the old town that has historical significance.  Writer O. Henry was a native of Greensboro, and he worked at a drugstore that was owned by an uncle.  He became a licensed pharmacist, a skill that helped him years later when he was imprisoned for embezzlement.  He was able to work in the prison hospital, away from the general prison population.

I can imagine that school groups really like this little town vignette, as it is a bit like going back in time.  There is also a hotel and a school with all sorts of things to explore.

There were a few exhibits that were a bit puzzling.  There was a room full of pottery from the Jugtown potters, which is not located in nor associated with Greensboro.  They also have a huge collection of Civil War guns that was exhibited in a very large area that prominently  displayed the names and portraits of the collectors.  Even my husband, who has a great interest in old firearms, admitted that it was gun overload.

I don’t know the circumstances of these items in the museum’s holdings, but one thing that many museums have to grapple with is the way their collections fit in with their mission statement.  I know that it must be difficult to say no to a donor, especially one who is also willing to donate money, but in this day and time when museums have moved beyond being mere cabinets of curiosities, it is important to stick to the purpose of the institution.  Personally, I’d have liked to see more of the Dolley Madison collection and less of the firearms.

As much as I love the great museums I’ve visited, I can’t say enough about the value of a museum like this one.  All places are unique, with interesting people and stories that need to be heard.  I urge you to seek out the small museums in your area and support them.

 

9 Comments

Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Exhibition Journal: Fashioning the New Woman, 1890 – 1925

Fashioning the New Woman was an exhibition at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, held the summer of 2013.  From my journal you can see that the items that were of the greatest interest to me were sportswear.  Some of the items, like the gym suit and swimsuit, were fairly common, but others, like the circa 1895 sweater are very rare, even in collections.

Sketching on site is often difficult due to crowds and lack of seating, but the conditions at the DAR were ideal.  Not only was the crowd light, chairs were provided for people who wanted to sketch or to read the booklets that accompanied the exhibition.

4 Comments

Filed under Journal, Museums