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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click for a better view of the shoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

click to enlarge

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

Click

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

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

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

Next, O’Keeffe in the desert.

 

 

 

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Reynolda House Costume Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrible photo, but you get the idea, right?

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

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

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

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

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Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

On a recent trip to Winston-Salem, we took a bit of time to visit Reynolda House.  I’ve been there several times, but there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs that I wanted to see, and Tim had never seen the house.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Reynolda is the story of three women – Katherine Smith Reynolds, her daughter Mary Reynolds Babcock, and granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.  Even more interesting is that the main character in this story in times past was R.J. Reynolds, Katherine’s husband, and the owner of Reynolds Tobacco.  But this house is so much more than the house of a wealthy industrialist.  It was a home created by the Reynolds women.

To be fair to RJ, he only lived there a very short time before he died.  The house was finished in 1917, and he died in 1918, but it did become the family home in every sense.

In 1905, RJ married his cousin and much-younger secretary, Katherine Smith.  He was pretty much a confirmed bachelor, and I’m sure all of Winston-Salem was a bit taken aback by the wedding.  Smith was an accomplished woman for the times, having not only graduated college and having moved from the family home to the city to work, but she was also an expert seamstress who made much of her trousseau.  Over the next few years she had four children.

The family lived in Winston-Salem, but Katherine bought large tracts of land a few miles north of the city.  That is where Reynolda and its supporting farm and village were built.  As you can see, the exterior of the house was rather plain.

The Reception Hall at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

But as you stepped into the front reception hall, you knew this was no ordinary country home.  This was a house to be lived in, but it was also built for entertaining.

After RJ died, Katherine and their children continued on at Reynolda.  In 1921 she remarried, and unfortunately, she died following the birth of a fifth child in 1924.  Eventually, in 1934, daughter Mary Babcock became the owner of the estate.  Her own children were in part reared in the house, which Mary and her husband updated after moving there in the 1930s.

Art Deco Bar at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

While the main part of the house was left intact, Mary turned the basement into a recreation center, complete with bar, bowling alley, and indoor swimming pool.  Her family lived there through the 1950s, when it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain such a huge house and estate.  In the 1960s the property was made into a non-profit that was to further arts education.

Mary’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse became the next woman to shape Reynolda.  She had become interested in American art in a time when there was not much interest in it, and so she was able to start a collection that became the nucleus of the Reynolda House Museum today.  She had a simple strategy for collecting – to buy the best example she could find of who she considered to be the American masters.

The house opened to the public in 1967, and as a high school junior I visited it in the fall of 1971 as part of a statewide tour my class got to take.  I can remember that we all compared it unfavorably to the Biltmore House in Asheville, but one classmate pointed out that it was more like a home than was the Biltmore.  And he was right.

One thing of interest to the fashion lovers among us is that Katherine Smith Reynolds loved clothes, and she used a big room on the third floor of the house as her huge closet.  Over the years, the other men and women of Reynolda used this area as clothing storage, and in 1972 the room was “rediscovered” and found to be full of the clothing of three generations of the family.  Despite the fact that the room had been used by the children as a source for dress-up play, the clothes were in good condition.  Today, the attic is a display space for a rotating exhibit of the Reynolds family clothing.

After my first visit to the house in 1971, I did not make it there again until 2003.  I went because I’d read that the Reynolds clothing was on exhibit, so I went and spent an entire afternoon sketching the collection.  I can’t remember if there was a photography policy, but at the time I was so into drawing that I probably would not have taken them any way.

On this trip, I did notice the policy (Oh, now Instagram has changed things!) and photos are allowed in only two areas inside the house.  I’m sure this is a compromise to satisfy the selfie generation as the two areas are great photo opps.  Still I found myself wanting to photograph the details of the clothing, as with a husband along, the time for sketching just was not there.

But I was even more surprised later when I reread the list of rules and found that one must have permission before sketching in the house.  I really do not understand why an art museum would want to limit sketching.

I do understand the photography rule though, and like it or not, I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the knowledge that I could not whip out the phone and start snapping.  It was a quiet afternoon at the museum, and we had the little audio tour devices which told not only about the house and the Reynolds family, but about most of the works of art on display.  Still, I’d have loved some detail shots of that Boue Soeurs cape.

Click for more about Reynolda House, including some shots of the clothing.

Sightseeing hint:  As a former teacher, I know that school groups have to be at a site early, and they usually have to return to school before it closes between 2:30 and 3:00 pm.  So late afternoon is a quieter time to visit many museums that are popular with groups of school kids.

 

 

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Fashion Journal – Reynolda House, Winston-Salem, NC

Posted by Lin:
I love your sketches Lizzie! This is inspiring me to go off and at least try to take random phone-photos of interesting garments on my travels.

What this collection reminds me of my favourite passage about attic clothes, in ‘the Horseman on the Roof’. The attic is a cool sanctuary for an Italian cavalier hiding in a cholera-ridden town:

‘Angelo felt an irresistable desire for another sight of that yellow translucent attic, guardian of old bits of stuff, polished wooden clubs, fleur-de-lis fire irons, parasols, skirts on wicker dummies, old hoods of shot taffeta, bookbindings, odd drawers, mother of pearl garlands, bouquets of orange blossom, fruits of an elegant and easy life laid to rest in honey.

The bodices, dresses, tuckers, bonnets, gloves, jackets, box coats, top hats, stocks, of three generations, hanging from pegs, festooned the walls. Tiny high-heeled shoes of satin, leather, velvet, slippers with silk tassels, hunting-boots, stood upon low pieces of furniture, not in the absurd rows of tidy footwear, but as if the feet had just left them; better still, as though shadowy feet still wore them…

…all this brought caresses as soothing to the heart as the caresses of the cat. Indeed, the cat was there, lying on an old quilt, and it called to Angelo, cooing like a dove, smooth and melancholy, like the very voice of the vanished world…

A scent of long slumbers, of bodies grown old in peace, of tender hearts, of incorruptible youth, of blue passion and of violet-water came from the fair loft.’

Wednesday, May 18th 2005 @ 1:07 AM
Posted by Lizzie Bramlett:
Thanks Lin! And what a beautiful passage. The collection is still in the attic. They made a special exhibition room in it just to show the clothing. The day I was there, I pretty much had the place to myself, as the stairs were steep and the entryway poorly marked.

I not only sketch in the journal, but also glue bits I find, such as postcards. You phone-photo idea seems like just the justification I need to upgrade my cell phone!

Lizzie
Wednesday, May 18th 2005 @ 4:14 PM

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