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Exhibit puts meaning behind floral prints

Fashionistas and museum exhibits aren’t always a match made in heaven, but for the next few months a match is what they’ll be.

Ohio State’s Historic Costume and Textiles Collection is putting on an exhibit titled “Flora in Fashion.” It displays a collection of floral-patterned clothing artifacts, a small fraction of an extensive button collection and a touchable display in the lower gallery explaining how various fabrics are made.

“We wanted to show how floral and botanical designs influences designers,” said Harriet McBride, a volunteer organizer with a doctorate in textiles.

The exhibit is a small fraction of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection, which is known for being 20th century “haute couture” or “highest fashion,” McBride said. Several of the dresses in the collection belonged to old celebrities or were donated by designers.

The time frame of the exhibit spans from the late 1700s to the present day. The two oldest outfits, a man’s and a woman’s, are closest to the entrance. The clothing looks like it’s right out of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Farther down the line of mannequins is a metallic-looking cocktail dress and jacket from the 1960s, floral designs sprawling across the fabric in gold, silver and copper Lurex yarns. The dress was only worn on runways, McBride said.

At the head of the room is a man’s bright-blue, silky pajama suit, each of the three pieces featuring with brightly colored flowers.

“These items were bartered from a Chinese lady in Manila during World War II … the suit was traded for a carton of cigarettes,” the outfit’s donor said.

Ethnography, sociology and anthropology can all be learned from clothing, McBride said. “If you look at any clothing artifact from any culture, you can tell a lot about the person who wore it.”

Back in the HCTC workroom lies a toddler-sized pink dress with black polka dots protected under a sheet of tissue paper. It belonged to a little boy decades ago; there are still faint mud-stains on the chest.

The button collection included in the exhibit is causing some national buzz from button collectors, McBride said. For five years McBride and several other volunteers have been going through Anne Rudolph’s massive collection of buttons dating as far back as the 16th century, organizing them enough to put some on display for their first exhibit.

The floral-pattern buttons are paired with botanical prints belonging to Emanuel Rudolph, Anne’s husband, borrowed from his collection at the OSU Chadwick Arboretum. Emanuel was a professor of botany at OSU and a Polar Lichenologist. The couple was an impressive set of collectors: 53,000 botanical books, 750 botanical prints and more than 25,000 buttons and button-related materials, all donated to OSU after their deaths.

Leta Hendricks, the museum librarian, said her favorite items in the exhibit are the vegetable ivory buttons, made from the dried innards of tagua nuts.

The upstairs display focuses on the finished product of floral inspiration while the related display downstairs, “From Field to Fashion,” highlights the production end. Several of the items downstairs, like the cotton balls and a swatch of pineapple fiber, are touch-friendly.

Gayle Strege, the collection’s curator, focused her time on the lower level display. “There’s a big role that botanicals play outside of the aesthetic,” she said. That level features a more natural part of the exhibit, including an Indonesian ceremonial mat colored with plant dyes, vegetable ivory and bamboo buttons, and a pineapple-fiber wedding dress made in the Philippines.

There is also a T-shirt made of bamboo and a computer running a PowerPoint slide about the process of turning bamboo into clothing.

Strege said that many people are interested in this process because bamboo is such a fast-growing resource.

“I want people to realize that our clothing is influenced by our environment,” Hendricks said.

The exhibit is free and can be found in the Gladys Keller Snowden Gallery, located in the Geraldine Schottenstein Wing of Campbell Hall.

The display will be open during gallery hours until June 12.

Gallery hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

For more information please visit costume.osu.edu.

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