Friday, November 15, 2013

Cotton, Linen, Silk, Wool: Celebrating Fiber Arts at Historic Deerfield

This past weekend, while visiting my older daughter at UMass-Amherst, I had the opportunity to spend a truly exceptional afternoon at Historic Deerfield (Deerfield, MA), attending the "Celebrating Fiber Arts" exhibition.  Located in the Helen Geier Flynt Center, I had reason to anticipate a delightful excursion through these collections.  On a previous visit in 2011, I had presented a paper on Georgian architecture and design at the annual fall symposium.  More recently, I visited the textile collection and immersed myself in the fabulous footwear for my current research on Georgian shoes in Colonial America.

            This visit was decidedly different: I was there to savor, discover, and, simply, enjoy. No time frame or pressing goals to be met. No one else present in the gallery, leaving me the opportunity to immerse myself in the surroundings without the need to jostle for a perch. So many aspects of this installation and its rubric of space make it noteworthy. I find compelling the fact that the primary textiles associated with historic garments have been organized thematically: cotton, linen, silk and wool. Within this format, the curatorial staff introduces select items or recent acquisitions each season, on a rotating basis. This was my second visit to the "rotation," and I found it just as interesting as the first. While I enjoy blockbuster fashion exhibits as much as anyone, the intimacy of the space and the careful – might I say reverential? - selection of objects (38 according to press materials) allowed the liberties of close inspection and reflective inquiry. Despite working closely with museum collections for over 25 years, I felt as though I was making new discoveries with each step.

Do put this in your planner – the exhibition closes on December 29th!

A few of my favorite "interactions." All photos are courtesy of Historic Deerfield ( and a list of captions may be found at the end of this post.

And the shoes? Stay tuned…

The author thankNed Lazaro, Collections Manager and Associate Curator of Textiles, for his assistance.

- Court dress, blue & white silk brocade, woven in Lyon, France, c.1760. Note expansive panniers.
- Detail, blue & white silk brocade Court dress with "fly” or floss fringe, c.1760.
- Man's early 19thc. linen plain weave shirt. Fabric, probably England; garment, probably American.
- English or American corset, 1820-1830, bleached satin weave cotton and twill weave cotton tape. The grommets are of ivory. Acc.# F.310
- Ladies' wallet or pocketbook (1750-1800) is rare in that it is attached to a known maker, Rebecca Kingsbury (1713-1807) of Dedham, MA. Rebecca was a schoolteacher in the 1730s before marrying Nathan Gay in 1740. Wool, silk, linen & pasteboard.

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Historic Deerfield’s costume and textile collection has long been considered one of the finest in America.  Begun by the museum’s founder, Helen Geier Flynt, the collection features a vast array of costumes, needlework and domestic textiles which are displayed on a rotating basis.  Newly installed in this permanent gallery for the season are 38 exciting examples of American and European clothing, accessories, textiles and needlework from the 17th century through the mid-20th century.   

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  1. Thank you for an excellent commentary. Will be following this museum's exhibitions.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post - hope you can visit Historic Deerfield at some point. Cheers, Kimberly


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