Historic Photos: 1923 Dance Pageant held in Benicia

My small hometown of Benicia, CA has a historical museum whose website includes several groups of ‘mystery’ vintage photographs. Though places, dates, and people aren’t always known. These photographs provide a remarkably clear record of what people were wearing in times gone by. I’d guess that the majority of the photographs on this website come from the interwar years, specifically the teens and twenties. There are pictures of the Benicia High sports teams, old cars, the fire department, and something called the “John Laurence Molfino Biography.”

My personal favorite though, is the selection of photos of a pageant dance held in an open field in 1923, that was VERY well attended.

The Pageant grounds, Benicia Historical Museum

1923 Solano Historical Pageant

According to the Oakland Tribune, the 1923 Solano County Historical Pageant was attended by 10,000 people. It seems that this Pageant was put on by a federation of several different women’s social clubs. Held in Benicia on May 11, 1923, the pageant included nine different episodes and required nearly five hours to watch the entire show.

Both the Solano Republican and the Oakland Tribune indicated that the dance director was Mrs. A. G. Bailey of Suisun. Though not all of the costumes are of this style, the photos I’ve included here SO strongly resemble the costumes and dance styles of Isadora Duncan and Loie Fuller  – I can’t help wonder if either of them were involved somehow.  Both women were in the Eastern Bay Area in the teens and twenties. At the very least, I suspect Mrs. Bailey had seen them perform. Interestingly, the composer of the music for the pageant, Dr. Douglas Wright, was from Berkeley – where much Bohemian artist activity was centered.

Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum
Via Benicia Historical Museum

The Solano Republican goes on to explain that “The cunning little costume drawn by Miss Doddson is simple, but altogether charming.”  Emma Doddson of Suisun was, in fact, the Artistic Director, for the entire show. I would guess that it was her vision that created these designs. Interestingly, the publicity manager – Miss E.C. Stove, arranged for rotating exhibits (including dresses) to travel to all the different towns involved to attract attendees.

Sabine Goerke-Shrode*, did a good bit of research on this event, and found in her 2004 article that a good portion of the remaining design, writing, organizing and construction work was done at Armijo High School. Other photos in this collection show young girls in traditional ballet costumes, as well as in period costume (as well as performers dressed as military, spanish and native american costumes).

Those interested in reading more about the Pageant itself can download this coverage of the event from the Oakland Tribune in 1923 (Click here to download the PDF). I’d love to hear from anyone who might have additional information on these photographs and as always, anyone with ideas is welcome to comment. For more of the photos, please visit the Benicia Historical Museum.

*Additional photos on Pageant can be found here.


1. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. “Helping to make their Communities Better,” Historical Articles of Solano County, September 19, 2004.

2. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. “Pageant showed panorama of early Solano” Historical Articles of Solano County, October 3, 2004.

3. Goerke-Shrode, Sabine. Images of Fairfield. Arcadia Publishers, 2005.

4. Henry, Rideout and Wadell. Berkeley Boehia: Artists and Visionaries of the Early 20th Century. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2008.

5. “10,000 see pageant at Benicia,” Oakland Tribune, May 20, 1923, pg. A.




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Tuesday Teaser: Gernreich in North Beach

“SAN FRANCISCO, June 16 [1964]–THE ‘NEW’ SUIT–Model Evelyn Fry wears the last word in swim suits, a creation by designer Rudi Gernreich of Los Angeles which could be classed as a one-piece bathing suit. Orders for the suit are being taken a Nasimo’s North Beach Hi-Fashion shop prior to arrival of a suitable number of the garments. They are not expected to appear on public beaches in the immediate future.” Via the SF Public Library Historic Photos Collection


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Fashion History Find: Sacramento Mod, Deco and More

Lulu Forever in Sacramento

About a month ago, I found myself in Sacramento with time to waste. Rather quickly, I found myself quite a ways off the beaten path at a vintage shop called Lulu Forever. Once inside, it became clear that the buyer there has a great eye for both historically relevant and unique pieces: The shop held a wide range of clothing from a variety of time periods. Of particular note were the full skirted 1950s dresses, adorable pink polyester pants suits, and small (but well selected) section of menswear. I scrolled through the racks and found myself breathless with anticipation: what would I find on the next hanger? One piece caught my eye before I’d even entered the store: a textbook perfect example of mod fashion.

Grey Mod Dress

The grey mini-dress, shown below, with a white peter pan collar and single front pocket represented the epitome of the 1960s “mod” style. It referenced a number of well known designers and images.

Mod dress at Lulu Forever, Sacramento

Both Haute Couture and pop culture reference can be found here. A high fashion dress  created by Yves Saint Laurent in 1958 for Dior (though it retained the heavy under structure despite appearing loose and ‘free’) is remarkably similar to the dress at Lulu’s. Though it can also be easily compared to the work of commercial designer Mary Quant in the early 1960s (as well as her own personal style). Yet a third reference draws comparisons to 1960s popular film, specifically Anthea Sylbert’s costume designs for Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Of course, the look was also parodied by John Waters in the movie Hairspray (1988, CD Van Smith).

Yves Saint Laurent for Dior, 1958 (Costume Institute, MET)
Mary Quant, c.1965 (via Monpti Parapluie)

Cork Purse

Though I’d previously explored the use of cork as an alternative material for shoes, I had not realized that it was also used for handbags-perhaps by individuals rather than commercially.

Square purse of cork, at Lulu Forever

As I’d not really encountered cork handbags ‘in the wild’, a little researching was required. I found a nearly identical version for sale on etsy, and a circular example in a private collection. All appeared to be made of recycled materials (soda or wine corks) and a pre-fab zippered purse. Ferragamo is said to have created the first wedge shoe in 1936. [i] Wood and cork were used to create these soles and were frequently covered with cloth, leather and decorated with sequins, embroidery or bows. [ii] Due to a shortage of steel in 1936, which Ferragamo used usually used to reinforce the arches of his shoes, he created a sole made from a wedge of cork-leading to the trend for platform sandals in the 1930s and 1940s. [iii]

It’s easy to see that given these shortages and the cost of traditional materials, recycling wine-bottle and soda-pop cork could be an easy and innovative (admittedly, more research could be done on the use of recycled materials during the depression era). I’d love to hear from those who might be working in this area.

High cork platform shoes with gold kid strap, ca. 1937, photograph by Cecil Beaton (Conde Naste)
Vintage 1930's Cork linings from bottle caps are glued into a zippered purse (Via Janet Cooper Designs)

As an aside, Lulu Forever also contained a zip-up, striped, polyester, shorts-jumper with labels from Lacoste for I.Magnin. I fell in love with it and I could not leave without buying it (I wore it to a BBQ on the 4th of July).  If you ever find yourself in Sacramento, I’d suggest a visit – you just might find an icon there yourself.

[i] Mendes, Valerie and Amy De La Haye. 20th Century Fashion. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999. 86

[ii] Probert, Cristina. Shoes in Vogue Since 1910. New York: Abbeville Press, 1981, 28

[iii] Pattison Angela and Nigel Cawthorne.  A Century of Shoes: Icons of Style in the 20th century Australia: Universal International, 1997. 10.

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New Historic Film Archive (and Costumes) Now Online


Given that costume designers sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve, it’s nice to be able to tell you about a new authoritative archive that emphasizes the historical import of this often under-valued craft. Earlier this week I received notice that the  Margaret Herrick Library (of the Los Angeles based Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences: i.e. OSCAR!) had finally released its online archive of Production Art.

It’s not the entirety of the Graphic Arts collection, but much to my delight, it includes a good deal of film costume art! Of the 5,300 records in the database, nearly half include images.  The database also includes “production design drawings, animation art, storyboards and paintings” and date from the 1920s to the present day.

It’s a huge resource for film costume historians, and thankfully provides credit for both costume designers, as well as illustrators (often two different individuals).  As Library Director Linda Mehr notes:

“We’re very happy to be able to make this database more widely available to researchers, students and film enthusiasts. . . . Our hope is that it will bring much-deserved attention to the costume and production designers, sketch artists, animators, and other artists who have contributed so much to filmmaking.”

"The Spanish Dancer", 1923 by Howard Greer (via AMPAS)

To give you just a quick snapshot of what’s available: The database includes nearly 40 records for Gilbert Adrian; 20 for Milo Anderson; almost 30 for Travis Banton; 70 for Marjorie Best; 19 for Howard Greer and many, many more.

Not surprisingly, my interest is in the illustrations by Natacha Rambova, Gilbert Adrian, Georges Barbier and Erte (and of course those depicting Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova).

Though most images are rights-protected (i.e. you can see them on your computer screen, but can’t insert them into a blog post or save them to your computer), a few have been cleared for media purposes. Those interested in information on additional materials (or to make an appointment to view an item that does not yet include a reference image) are encouraged to contact graphic arts librarian Anne Coco at acoco@oscars.org. A full list of their databases is available here.

AMPAS Production Art Database


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Mary Tuma: Fabric, The Body and Mariano Fortuny


Jennifer Heath, a UC Press author (The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics and Land of the Unconquerable) recently turned my attention to contemporary artist Mary Tuma. Having only seen a photograph of her ‘tall fashions,’ and knowing that her work stemmed from in interest in liberating women, I became intrigued and wanted to know more.

A native of Oakland, CA she earned a BS in Costume and Textile Design from University of California – Davis.

Her artists statement notes:

internal systems III, 2008. poly-satin ribbon, yarns and string. variable. By Mary Tuma.

“My work addresses the issues of the transformation of the body and the spirit through the use of clothing forms applied to found objects or placed within a contextual environment. The use of old fabrics and found objects is important in creating a work or environment that evokes a feeling of loss, or distant memory.”

Not surprisingly, given her interest in crochet and sewing, her work reminds me of Ruth Asawa’s basket-like sculpture. Heath filled me in a little bit more on her recent work, Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice: “[It’s] huge. . .  but based on the fashions of Marino Fortuny, the kind of Greek revival dresses that helped liberate women from corsets. To Mary, these are meaningful in terms of  the Arab Spring (she is half Palestinian). The Three Pillars just went to a show in Kuwait. . . .  Mary teaches fibre arts and fashion at UNCC.” Mariano Fortuny’s designs (worn by the likes of Lillian Gish and Isadora Duncan) and their influence on Tuma’s work seemed a unique connection. Happily I had a chance to ask Tuma about her work directly:

Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice (Kuwait) By Mary Tuma (Photo Via Jennifer Heath)

Fashion Historia: What is the significance of fashion history in your current piece, Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice?

Mary Tuma: “Fashion is a human rights issue. One can see this clearly in the current debate over the right or requirement of women of Islamic faith to wear head scarves. Mariano Fortuny’s work has always stood out in my mind as a great example of the fashionable un-corseted natural body of woman— a celebration of unaltered human form. For me, his work speaks volumes about woman’s right to exist in her natural form apart from cultural shackles. Of course Fortuny’s Delphos dresses (on which I based formal aspects of my piece Three Pillars) were inspired by ancient Greek statuary, which serves as a reference to a culture involved in early experiments in democracy. So, for that reason, the Fortuny model seemed very appropriate for a piece about the current “Arab Spring,” which is what Three Pillars addresses. For me, democracy is also a feminist issue, and is meaningless if it’s not. As the Arab World changes, it is my hope that women will step up and take an increasingly integral role in forming new governments and creating policy. So Three Pillars: Liberty, Unity, Voice (which also spells LUV by the way!) is my way of hoping to inspire feminism in the face of changes and to inspire women to stay in the dialogue.”

Fashion Historia: How did your education at UC Davis help prepare you for your work as an artist ?

Mary Tuma: “My education at UCD Design prepared me in many ways to function as an artist working in fiber materials and methods. Apart from learning to work with dyes, garment forms, etc., I took some very important classes that directed my thinking. History of Costume (with JoAnn Stabb) was one of these and it was where I first learned about Fortuny and his amazing work.

Homes for the disembodiednext piece, 2000, remade 2003. 50 meters of continuous fabric, fallen trees, thread, stones, wire. approximately 10' x 25' x 7' (dimensions variable)

I have been fascinated since then with the mystery of the permanently pleated silk. Three Pillars was my first experiment in playing with permanently pleating silk after a student brought me an article from the web on how to “fake” it! The other two very influential classes were Textiles of the World 1 & 2…. These three courses have influenced my direction with my work in a sort of constant way. I did go on after earning my BS in Textile and Costume Design from UCD to study Women’s Fashion area at FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] and Costume Design for Theater at Humboldt State University. Of course all of these experiences contributed to my knowledge base and have given me a unique perspective from which to work. My MFA is in Fine Art from the University of Arizona, where I studied Fibers with Gayle Wimmer. It was at the University of Arizona where I began to feel the difference between Art, Craft and Design and where I was able to negotiate between these areas to develop my practice.”

I’m thrilled to be able to share this unique use of fashion history in contemporary art. I think Mary Tuma’s work a new iteration of the 1980s ‘art to wear’ movement (which holds strong ties to California). I’d love to have your thoughts and comments on her work.

Additional Resources:

For more on Classicism in fashion see the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s online exhibition Goddess (2003).

For more on Mary Tuma, please see the Institute for Middle Eastern Understanding.

*Image above is of a Mariano Fortuny Delphose dress (1930) via the MET, CI (2009.300.2606, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of the estate of Mary Boocock Leavitt, 1974)


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Climate change and silk batiks in North Carolina

Moulin, batik on silk, 54″ x 36″ By Mary Edna Fraser

One sometimes finds art and fashion in strange places. A few days ago, I discovered this unique collaboration between a scientist and a silk batik artist. It plays into my personal interest in both hand-crafted objects and the environment. The exhibit opens tomorrow with a special reception, remarks by the artists and a book signing:

“Our Expanding Oceans: The Blending of Art and Science”

Thursday, June 23, 6 pm – 9:30 pm

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

This unique exhibit features more than 50 hand-dyed silk batiks, each inspired by aerial and satellite imagery as well as conceptual perspectives of our environment, and permeated with color to produce stunning visual effects. Developed as a comprehensive exhibit by artist Mary Edna Fraser and scientist Orrin Pilkey,* the collection explores major elements of global climate change, from melting ice sheets to rising seas.

More information on this unique collaboration between science and art can be found at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

For more of Mary Edna Fraser's Expanding Oceans series, click this image.

*Full Disclosure: Please note that Orrin Pilkey is the author of The World’s Beaches from UC Press, my employer.

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Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Socks to High Art

As many of you know, I’m an avid knitter. I’ve previously written about knitting from a variety of perspectives: ‘vintage’ inspired pattern books (Ohio Knitting Mills); the new(ish) street art trend for Yarn Bombing, as well as crafting and gender. Though I’m amazed by the work of avant garde designer Sandra Backlund, I really don’t know if it’s possible to emulate her patterns. In contrast to Tove Hermanson‘s cry for more modern and experimental knit patterns, I crave historicism and ‘vintage charm.’

My "Hush Hush" 1920s knitted nightie (of lace Merino)

And so, for the last six weeks I’ve been knitting a 1920s shift dress with a lovely feather and fan pattern detail and some ribbing.  It has been slow going – small needles and tiny yarn with lots of details. I just finished it this week and I have to admit that it’s satisfying to have come this far. About half-way through the project, I received a copy of the paperback, Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Sock to High Art and so wanted to start reading it immediately. I resisted the temptation, and now that I’m finished with my dress, I get to explore the book!

Knitting America: A Glorious Heritage from Warm Sock to High Art by academic and knitter Susan M. Strawn (formerly of Interweave Press, and now a professor at dress and culture at Dominican University), is thoroughly researched and includes a good index, resources list and detailed endnotes. It is heavily illustrated (300+) with paintings, photographs, posters and vintage advertisements. It covers “The First American Knitters” (Chapter 1) of the 1700s through “Knitting Redefined” (Chapter 12) which brings the book up to 2007.

Not surprisingly, a good portion of the book connects women’s and children’s knitting to military activism and patriotism (especially during the Civil War, WWI, and WWII). It includes fascinating posters and slogans such as “Remember Pearl Harbor, PURL HARDER” and the red cross campaign slogan,”Our Boys need Sox, Knit Your Bit” (seen below). After thumbing through it, one really gets a clear message that the perception  of knitting transforms frequently in American popular culture – though it always seems to have been found valuable. Knitting America includes a few paragraphs on Native American knitting, and interestingly, that the popularity of knitting seems to have wained in the 1920s (it seems that due to the high demand for hand-knitted items in WWI, people were just burnt out on it by the 1920s).

Page 98-99 (From Chapter Six "The Knitting War")

The book also includes 20 historical knitting patterns, including various military socks, baby clothes, a particularly intriguing purse from the 1890s, as well as mittens, scarves and ties. The patters seem to be based on both actual historical garments (the Zoar Mittens below are from the Ohio Historical Society) as well as historical printed pattern instructions. covers the idea of knitting in American history with amazing breadth – everything from Civil War Reenactment Knitters (pg 49) to the emergence of ‘art knitting’ (pg 192) to Native Alaskan Qiviut Lace Knitting (pg 71) to Amish and Mennonite Knitting (p6 65) and even includes a photograph of Sojourner Truth knitting in 1864 (pg. 40).

Page 60-61 (Chapter 4: Traveling Stitches) including Pattern for 1880s Zoar Mittens

Of the 20 patters included in the book, I have my sights set on either the 1950s Men’s argyle socks (164) or 1930s Baby Soaker (pg 127) reprinted from the The Farmer’s Wife, March 1939. If anyone has tried out any of the patterns, I’d love to hear your feedback.

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