A few weeks ago, I was visiting a relative in a hospital in the rural Northern California town of Colusa. The halls of there were filled with various forms of art for sale. While most were paintings of local life, there was also the odd quilt or photograph. In one large display (pointed out to me by my mother -thanks Mom!), I came upon the work of a former patient: Josephine Lanouette (May 26, 1917 to June 7, 2002).
A group of 10 beautiful illustrations dating to the early 1930s were up in the case. Most notable were the outfit pages in color seen here at the left (note the bottom left includes a flying outfit, swimming outfit, beach outfit and dancing outfit – labeled around the heads). Other pages included a study of 1930s hairstyles, glamorous scenes that looked right out of a movie set, single portraits, silhouettes, and an illustration of fashionable children playing in a yard, among others.
According to the text accompanying the display, Jo began drawing fashion illustrations at the age of 14 because she couldn’t afford the clothes that she wanted. These illustrations were primarily of clothes dating from the early 1930s, and are strongly reminiscent of Hollywood’s glamorous leading ladies.
Several years ago, I read the book Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls’ Culture, 1920-1945 by Kelly Schrum and couldn’t help remarking on the similarities. Chapter 5 in particular is particularly relevant: “A Guiding Factor in my Life”: Teenage Girls and the Movies:
Teenage girls used these materials [fan magazines and film stills] to personalize rooms, decorate belongings, construct scrapbooks, or trade images. Irene Scholfield, a high school student in Northern California in the late 1920s, lovingly drew pictures of movie stars based on movie magazine photographs … turning mass produced images into personal art. And she was not alone. Seniors in 1933 nostalgically remembered their younger high school days of ‘deskcovers hidden by drawings and photographs of moviestars.'” (155)
Josephine’s illustrations seem to fit right into Schrum’s book, both because of their link to Hollywood glamour as well as to teen culture during the depression era. The clothes she drew were SO glamorous! It’s unclear if she ended up pursuing any sort of career related to costume and fashion, though her obituary did note that she was “a former member of the Colusa Stagehands,” a local community theatre group.
Last week I came upon the most marvelous collection of Dance artifacts while I was doing a bit of research via Calisphere (a digital consortium of primary sources via the University of California) and the California Digital Library. The beauty of these illustrations stopped me dead in my tracks. Called the Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection, it includes about 2,000 drawings, photographs, paintings and memorabilia that date from between circa 1913 and 1945.
It is the collection of San Francisco born artist Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks (for those interested, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library also houses a collection of his papers dating from 1920-1960). He was a student of Léon Bakst, and “his dance drawings and paintings were exhibited in Europe and the United States”(via the finding aid). He later published a book, I Shall always Love the West: Impressions of the Incomparable Anna Pavlova during her several Visits to California (1952).
Nearly 400 of these works are available online through the Online Archive of California (OAC). It includes works depicting great as well as unknown dancers in the 20th century – such as Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova and Ruth St. Dennis. Though not available, researchers should note that the collection includes illustrations of Adolph Bolm and Louisa Casati, among others. Happily, this collection also includes set and costume designs for Swan Lake at the SF Opera House, a number of productions at the Greek Theater in Berkeley and for a number of ballets and performances.
As I was scrolling through the collection, I came upon what appears to be a gold mine: “1964.020, Historic Dance Costumes“: this section included costumes belonging to Loie Fuler, Anna Pavlova and Isadora Duncan (even Marie Taglioni’s fan!) are included here (These are a part of 30 dance costumes on long term loan from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco). Sadly, no photographs of these pieces are included online.
In total though – it’s a vast collection – and I hope to find some time in the near future to see if any of it relates to my current research (which it might!). I could spend hours going through these photographs and illustrations, but I’ve chosen just a few to highlight here. Some of them have no captions, dates or titles. But some of real gems – including some pithy ones like “Isadora–far too heavy… if only she would cut down and diet!”.
This weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a lecture and tour of Charmian London’s clothing collection at the Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, CA – organized through the Western Region of the Costume Society of America.
Those in attendance were treated to a lecture by Jo Ann Stabb, who conducted an assessment of this collection of over 100 artifacts in 2002-3 for the California State Parks. Several pieces from the collection were on display at the Sonoma Developmental Center, including some lovely theater coats, evening shoes, a lace blouse and an evening dress. The lecture highlighted Charmian’s independent spirit and outgoing nature, and drew links between her wardrobe and the larger fashion world of each era.
Many of the garments in her collection draw strong correlations with the House of Lucille and with Paul Poiret- though it’s not likely that she purchased items from these makers. Jack London’s mother was an accomplished seamstress, as was Charmian herself.
At various times Charmian’s style was inspired by the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau (especially during her bohemian days in Berkeley and Oakland), and often by her travels abroad with Jack (including trips to Hawaii and the tropics, where she would don Mother Hubbard style dresses and Kimono’s). Japanese, African and other ethnic influences can certainly be found in extant photos and clothing pieces in the collection. Not surprisingly, she had a love of fur – especially trimming hats and garments (reminiscent of Lucille).
The incredibly informative and well attended lecture was followed by lunch and a visit to the Jack London State Historic Park to see the House of Happy Walls (where Charmian’s closets were on view). Park Rangers were on hand to answer our questions, and a park volunteer played music on Charmian London’s piano – much to the delight of the visitors. (For more of my photos from this event, see the gallery at the end)
What made this event all the more bittersweet was the news that came out last Friday: that the Jack London State Historic Park is one of many on a proposed list of park closures due to a $22 million California general fund budget cut. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, those closures are expected to begin in September and have already been approved by the California Legislature.
It will be the first time in California’s history, including during the Great Depression, that state parks have closed because of budget cuts and parks that remain open also will have reduced services.”
What isn’t obvious to many, is that some of these parks also house historic collections of costumes and textiles (as well as other artifacts) – and access to these collections would also be diminished. Along with Jack London SP, and close to my heart, the Fisher Hanlon House (a historic home in Benicia Capitol State Historic Park) has a costume collection and would also be closed.
Benicia is my hometown, and my first experience with a historic costume collection was at the Fisher Hanlon House. According to one parks employee “Parks that do end up being closed will be in a caretaker status, and the collections will still be preserved.” While officials weren’t able to confirm which parks had historic costume and textile collections, they indicated that the Governor’s Mansion and Leland Stanford Mansion both include displays of historic dress. Upon further research, it seems that the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park also has historic costume, and is scheduled to close in September (For a complete list of California collections housing historic costumes and textiles, see Clothing And Textile Collections in the United States: A Csa Guide).
Now if you want to do something to help preserve these collections that are important to California’s History, I’d advise a donation:
Gallery of Photos:
It’s not often that I get to work on fashion related books at my day job,* though it does happen occasionally. I have several coming down the line, so you might hear about them from time to time.
Accompanying an exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco (opening today), Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories by Wanda M. Corn and Tirza True Latimer includes a detailed look on Steins creation of her public persona and the role fashion played in her identity.
According to the authors, “Stein and Toklas had perfected their late-life look by the time they met [Cecil] Beaton in the mid-thirties. From the very beginning of their friendship, the two women shared an interest in dressing distinctively.”
The New York Times Style Magazine recently provided an excerpt of the chapter titled “Dress” which chronicles both Gertrude Stein’s and Alice B. Tklas relationships with their appearance and with ‘fashion’ in general.
As girls they spent time at dressmakers, shoemakers, and milliners, where they acquired day dresses and casual shoes for home life; heels, suits, hats, and gloves for the public sphere; and gowns for special evening events. . . . Alice’s hats, a friend wrote, “were all in perfect condition, kept in their original pretty boxes from the most famous milliners. She had superb examples of inlaid feather work by Paul Poiret, huge black-and-gold birds of paradise. . . .
Happily, the exhibition includes vests, pins and other articles worn by Stein, and the book includes photographs and famous artwork featuring Stein’s image. I’ll be attending the opening this evening, and if I can, will post some additional photos.
A whole host of museum and literary events are planned in collaboration with this exhibit, including a UC Extension Course, lectures on Stein’s ties to queer and artist cultures, among many others. Full details can be found here. After the exhibition closes at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, on Sept 6, it will travel to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. where it will run from Oct 14 through Jan 22, 2012.
*Full Disclosure: My ‘day job’ is a publicist for the University of California Press.
More of these are here.
Yesterday’s Los Angeles Times brought with it a mention of Natacha Rambova – the woman whose fashion and costume design career I’ve been researching for the last eight years. It always thrills me to come upon new (or not-so-new research). Times reporter, Chris Erskine, took a road trip to Crown Point, Indiana where Natacha Rambova and Rudolph Valentino were married.
(Lake County Courthouse, in the county seat of Crown Point, Ind., is where silent star Rudolph Valentino was wed. Via the Los Angeles Times)