Clothing Exhibit at Jorgensen this Summer; ‘Tea Cakes and Torture
You might think that strong foundations should be part and parcel of the Industrial Age in New England. And they were. But when those bracing features controlled the soft contours of ladies in polite company, at tea and virtually everywhere else, they became, well, personal torture chambers.You can feel their inner pain, and outer satisfaction, when you view an array of historic fashions, worn and collected by local women, in a costume exhibit, titled “Women of New England: Dress from the Industrial Age, 1850-1900,” from June 4 through August 17 in the Jorgensen Gallery.
Fifty exceptional garments from the Historical Clothing and Textile Collection at the University of Connecticut show the development of women’s clothing from this vibrant age in New England, where women played a dominant role as workers in the textile and shoe industries and as consumers of fashion. The UConn collection began in 1898, when the Home Economics Department was created, and grew through the toil of faculty and students who amassed and preserved more than 8,000 items, 3,500 of which are garments. This study collection is the largest in New England and reflects Connecticut’s mill town past in Mansfield, Willimantic, Manchester and throughout the region.
In the same time frame, Isaac Singer introduced an affordable sewing machine with interchangeable parts that spawned a home sewing revolution. After the Civil War, during which New England women made army uniforms, Ebenezer Butterick’s clothing patterns, in varying sizes, opened a world of fashion, from New York and Paris, to women in New England towns.The show is curated by Laura Crow, director of costume design at the UConn Department of Dramatic Arts, and curator of the clothing collection. Having worked on Broadway and off-Broadway shows since the 1970s, Crow was a resident designer for 13 years at the Circle Repertory Theatre, where she designed plays by Lanford Wilson (“The Redwood Curtain,” “Burn This” and “Fifth of July”) as well as “The Seagull,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “The Water Engine” and “WARP.” She has won Drama Desk, Obie and American Theater Wing awards and myriad others. Her designs have been seen in more than 300 productions worldwide including most of the European countries and Yugoslavia, Japan and Micronesia. Professor Crow’s work was shown in Lincoln Center in 2008-09 as part of “Curtain Call: Celebrating a Century of Women Designers for Live Performance.”She holds fine arts degrees from Boston University and the University of Wisconsin and has served on university faculties at Michigan, Boston and Brandeis. She did post-graduate work at Courtauld Institute at the University of London, where she dated paintings through historical dress.
“Tea Cakes and Torture,” a Victorian luncheon and talk by the curator on Sunday, June 24, will offer a trip back in time to marvel over the 18 to 22-inch waists required to wear the exhibited fashions. Curator Laura Crow will share her knowledge of costume, couture and culture as she weaves the tale of what these women truly suffered in the name of beauty. “Women saddled themselves with sprung steel hoops, wire cages and unforgiving corset bones that transformed the shape of the female torso,” Crow says. “Corsets were worn from puberty onwards and caused major malfunctions in the female body, not to mention a rise in the infant mortality rate.”
The event will raise funds for the Historical Clothing and Textile Collection at the UConn School of Fine Arts. Food, festivities and fashion will be on tap at this transformative afternoon tea, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $30. Attendees are invited to wear their largest hat and gaudiest jewelry as they nosh on finger sandwiches and tea cakes and enjoy the exhibit.
The June 4-August 17 exhibit, which has moved to Jorgensen from the Benton Museum, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, in the Jorgensen Gallery in the lower lobby. An opening reception will also be held at 6 p.m. Friday, June 8, in the gallery.
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2132 Hillside Road on the UConn campus in Storrs. Admission to the exhibit is free. Tickets to “Tea Cakes and Torture,” a June 24 fundraiser for the School of Fine Arts historical clothing collection, are $30 and available June 4 through June 20. For tickets and information, call the Box Office 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Fri at 860.486.4226.