Sunday, January 31, 2010
Staten Island's Historic Richmond Town fashions are ready to share
Pretty much everything in the 100-acre village, which has 30 buildings, farmland, graveyards, art, vehicles (buggies, carriages, wagons and carts), tools, clothing, furniture and decorative objects, is headed that way.
Unlike newspapers and magazines, R-Town is unlikely to be harmed by its online avatar.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said curator Maxine Friedman. “The more people know about what we have, the easier it will be to share it.”
Yesterday afternoon, Ms. Friedman and associate curator Sarah Clark pulled selected garments out of their climate-controlled repositories during an informal fund-raiser.
Some attendees may well have been unaware of the riches on the premises. Sitewide, the complex has been updating storage, inventory and catalogues for 20 years now.
The chief goal is preserving the various collections -- expanding access is second place.
Historic Richmond TownFresh Kills T-shirt, circa 1992, previously owned by Francis Laub, a stationary engineer for the New York City Department of Sanitation. The process involves retrieval, research, evaluation and conservation. It’s full of surprises. Categories in which the quality of the holdings was under-known, research has brought treasures to light.
The following year, hundreds of items of furniture were retrieved from 15 storage buildings, evaluated and reinstalled in the new made-to-order Edna Hayes Storage Center.
Later, when it was time to survey the 4,000 ceramic items on the premises, an expert was retained. The ceramics timeline begins with a pre-Revolutionary porcelain tea cozy (probably brought to pro-British Staten Island by a soldier) and concludes, for the time being, with millennial Champagne flutes.
A costume dress, circa 1890-1910, with a bowling theme. The garment is associated with the Staten Island Quartette Club, which had its run 1861-1954. The research team began tackling clothing — the first collection to surface online — about a year ago. For now, it’s just highlights, not the whole closet.
There were reasons to post clothing first, according to Ms. Friedman. “Partly, its due to the amount of research we’d already done,” she said. “We’ve found there’s always interest in clothing.”
Dressmakers, designers, film and theater costumers are often anxious to examine a real, vintage garment close up; photographs and drawings are just no substitute.
DRESSING THE STARS
It belonged to Sydney Howard Gay (1814-1888) of Livingston, a newspaperman. He wore the cape during speaking tours below the Mason Dixon line, where he was an abolitionist firebrand. How the cape functioned in this context — perhaps it was bullet-proof — isn’t explained.
Entries often include a narrative. Some have photographs of the garment being worn. Women’s clothing and accessories outnumber other categories.
Some items are practically iconic in American culture, like the Calvin Klein “designer” jeans from the 1970s, the early heyday of the style. They must have been well-loved. They are grass-stained, faded, practically threadbare.
Ms. Clark is particularly happy about a 200-year-old woman’s coat or pelisse. It has fine hand sewing and it’s intact, which is practically a miracle. “These were not uncommon garments,” she said, “but to have one in such great shape is very rare.”
Designer Ceil Chapman’s lace and tulle evening dress. Chapman was born on S.I. and worked in Manhattan’s famed Fashion District, circa the 1940s-’50s. A 1950s gown represents a link to the most glamorous actresses of post-war Hollywood. It was designed by Ceil Chapman (1912-1979), born in Rosebank. In her heyday, she dressed stars like Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe.
Last month, a Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) graduate candidate dropped by hoping to study selected items and offer conservation services (repairs and stabilization).
Her services were not required, it turned out. The menswear has survived in remarkably good form.