Baby shoes from 1958 are one of over 20,000 items that can be viewed at the Textile and Costume Collection. Photo by Grace DeSanti.

The University of Rhode Island Textile and Costume Collection in Quinn Hall, which is home to over 20,000 objects from around the world, will be opening with a new exhibit on April 22.

The new exhibit will be presenting a collection of clothing and objects centered around it’s theme, “One American Family: A Tale of North and South.”

Adjunct Instructor Rebecca Kelly, and Susan J. Jerome, collections manager for Historic Textile and Costume Collection, are the curators of the exhibit. The two have been working diligently with graduate students to prepare items from a Rhode Island family’s personal collection which was donated to URI’s Costume Collection.

According to Jerome, “[The exhibit will] feature the quilts and swatch books that inspired Rachel May’s book ‘An American Quilt,’ as well as sewing tools, clothing worn by family members, photographs, and watercolors.”

With the exhibit showcasing one specific family’s items, audiences will be able to see garments and tools used between many generations.

“That is the beauty of this collection, it gives you a whole new aspect of a family’s relationship with clothing,” Jerome said. “URI should be very proud and supportive of showing it to the world.”

With the exhibit opening in April with a reception and reading from her book by Dr. May. On Sept. 28, 2019, the University of Rhode Island will hold a conference in addition about the exhibit.

At the conference, invited speakers will address the connection between southern cotton plantations and the northern textile industry, which depended on an economy based around slavery. Jerome stated that the goal of this conference and exhibit is to generate narratives between past and present contemporary social issues, as well as to explore the domestic social lives of women in pre-Civil War Rhode Island.

URI’s Textile and Costume Collection is extensive, composed of pieces from all around the world and from many different time periods. “We’ve been very fortunate to have people donate items,” Jerome said.

The mission of the costume collection states that it is based around three principles: teaching, research and exhibition. The department’s mission statement begins with saying that teaching students about historic costume, historic textiles and fashion design are encompassed into the curriculum for students in the Textile, Fashion Merchandising and Design Department (TMD), as well as other departments on campus.

Research by students in the graduate program, faculty and visiting scholars are used within the collections, giving students an immediate connection to the collection and the work behind it. Lastly, the Textile Gallery and loans come and go from other exhibition and museums, impacting many students from colleges around the U.S.

The Textile and Costume Collection Gallery was opened in 1999, and has since served as a showcase of items in the TMD Department’s Historic Textile and Costume Collection. There are currently one to two exhibits per year, based on the department’s graduate students who are working towards careers in museums, historical societies, and conservation labs.

Some of the exhibits from the past included “Feminism and Fashion of the Twentieth Century,” “Celebrating 125 Years at the University of Rhode Island: Featuring Fashions Typical of Campus Wear from the Historic Textiles and Costume Collection,” and “The Rise of the Readymade Apparel Industry.” These are only a few of the past exhibits, still revealing the diversity of the collections.

Jerome hopes that more students and departments take advantage to use and learn from the exhibits and gallery space in Quinn Hall.

Christie Swanson, a sophomore majoring in TMD, however, is already familiar with the Textile and Costume Collection in Quinn Hall.

“Some of my professor have had my class and I attend and view the collections in order to see historical contexts for design,” Swanson said. “I really enjoyed the Feminism and Fashion of the Twentieth Century and I’m excited for the new exhibit to open.”

Swanson says that she believes that every TMD student should visit one of the collections throughout their time studying at URI, even if it’s just to see what the different departments are doing.

“It’s a good cultural and historical experience,” Swanson said.  

The Historic Textile and Costume Collection is also available online, helping to support the academics within the TMD department, which students can view through the TMD home page on URI’s website.