Exhibition And Study Space Signal New Era For Major Collection Of Costume And Textiles
Since its founding as an outgrowth of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has amassed one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of costume and textiles in the world. In the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building, the new gallery dedicated to Costume and Textiles, a glass-walled study gallery, increased study, storage and conservation areas offer unprecedented public access to this broad collection, numbering more than 30,000 objects.
“The Department of Costume and Textiles was at the forefront of our founding and it is fitting that its collections be at the forefront of our expansion,” said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Museum. “During this auspicious time, as the Museum’s capabilities as a cultural institution reach new heights, visitors will be able to enjoy more of the collection, and students and scholars at colleges and universities around Philadelphia will find greater opportunities to work directly with the staff and the collections.”
Dilys Blum, Curator of Costume and Textiles, added: “The move completely transforms what we are able to do in terms of exhibitions, acquisitions, and education. This is an opportunity to show the breadth and depth of the collection, which ranges in scope from Chinese Han Dynasty textiles and Renaissance velvets to Grace Kelly’s wedding dress to the innovations of Elsa Schiaparelli and the latest designs by Philadelphia-born Ralph Rucci.”
The Joan Spain Gallery of Costume and Textiles, located off the skylit galleria on the first floor, expands dramatically the dedicated Costume and Textiles exhibition space. Formerly, the display of the collection was limited to a 17 x 17 square foot space on the Museum’s second floor European Galleries, where the department has mounted tightly focused exhibitions on a rotating basis. With its hardwood floors and ceiling height of 14 feet, the Joan Spain Gallery will be 2,450 square feet, enabling the department to mount regular in-depth special exhibitions, ranging from new acquisitions to in-depth looks at intriguing but little known aspects of the collection.
Costumes and Textiles will also have a second gallery, located on the second floor of the new addition. Smaller than the Joan Spain Gallery at 1,290 square feet, it provides great flexibility for the curators to create focused installations for study purposes.
The Hamilton Center for Costume and Textiles, located on the Perelman Building’s second floor and named for noted philanthropist Dorrance Hill Hamilton, now houses the department’s offices, state-of-the-art work and study rooms, a dedicated conservation lab, and expanded climate-controlled storage. A compact storage system greatly increases the amount of space the department has to house these fragile objects, paving the way for future gifts and acquisitions. The expanded study facility will ultimately provide greater opportunities to engage with the scholarly community, enabling professors, students, artists, designers, and theater professionals from nearby colleges and universities to work more closely with the Museum staff and the collections.
More About the Collection of Costume and Textiles
The Department of Costume and Textiles was first organized in 1893 as the Department of Textiles, Lace, and Embroidery, one of the Museum’s first three departments. The first collection at that time, overseen by Mrs. John Harrison, honorary curator, documented the development of design and techniques in Egypt, Greece, Persia, Turkey, and India to Europe, with an emphasis on textiles from Italy and Spain. The department’s first exhibition in 1894 displayed the collection of the Countess de Brazza illustrating the history of lace manufacture.
The Museum’s earliest costume holdings illustrated the “home life, customs, and manufactures of colonial times.” They were later joined by major gifts of 18th-and 19th-century material, ranging from weaving pattern books and Pennsylvania German quilts to the clothing of fashionable Philadelphians. These first garments collected by the Museum after its founding in 1876 provided early fashion historians with a rich resource for the study of historic American dress. With the opening of the first costume galleries under the sponsorship of the Fashion Group of Philadelphia in 1947, the collection expanded its focus to include fine examples of contemporary designs by France’s Jean Paul Gaultier, England’s Vivienne Westwood, Italy’s Gianni Versace, and Japan’s Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto among many others.
The important collection of nearly 800 samplers, which began with the acquisition of an 18th-century Spanish sampler in 1877, has at its core the famous Whitman’s Sampler Collection.
In the 1920s and ‘30s, the Museum acquired extensive groups of 18th- and 19th century French textiles as complements to its growing presentation of 18th-century French and English period rooms and decorative arts. This placed the department’s holdings at the forefront of North American collections of American and European printed textiles, and it has also broadened to include works by such contemporary fiber artists as Claire Zeisler, Lenore Tawney, and others.
The collection’s varied and often surprising strengths have inspired and formed the basis for innovative exhibitions such as As Pieces Here to Pieces Join: American Applique Quilts, 1800-1900 (1989), Ahead of Fashion: Hats of the 20th Century (1993), Best Dressed: 250 Years of Style (1997-1998), and Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli (2003). Catalogs of the permanent collection, Best Dressed: Fashion from the Birth of Couture to Today and The Fine Art of Textiles (both 1997), present informative and fully illustrated overviews of the Museum’s rare and beautiful costumes and textiles.