New museum exhibit features treasures of textile and clothing collection

Exhibit Preps

Students and faculty put the finishing touches on the "Treasures" exhibit that opens Feb. 3, at the Textiles and Clothing Museum. Photo by Bob Elbert.

Walking into the Textiles and Clothing Museum at Iowa State University is like traveling through history and visiting another culture all at the same time. In celebration of its fifth anniversary, the museum is featuring historical and ethnographical treasures from its collection of more than 10,000 pieces. The public is invited to an opening reception for the exhibit on Sunday, Feb. 3, from 2-4 p.m.  

Sara Marcketti, museum curator and associate professor of apparel, events and hospitality management, selected the items to feature in the historical collection.

“I wanted to feature the oldest pieces that we have, and then in the 20th century feature one key piece that epitomizes each decade,” Marcketti said. “Visitors can look at a dress and know that represents the 1920s, for example.”

Even more important, Marcketti wanted to select items that tell a story about a person or a period in history. Many of the pieces featured in the exhibit have a special connection to the university as well as the Ames community and state of Iowa.

Brown Velvet Dress

One piece that stands out to Marcketti is the story behind the woman who originally owned a brown velvet dress from 1905. Rose Frankel Rosenfield, who wore the dress, fought for women’s voting rights by providing considerable financial support for the unsuccessful 1916 referendum. Rosenfield’s family also owned the Frankel Clothing Store in Des Moines, which was eventually bought by the Younkers Corp. Other pieces featured in the exhibit tell a story about the impact of fashion.

“A lot of people might think of clothing as frivolous or not important. I really hope that we can show through this exhibit how clothing and textiles are related to the politics of the time, the social aspects of the time and the economic aspects of the time. To get people to understand that we can really learn something about culture and society by looking at the items we choose to wear, produce and consume,” Marcketti said.

Of the nearly 50 pieces featured in the “Treasures of the Textiles and Clothing Museum” exhibit, several have a cultural significance that is outlined in the intricate details. Iowa State students helped research each piece, even interpreting the meaning behind the different motifs.

“A lot of the pieces are featured because of the handwork and the technique that are put into the piece,” said Janet Fitzpatrick, collections manager for the museum.

Red Kimono

Fitzpatrick selected pieces for the ethnographic collection, including a red kimono that was part of a wedding ensemble. The kimono features a crane which symbolizes a happy marriage, but Fitzpatrick said it also highlights the craftsmanship. 

“Just the attention to detail that is represented in the design of the garment as well as the handwork – there’s wonderful embroidery and symbolism,” Fitzpatrick said.    

Marcketti and Fitzpatrick invite the public to visit the museum to see the Treasures exhibit. The items, along with many too fragile to display, are also featured in a full-color catalog that can be purchased through the Iowa State University Book Store and at 31 MacKay Hall.

The exhibit will be on display in the Mary Alice Gallery, 1015 Morrill Hall, through April 21. Regular hours are Monday-Friday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The gallery will have extended hours from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 and 20, and Sunday, April 21. Admission to the gallery is free.