Fashion professor, students collaborate for successful exhibition in Newport, RI

By Samantha Plumley – 1851 Staff

From behind locked doors, exquisite pieces from the Lasell Fashion Collection are on view for the public, alongside items from outside resources. Those who have experienced the Lasell Fashion Collection know the significance of these priceless pieces.

Associate Professor of Fashion Jill Carey (Center) with the four interns who helped create her new exhibit “Fashion and Satire: The Drawings of Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson” at the Rosecliff mansion in Newport, RI. (Photo Courtesy of Jill Carey)

After three years of work, the exhibition “Fashion and Satire: The Drawings of Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson” opened on January 27. The pieces represent the changing fashion trends and attitudes over four decades, spanning from the Gilded Age to the Jazz Age. It is housed in Rosecliff mansion in Newport, RI.

The project was designed and constructed by Professor and Curator of the Lasell Fashion Collection Jill Carey, in association with four fashion retail and merchandising seniors Dana Blanchette, Hillary Brown, Erin Lovett, and Victoria Sferrazza, as well as Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, part of the Preservation Society of Newport County, and the recently closed American Textile History Museum.

Some noteworthy items chosen from the Lasell Collection include a beaver fur muff, a hand painted silk and wood fan, and a graduation robe and mortar board, more commonly known as a graduation cap, from a 1925 Lasell graduate. “You can see a very eclectic mix of clothing for men and women that are wonderful and relate directly to specific illustrations,” said Carey.

The exhibition centers around the illustrations of Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson, which were featured in prominent magazines. The illustrations were a humorous take on social commentary, similar to how we view social media today. The artists critiqued the upper class and their focus on appearance. Initially, images of “Gibson Girls” graced the pages with their aristocratic air, but shifts within society transitioned over time and the idealized young American woman became a flapper.

Often focusing on courtship, the images would occasionally tackle prominent issues. Topics included the feminist movements as earning the right to vote, gaining access to education, and freedom of self-expression.

While on sabbatical last spring semester, Carey spent her days deepening her research, fact-checking, and maintaining partnerships. By solely focusing on the project, Carey and the team were able to ensure the success of the exhibition and the accompanying published book. Carey believes the accomplishments of the project made were due to effective teamwork. “It was a true collaboration. Professor Carey treated us as colleagues,” said Sferrazza.

When looking at content to incorporate into the exhibition, the team looked further than what the prominent fashions of the time were. “The work included the societal context of the time, observing the fashions within the art, and pulling out the satire in the art that was relevant to the time period,” said Blanchette.

The students gained real world experiences as well as resume building, and networking opportunities. “It was a really good Connected Learning experience because it was real life work and had a physical end product of the exhibition,” said Brown.

The exhibition will run through May 7 at Rosecliff at 548 Bellevue Ave and will reopen on September 5 in The Society of Illustrators gallery at 128 East 63rd Street, New York City until October 28.

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