Category: Exhibitions

New Objects to See in “Textile Revolution”

Next time you visit ATHM, you’ll see several new clothing items on display in our core exhibition, Textile RevolutionWe have been replacing the majority of clothing pieces throughout the exhibition, both to showcase more of ATHM’s extensive collection and to ensure the preservation of pieces by removing them from display. Below are just a sampling of the new dresses on display in the Fitting In gallery, which highlights clothing from 1870 – 1940.





Our Favorite Things: Clothing in “Textile Revolution”

By Nancy Rogier, Museum Volunteer

Two items in the museum have fascinated me since the first time I saw them, but for different reasons: we know a lot about the first item, but not so much about the second. These two pieces, on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, Textile Revolution, illustrate the connection between history and mystery that surround objects that humans create and leave behind. All artifacts have a story, but not every object has a provenance or background that can be discovered—therein lies the mystery—and, as objects can’t speak, it takes research and investigation to bring their history to light, as well as to establish their place in the world.

Both of my favorite items belong in the world of clothing. The first is a polyester dress from the early 1970s designed by Jonathan Logan and purchased from Bonwit Teller, a high-end department store that flourished in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The second is a navy blue knitted woman’s suit that dates to the 1930s or 1940s. The 1970s dress captivates me because it came to museum with quite a lot of its history. We know the donor, who was the original and only owner of the dress. On display is a photo of the donor wearing the dress. The dress is a typical and appealing 70s style—a black scoop-necked, long-sleeved A-line shift with a geometric design of circles, squares, and lines in bright colors that really pop against the dark background. If you saw it on someone today, you’d probably think it fits right in. I love it not only because of the style, but because we know so much about the item. The photo of the donor wearing the dress at a garden party is an extra fascination for me—her only accessories are her shoulder-length hair, parted in the middle, and a gold circle-link belt, both very 1970s items!

New Exhibit Added to “Textile Revolution”

Visitors can now see a stunning new exhibit on display in ATHM’s core exhibition, “Textile Revolution.”  This piece, titled “Sky into Water / Tides,” is a contemporary work of fiber art featuring optical fibers by artist Laurie Carlson Steger.  The piece has replaced another work of fiber art by Steger, titled “Keyhole,” which was added to “Textile Revolution” in 2011.

"Sky into Water / Tides" by Laurie Carlson Steger

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Observations of a Fashion-Focused ATHM Tour

Education teacher Stephanie Sewhuk shadowed a guided tour for high school fashion students through ATHM’s main exhibit, “Textile Revolution: An Exploration through Space and Time.”  She then reported her experience to the ATHM Blog:

School groups have been coming through our doors in abundance this spring for programs and tours.  A clothing class from Conant High School was one such group recently.  Conant High is a public high school located in Jaffrey New Hampshire.   The groups’ teacher, Beverly Martin, is a Family and Consumer Science teacher at the school who brought her “Clothing 1” class of nine teenaged girls to visit the Museum that she stated she “loves.”

The group of girls arrived at the Museum and immediately gathered around our Calico printer and watched the video explanation as they waited for Kathy Hirbour, our Museum educator who would be giving them a tour. As their teacher checked in, she let us know how excited the girls were to be visiting the Museum and that this was a trip they had been looking forward to.

Clothing exhibits in the "Fitting In Gallery" were of particular interest to the students.

One of the wonderful things about our Museum educators such as Kathy is that they are knowledgeable and flexible enough to create a specialized tour specific to a certain group’s interests. In class, the girls had been studying fashion, designers, fabric aesthetics and sewing. Kathy’s tour was laced with explanations of how fabrics are made and the fibers that they come from.

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“Heaven Save the Ladies”: An Embedded Exhibit at ATHM

On March 31st we opened an exhibit called “Heaven Save the Ladies: Textiles in Dickens’s America” without moving a single object. We are calling it an “embedded exhibit,” meaning that it is made up entirely of objects already on display in the core exhibit. With the generous help of a UMass Lowell student, we chose objects that relate to Charles Dickens’s life, work, and his 1842 visit to America. We created a laminated guide that visitors pick up at the front desk, and that explains the connections between each object and Charles Dickens.

Exhibit guides explain the connection between artifacts in ATHM's main exhibit and Charles Dickens.

“Heaven Save the Ladies” is part of the “Dickens in Lowell” celebration. From March 31 to October 20, 2012, cultural organizations throughout Lowell are hosting a wide variety of programs exploring many different aspects of Charles Dickens’s life, work, and especially his visit to America. You can find out more about “Dickens in Lowell” at

The idea of creating an exhibit within an exhibit also reveals one of the most fascinating aspects of displaying objects in a museum. Artifacts have many meanings and can be part of many different stories. The same object in a new setting can reveal new connections. “Heaven Save the Ladies” is a chance for a fresh perspective on many objects in the core exhibit. For example, in the core exhibit these stays illustrate the fashionable silhouette of the late colonial and early republic period of American dress, as well as the importance of British imports in America. In “Heaven Save the Ladies” the same stays are an opportunity to quote Dickens’s description of the Mrs. Rouncewell, the old-fashioned and proper housekeeper in Bleak House: “She is a fine old lady, handsome, stately, wonderfully neat, and has such a back, and such a stomacher, that if her stays should turn out when she dies to have been a broad old-fashioned family fire-grate, nobody who knows her would have cause to be surprised.” This quote opens up so many other ways to think about the meaning of the stays. For example, one can think about the connections between clothing, posture, social standing, and character.

This stay is one of the many objects re-interpretted in "Heaven Save the Ladies."

“Heaven Save the Ladies” is one of many possible ways of re-interpreting our exhibit. How else could we look at the exhibit? Please share your ideas with us…

By Dave Unger, Director of Interpretation

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