Feature Article

Lasell Students ‘Connect Learning’ with Fashion and Satire Exhibition

Lasell students worked with Associate Professor of Fashion Jill Carey to create a Fashion and Satire exhibit and accompanying book

Left to right, Dana Blanchett '17, Victoria Sferrazaa '17, Professor Jill Carey, Evin Lovett '17, and Hillary M. Brown '17 at the opening reception for the Fashion and Satire exhibition held at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport, RI.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, New York City was both the center for illustration art and the optimal place to observe the lifestyle of a new American social class, one that valued fashionable dress. Men who made great fortunes in the steel, oil, railroad and real estate industries spent lavishly. And talented illustrators like Orson Byron Lowell and Charles Dana Gibson captured their culture (and peccadilloes) for the popular magazines of the day.

Satirist and society chronicler Lowell used pen-and-ink to translate his deep observations of this new social class, vibrantly linking American society and wit; Gibson navigated comfortably among fellow elites, documenting their mores and folkways with a light, humorous touch.

Both artists, and their social commentary on Gilded Age society, come into sharp focus in a new exhibition, and accompanying book, created in large part by Associate Professor of Fashion Jill Carey and four of her students.            

Fashion and Satire: The Drawings of Orson Byron Lowell and Chares Dana Gibson, pairs a collection of satirical illustrations with Gilded Age costumes and accessories-many from the famed Lasell Fashion Collection. The exhibition ran at historic Rosecliff Mansion, part of The Preservation Society of Newport County, RI, from January to May of this year. And it moves to the Museum of the Society of Illustrators on East 63rd Street in New York on September 5, where it will remain mounted until October 28, 2017.            

Carey, who also serves as curator of The Lasell Fashion Collection, designed and constructed the collaborative project in association with four Fashion Retail and Merchandising seniors (Dana Blanchette '17, Hillary M. Brown '17, Erin Lovett '17 and Victoria Sferrazza '17), as well as the publishing team from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, The Preservation Society of Newport County, RI and The American Textile History Museum in Lowell, MA.

The process began in 2014 as a Connected Learning project, with intellectual and financial support from the Sharfs.

"Frederic Sharf's generosity and support of Lasell's Fashion Department enabled us to take on this amazing project," Carey tells Leaves, "and we are most grateful."

The initial goal was to establish the social context and satirical intention evident in each Lowell and Gibson rendering. Extensive research was done into the background of the decade in which the illustrations were created. The Lasell students examined vintage fashion in books, in The Lasell Fashion Collection and at the American Textile History Museum.

The exhibition juxtaposes Lowell and Gibson illustrations with actual period costumes and accessories, displayed on mannequins or in cases, set up in "vignettes" adjacent to the images. This three-dimensional presentation allows the visitor to see historic clothing as part of a broader societal context, and also as inherently beautiful artifacts in their own right.

Fashion and Satire features some gems from The Lasell Fashion Collection including a beaver fur muff, a hand-painted silk-and-wood fan, several walking sticks, a fancy velvet picture hat, even a graduation cap from a 1925 Lasell graduate. Costume pieces range in opulence from a beaded silk chiffon Flapper dress and a silk satin wedding dress to both men's and women's wool one-piece bathing suits.

Commenting on the shared journey, from concept to exhibition/book publication, Carey lauds "the collaborative nature of Fashion and Satire for fostering an inspiring relationship between students, faculty and professionals. For three years," she continues, "original ideas and opinions were valued, respected and critiqued in order to establish a worthy body of evidence."

The ultimate experience, Carey tells Leaves, "celebrates the significance of cooperative learning and the value of professional partnerships. Together, the students and I engaged in creative exploration beyond the normal college course," she concludes, "proof that teaching and learning can transcend classroom walls."

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