How do you take 40,000 items representing 150 years of Cleveland history and boil it down to just over 100? That was the challenge for Western Reserve Historical Society’s Patty Edmonson in pulling together “Wow Factor: 150 Years of Collecting Bold Clothes.” As the Museum Advisory Council curator of costume & textiles, she focused on selecting pieces with big visual impact and Northeast Ohio provenance, either via the owner or the creator. “I looked for intangibles like glamor, workmanship, and humor – real WOW factor,” said Edmonson. The result is an exhibit that features international designers including Christian Dior, Carolina Herrera and Coco Chanel, and local style makers like Project Runway alum Valerie Mayen of Yellowcake, and CNBC’s Cleveland Hustles finalist Fount Leather.
"With Wow Factor: 150 Years of Collecting Bold Clothes, we celebrate 150 years of collecting clothing of exceptional quality,” said Kelly Falcone-Hall, president and CEO of Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS). "In a tangible way, these garments help us to tell the stories of both extraordinary and everyday people who made and wore them in Northeast Ohio. We’re excited to showcase Cleveland’s style, past and present, especially during this time of celebration for WRHS and of rebirth for our city’s makers.”
WRHS tells the stories of Cleveland and Clevelanders and their connection to national and international events, in part through a broad collection of personal artifacts donated by some of Cleveland’s most prominent families. “WRHS offers a portal to the history of the Western Reserve, taking it back to when Cleveland was an industrial powerhouse, and the people who made this town: there’s an immigration story, an ethnic story, a business story, and an education story,” says J. Roderick MacDonald, managing director, KeyBanc Capital Markets and member of WRHS Board of Directors.
In the 1930s, WRHS received several pieces from local families who handed down heirloom clothing. This practice continued until the 1960s when curators forged deeper connections and relationships with the community and began collecting designer clothing. In the 1980s Cindy Halle, of the legendary Halle family whose eponymous department store defined elegant downtown Cleveland shopping for decades, led an effort to create the Chisholm Halle Costume Wing at the WRHS Cleveland History Center.
Today the impressive collection is widely recognized among the top 10 in the country. “With over 40,000 objects in our costume and textile collection, we can illuminate the stories of the past and present, and represent a diverse and fascinating group of people from our region,” said Falcone-Hall.
WRHS accepts donations on an ongoing basis and seeks pieces from broader, more diverse populations in Northeast Ohio. “We want to document the history of design and couture and of everyday people,” says Edmonson. The collection includes pieces from immigrants, scholars and artists, to athletes, philanthropists and CEOs. Pieces in the exhibit range from clothing worn by Ada Watterson Yerkes, who broke conventions to pursue a PhD in botany before 1900, to basketball legend LeBron James.
WOW Factor: 150 Years of Collecting Bold Clothes opens April 28, 2017 and runs through April 22, 2018. For more information, visit www.wrhs.org/wowfactor.