Friday, May 11, 2007

Clothes to Dye For



 Colorful Textiles from the Charleston Museum Collection


All the colors of the spectrum will be visible in an original Charleston Museum textile exhibition running May 18, 2007 to April 18, 2008. Clothes to Dye For: Colorful Textiles from the Charleston Museum Collection will explore the many shades of fashion in this prismatic display of four centuries of clothing, accessories and textiles.

This year-long exhibition focuses on the power of color, its richness and intensity. Color is all around us - in nature, in our houses, in the clothes we wear. Men and women have traditionally used color to brighten their surroundings, change their appearance, or provide symbolic meaning to their lives. Clothes to Dye For will examine color symbolism and color theory. The history of dyeing will cast light on Eliza Lucas Pinckney and the importance of indigo to the Lowcountry, the Spanish introduction to Europe of tiny South American cochineal insects full of red dye, and dangerous concoctions such as Scheeles’ green, a stunning and lightfast dye loaded with arsenic and extremely poisonous to dyer and wearer. Along with garments and accessories, textiles such as drapes, quilts, coverlets and furniture will infuse the gallery with an array of deep shades and delicate hues.


While the entire color spectrum of textiles will be on display throughout the exhibit, each quarter will feature a special focus tinged with a particular color and related events. From May 18 to September 9, 2007 the Museum will be singing the blues with a cool emphasis on indigo, cobalt, and navy. From September 13 to December 2, 2007, autumn gold will shine in lemon to amber examples. The winter holiday season gets a rosy start with racy reds and beautiful burgundies from December 6, 2007 to March 11, 2008. The focus series wraps up with emerald greens and olive drabs starting March 13 and running through the exhibit conclusion on April 13, 2008. Please note: Extremely fragile items will be rotated on and off exhibit.


Special events kick off with the opening reception on Thursday, May 17, 2007. For more information or reservations, please call (843) 722-2996 ext. 264. Curator-led tours of Clothes to Dye For will be available free with general museum admission on the first Thursday of the month at 11:00 a.m. throughout the exhibit run. Additional Clothes to Dye For programs will be listed on the calendar of events.



RED is a hot, strong color that grabs our attention. It is the color of Christmas and Valentine’s Day but can also represent the devil or danger. Luscious shades of red range from scarlet to maroon, ruby to rust, and crimson to rose. Some examples are a man’s 18th century red silk jersey breeches, an 1890s red wool dress with embroidered flowers, and a shocking red corset from the late 19th century. Red shoes, hats, bags, fans along with toile draperies and red velvet Academy of Music seats complete the picture.


ORANGE is not just for Halloween in the world of fashion. This secondary color combining red and yellow features a snappy melon mini dress from the 1960s and an orange wool man’s bathing suit from the early 20th century. Often used as a warning color, these eye-catching fashions will surprise and enchant the visitor.


YELLOW represents the color of sunshine and the harvest. It can signify hope through yellow ribbons or evoke happiness and warmth, but can also mean cowardice. Shades of yellow and gold can be rich and sparkling, as evidenced by the fashions in this segment. Josephine Manigault’s stunning yellow silk brocade dress made with fabric purchased by her father in Canton, a creamy yellow silk damask evening cape, and a swingy yellow chiffon dress worn to a Clemson graduation in 1925 capture the different shades of yellow.


GREEN, the color of nature and money, is lucky in Ireland, is a sacred color in Islamic cultures, and is often associated with fertility and springtime. It is also central to this rainbow of fashion. Dresses, coats, handbags and parasols show off a wide assortment of greens. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the color green was achieved through a process of overdyeing – combining sturdy blue dyes with strong yellow dyes. Highlights of the exhibition include a delicate green silk Empire dress, a rich green velvet cape from the 1850s and a bright green changeable taffeta dress worn by Mrs. Mendel Rivers in the 1950s.


BLUE is cool and calming. It can denote loyalty (true blue) or first rate (blue ribbon) but can also be sad (the blues) or unexpected (out of the blue). The blue fashions include an electric blue two-piece dress from the 1870s, a perky 1960s satin cocktail dress and the blue silk shoes worn by Eliza Lucas Pinckney around 1750. A pieced quilt and woven coverlet round out the section. The deep, rich color from the indigo plant that brought so much wealth to early Charlestonians will be just a part of the many shades of blue.


PURPLE, or VIOLET, holds the honor of being the first synthetic dye. Sir William Henry Perkin inadvertently discovered this aniline dyestuff in 1856 while attempting to develop synthetic quinine. He called the new substance mauvine, and this monumental achievement launched not only a new age for dyes, but a revival of all things purple, dyed naturally or not. Perhaps because violet is the last color of the spectrum, it symbolizes both the ending of the known and the beginning of the unknown. A color of passion and power, early purple dye came from shellfish and was very expensive. In Roman times, only the wealthy could afford purple or were allowed to wear it. The Museum’s collection holds many purple treasures including rich velvet coats and bodices, a watered taffeta wedding dress from 1884 and a lilac feather fan.



BLACK and WHITE are perhaps the most mysterious of colors. Positive and negative, the absence of color and the brilliance of light make these two "colors" the most versatile. In Western countries, black is often associated with mourning, though in the East the color for funerals is traditionally white. Black and white speak of elegance and sophistication and have long been popular choices for clothing. Flowing white dresses from the turn of the 20th century contrast with shimmering black beaded evening wraps, rich black velvet capes are accompanied by white fur muffs. White and black lace abound for shawls and bodices, beading and sequins adorn even the darkest black satin and the lightest cotton and linen. From top hat to tails, the exhibit will sparkle with the intensity of black and white.

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