The Woodstock Art Gallery sends mysterious drawings to the Fashion Institute of Technology
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All art galleries and museum collections have their secrets. Each vault contains at least one crate hidden in a lonely corner, filled with items nobody remembers.
Artworks and artifacts in reputable collections usually have provenance — verified records of who owned them and who donated or sold them to the institution — but more often than not, these mysterious items got into collections in their earliest days and crept in before it they gave strictly organized cataloging systems. Unfortunately, these objects are bereft of their personal history and linger for years like nameless orphans amidst established treasures.
That is, until a confused employee stumbles upon them and is tasked with figuring out where they belong.
The Woodstock Art Gallery has housed its fair share of mysterious items over the years. The gallery even held an exhibition in the fall of 1996 that linked these items with new acquisitions. That was back when the collection was in the mansion next to the Woodstock Public Library on Hunter Street, and only a few years after it broke away from a division of the library to become an institution in its own right.
The gallery has come a long way since then and is now housed in a lavish, renovated building across from the Woodstock Museum. Today, the gallery also uses a computer database to keep a close track of all the artwork it stores and displays, all for the pleasure and inspiration of its Southwest Ontario community.
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Two mysterious works of art were recently rescued from obscurity for an exciting journey to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City: a pair of 1940s fashion sketches. Each image is composed of curved, elegant lines and tinted with dark ink. Each image depicts three women wearing the fashions of the era – rugged shoulder pads and boxy silhouettes inspired by World War II military uniforms and narrow skirts imposed by wartime cloth rations.
A small handwritten note on the back of an old exhibit label claims they were drawn for Filene’s, an upscale department store in Boston founded in 1881 and discontinued in 2006 after the merger with Macy’s. This little label is the only evidence of the history of the drawings, but still doesn’t explain how they got to Woodstock.
Within the scope of its mandate, the Woodstock Art Gallery prefers to collect works with a regional or national connection. For this reason, in addition to the fact that the drawings were never officially part of the collection, it was decided that a more appropriate home would be found. After a short search, the gallery ended up at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, which accepted it as a donation last March.
Founded in 1944, the institute is part of the State University of New York and focuses on art, design, technology and communication related to the fashion industry. The drawings will become part of the institute’s special collections and university archives, whose mission, according to the website, is “to advance original research beyond the (institute) community by acquiring, preserving, and making universally accessible primary research materials.”
Part of the collection has been digitized and uploaded online, making thousands of historical fashion illustrations and photographs available not only to clothing historians but to any member of the fashion-interested public. This wonderful treasure trove can be found at sparcdigital.fitnyc.edu.
The Woodstock Art Gallery’s proprietary collections database can be found online at www.woodstockartgallery.ca.
Reilly Knowles is Curatorial and Collections Assistant at Woodstock Art Gallery, who is grateful for Canada Summer Jobs’ support of this position.