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Exhibitions highlight fashion, photography, carvings, literature

Special Collections and Museums presents four major exhibitions this fall

World War I fashion and history, photography and the human face, contemporary Chinese carvings and concerns in African American literature are spotlighted in four exhibitions presented this fall by Special Collections and Museums of the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press. All are on view now through Dec. 8 on the Newark campus.

“Fashion on All Fronts: Stories from the Wardrobe, 1914-1918" is on display in the Old College Gallery; “Faces in Black and White: Photography and Identity” is on view at Mechanical Hall Gallery; "Contemporary Chinese Carvings: Classic Concepts" is on exhibit at the Mineralogical Museum at Penny Hall; and “Issues and Debates in African American Literature” is on view in the Special Collections Gallery of the Hugh M. Morris Library.

“Fashion on All Fronts”

Imagine the stories clothes from war could tell — about the people who wore them, the period’s fashion and lifestyle and the war itself. That is the focus of the “Fashion on All Fronts: Stories from the Wardrobe, 1914-1918” exhibition, on display in Old College Gallery.

Curated by Belinda Orzada, Dilia López-Gydosh and Jan Gardner Broske, the multilayered exhibition engages visitors by providing glimpses into World War I on the front lines and on the home front through a variety of mediums.

An opening reception will be held from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 13. Included will be a tour led by curators Lopez-Gydosh, assistant professor of fashion and apparel studies and director of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection, and Orzada, professor of fashion and apparel studies. Those interested in attending should RSVP via universitymuseums@udel.edu or 302-831-8037.

The exhibition showcases collections of World War I-era garments and military uniforms from the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies and generous private lenders to highlight the Great War and the innovations it brought to life.

But the fashion and garments on display also have their own stories to tell. Visitors will discover the wartime history of Keds sneakers and Converse high tops. They will also see how the style and details of clothing — be it the evolution of women’s boots or the military-inspired detailing of women’s everyday and evening garments — imply support of the war effort at home.

Vintage posters from the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections provide additional insight into the war effort at home and abroad. These posters were carefully designed to encourage Americans to support the conflict — a dramatic contrast from the nation’s earlier policy of non-intervention.

In another room of the exhibition, visitors can explore Delaware’s participation in the war through the stories of local men and women. They will also be able to page through an electronic replica of the “Book of the Dead” from Memorial Hall and appreciate the life represented on each page.

Special Events

• Reception from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 13, in Old College Gallery. Please RSVP via universitymuseums@udel.edu or 302-831-8037.

• “Women and Fashion in the Great War” lecture at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 4. Led by Sara Hume, associate professor and curator of the Kent State University Museum, with reception to follow in Old College Lobby.

• “Wearing WWI,” a gallery talk on the material culture of WWI uniforms at 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 21, in Old College Main Lobby. Led by Lucas Clawson, historian and archivist at Hagley Museum and Library.

• “Stories from the Wardrobe: A Conversation” at 4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 31, in the Class of 1941 Lecture Room in Morris Library. Margaret Stetz, Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies, and Gabrielle Griswold will discuss the wartime experiences of Griswold’s mother, whose YWCA uniform is on view in the exhibition.

• “World War I Posters: A Curator’s Perspective” at 12:15 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15, in Old College Gallery. Led by Broske, exhibition co-curator and collections manager in Special Collections and Museums.

“Faces in Black and White”

The human face conveys an array of emotions, but it also serves as a site of history, struggle, drama and inspiration. In the Mechanical Hall exhibition, “Faces in Black and White: Photography and Identity,” guest curator Stephen Petersen explores how faces “speak” through photographs.

This exhibition brings together black-and-white photographs from across the University of Delaware’s collections to showcase the combination of two mediums of expression — photography and the human countenance.

By viewing a diverse selection of subjects and photographers together, the exhibition will open up conversations among the images on view. From freed slaves to modern-day artists, to activists, to celebrities, the subjects of the photographs also vary tremendously, as do the techniques and interests of the photographers.

Many of the images on display feature the idea of performance, be it an image of a creative artist, politician or athlete. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will recognize the faces of musical performers, including Duke Ellington, Sun Ra and Bruce Springsteen.

Christopher Felver celebrates, as he once stated, “the myriad of nuances in the voice of their human faces,” through images of important poets, writers and artists.

Bert Andrews, who specializes in images of the black theatre, explores the onstage face as an instrument of emotion with his 1990 photograph, James Earl Jones as Paul Robeson. The photograph captures a moment from Jones’ performance in a one-character play about Robeson, a controversial actor and social activist.

Karl Bissinger takes a different approach in his photography, specializing in “environmental portraits.” In these images, the face is isolated and dramatized through lighting and composition. It is the focus of the image.

In exploring how faces “speak” in photographs, the exhibition is able to give voice to the complexities of the human face. In each photograph, the face shows that identity is much larger than appearance alone.

Special Events

  • Reception from 5-6:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21, in Mechanical Hall Gallery. Featured photographer Christopher Felver will discuss his photography and portrait subjects. The gallery will remain open until 8 p.m. Those interested in attending should RSVP via universitymuseums@udel.edu or 302-831-8037.
  • “Faces in Black and White: A Curator’s Perspective” at 12:15 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 18, in Mechanical Hall Gallery. Led by curator Stephen Petersen.

"Contemporary Chinese Carvings: Classic Concepts"

Stone carving style is influenced by many factors, such as tradition, available tools and material. The “Contemporary Chinese Carvings: Classic Concepts” exhibition highlights 20th century Chinese carvings of agate. Although the agate itself is most likely from Brazil, the carvings feature fine detail and traditionally Chinese forms and motifs.

This exhibition is from the collection of Francis Hueber and is curated by Sharon Fitzgerald.

While the Chinese tradition of carving jade and other stone materials stretches back thousands of years, the modern development of high-speed diamond drill bits has made the carving of harder materials like quartz and its varieties possible. Hueber, a retired curator of botany at the Smithsonian Institution, purchased the carvings in China on various trips throughout the last 15 years.

To celebrate the exhibition, there will be a reception with refreshments from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 27, in the Mineralogical Museum. At 5:30 p.m., Fitzgerald, curator of the Mineralogical Museum, will discuss the process of carving different stones, how the process varies depending on factors like the hardness of the material being carved, and different styles of carvings.

In her “Carving in Stone: Skill, Style and Science” discussion, Fitzgerald will address examples on display from Hueber’s collection. She will also draw on examples from material in the Special Collections and Museums collection, which includes more than two dozen carvings — a number of which are on view.

Those interested in attending the reception should RSVP via universitymuseums@udel.edu or 302-831-8037. The event is free and open to the public.

"The Autobiography of Malcolm X"
Front cover of "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" with coauthor Alex Haley's autograph and inscription to poet Amiri Baraka. University of Delaware Library Special Collections.

“Issues and Debates in African American Literature”

While African Americans have long shared the goals of improving their lives and combatting injustice, there have been many different visions and strategies used to achieve them.

Those often competing strategies, which have been preserved through literature and other print media, serve as the focus of the “Issues and Debates in African American Literature” exhibition in the University of Delaware Library’s Special Collections Gallery on the second floor of Morris Library.

This exhibition highlights rare and significant items that illustrate the varied strains of African American literary and intellectual life in play over the past hundred years — many of which remain relevant discussions for today.

Visitors will find a first edition of the seminal 1903 book, The Negro Problem, which contains the first printed versions of two essays that set the terms of one of the key social debates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the essay “The Talented Truth,” W.E.B. Dubois argues that a small, cultured Black elite should guide the way toward African American progress. In contrast, Booker T. Washington promotes trades and practical skills as the best way forward in the essay “Industrial Education for the Negro.”

Both writers were reacting to a restriction of rights in the Jim Crow South and pervasive discrimination in the North — and both positions formed the ideological cores of later social movements and organizations.

Also on display will be material from the Harlem Renaissance, including a facsimile of the rare, one-issue journal Fire!! from 1926 that features poems and prose by Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes and other “young lions” of the New Negro movement. Some older African American reviewers initially harshly critiqued the now-canonical text. They considered the themes and subjects to reflect badly on African Americans. The younger writers, however, wanted to break down conventions they saw as stifling Black expression.

Works by Stokely Carmichael, Sonia Sanchez, Martin Luther King Jr., Clarissa Sligh and others on display represent the contrasting strategies and goals of the Black Power movement and the movement for nonviolent resistance.

Curated by Curtis Small, senior assistant librarian in Special Collections, the exhibition also features artwork and photographs; and explores feminism, Black Gay and Lesbian literature, the meaning of the Nation of Islam, 20th- and 21st-century literature about slavery, Afro Futurism and more.

An online version of the exhibition will be available here soon.

Special Events

ª Curator’s Tours at noon, Wednesday, Oct. 11; at 11 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 14; and 3 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14. Led by Curtis Small, senior assistant librarian, Special Collections.

Special Collections and Museums

Special Collections and Museums is part of the University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press. An interdisciplinary collection of rare and unique materials can be accessed for study and research, and is also featured in exhibitions in the Special Collections Gallery in Morris Library, Old College Gallery, Mechanical Hall Gallery and the Mineralogical Museum in Penny Hall. All Special Collections and Museums events and exhibitions are free and open to the public.

The collection has particular strengths in the subjects of history and Delawareana; science and technology; art and literature; primary source material such as political papers and ships’ logs; American art of the 20th century, especially prints, photographs and work by African American artists; European prints; Inuit art; Pre-Columbian art; and minerals. In addition, the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, gifted to UD in 2016, strengthens the collection’s focus on British literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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