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GCV buys historic clothing collection from Susan Greene
17
May '10
Genesee Country Village & Museum has acquired what has been regarded by some to be the best privately held collection of historic clothing in the United States.

More than 2,000 items of rare, mostly 19th-century garments and accessories were recently purchased from Susan Greene, a well-known authority in American costume study.

The collection is meticulously documented with photographs, history and detailed descriptions that will be a resource for improving the accuracy of the reproduction clothing worn by the museum's interpreters at what is among our nation's largest living history museums. In addition, elements of this superb collection will be the subject of future exhibits in the museum's John L Wehle Art Gallery, as well as a resource for historic clothing scholars.

“Naturally I am sad to part with the costume collection that my husband, Bruce, and I assembled over the last 25 years,” Greene said. “Nevertheless I am delighted to see it move on to a greater existence serving a large audience at the Genesee Country Village & Museum, which so poignantly captures the flavor of 19th-century western New York State.”

“This collection represents 25 years of research and study, assembled with the purpose of highlighting salient features of style, textile, construction and purpose for a period which happens to coincide closely with that of the museum. The individual items stand on their own as objects of interest, yet each illuminates and enhances the meaning of the others. Placed within the historical context of the museum, the collection will help connect more history dots.”

Karen Augusta, appraiser for the Antiques Roadshow, calls the collection “a gem” that “stands alone as one of the finest collections of its kind in North America. I have never seen another such costume collection so carefully edited either in private or public collections.”

As the first major museum acquisition since the early years when the museum's founder John L (Jack) Wehle (1917-93) was collecting works of art, Charles LeCount, the museum's senior director of programs and collections, says that “this acquisition has the potential to influence the direction of future exhibits and programs at the museum for years to come.”

Most of the clothing dates from between 1800 and 1860. Although there is some formal attire, the focus is on items once worn by ordinary people in everyday situations; clothing, that rarely survives. Unusual, too, is the large representation of men's, children's and adolescent ware, found far less often then women's clothing. All of it is in very good condition and with excellent provenance.

“Generally the elegant clothes of the upper, generally urban, classes are most strongly represented in museum collections,” explains Lynne Z. Bassett, former curator of textiles and fine arts at Old Sturbridge Village. “So the Greene collection is particularly important for information it offers on the working classes of people of the rural Northeast.”

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