Artifacts in the Historic Costume & Textiles Collection often represent journeys, whether those journeys be those of the artifacts themselves or the individuals who created or wore them. In this exhibit we celebrate the journeys and accomplishments of several African American artists.


Unknown designer, Midnight navy caftan with metallic thread embroidery and rhinestones, c. 1970

It is highly likely jazz singer Nancy Wilson wore this dress for performances with all the silver thread embroidery and rhinestones. In style, it references both Hausa embroidery and West African dashiki shirts, worn in the late 1960s and 1970s in support of the Civil Rights movement in America. The evolution of clothing styles is often a journey that blends elements from multiple cultures to create new syncretized forms.


In 1973, Stephen Burrows won his first of three Coty Awards and was invited as one of five American designers (and only African American) to participate in the “Battle of Versailles.” This spectacular competition between American and French designers shifted the focus of fashion from stodgy Paris couture to youthful, vibrant New York.


Elijah Pierce, Carved wooden button with paint, c. 1980

Ann W. Rudolph commissioned artists to create buttons for her collection, including this one-of-a-kind carving. The initials “EP” are those of Columbus artist Elijah Pierce. Pierce was the youngest son of a former slave from a Mississippi farm who became an internationally recognized artist. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Pierce with a National Heritage Fellowship as a master traditional artist in 1982. 


Born in Mississippi, Patrick Kelly became the first American designer admitted to the Chambre Syndicale du Prêt-à-Porter, which governs the French ready-to-wear industry. Based in Paris, Kelly was interested in confronting racist iconography, particularly of the American South. He attempted to destigmatize racist memorabilia by reusing, repurposing and appropriating it.


Eric Gaskins, Blue silk gown, c. 1995

Eric Gaskins graduated from Kenyon College with a fine arts degree, then apprenticed with Givenchy in Paris. Three years after he began his fashion label in 1987, Women’s Wear Daily identified him as one of the new young designers on Seventh Avenue. This minimalist 1990s design was featured in the Ebony Fashion Fair.

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