Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections is a traveling exhibit that utilizes storytelling as a tool of remembrance and connection through the guise of the humble apron. Just as with every family’s best storyteller, the exhibit holds the attention of child to adult while piecing together the human experience, all at a languid pace, never in a rush to the end.
January 24 through April 5, 2015 at the West Baton Rouge Museum
Touring since 2004, Apron Chronicles presents the American experience through 50 photographic portraits, apron memories and an outstanding collection of 100 vintage aprons. West Baton Rouge Museum curator, Angelique Bergeron, has added a local Louisiana touch to the exhibit by including collections of work aprons from chefs and blacksmiths, to a collection of aprons from the Port Allen Holy Family Church worn by women staging the annual St. Joseph’s Altar. In addition, LSU Textile Museum is loaning their display “Feed Sack Fashions” to be included in the Apron Chronicles exhibit.
Through the interpretation of the apron as more than just a domestic utility, the exhibit inspires us to recall our own apron memories and the lives of those who “tied one on…an apron, of course!”. In doing so, we find ourselves tied together more through our commonalities than differences.
Of all my apron projects, Apron Chronicles is my greatest joy. That the humble apron should continue to bring into my life such bounty of trust and friendship is simply amazing.
The contributors to Apron Chronicles and their stories changed my life forever. I hope you, too, are so affected.
I’ve been looking forward to receiving my courtesy copy of the March/April issue of Texas Live magazine, which includes an article on my exhibit, Apron Chronicles, and its showing at the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Ft. Worth. What I hadn’t anticipated was the spread would be so extensive (4 full color pages!) and introduce
readers to the exhibit through the stories and images of Miss Ada Florence Ashford, Jean Latka and Emily Prager, three of the storytellers. I always tell people that if they can’t see the exhibit in person, the next best “viewing” is via the exhibit’s catalogue.
Texas Live magazine has done such a superb job, I can now add a second source.
A month ago, I posted the article I’d written about my apron journey that was published in this magazine:
With every article, whether I am the writer or not, I supply a selection of photographs and stories to accompany the piece. I never know which pictures and stories will be selected, most often, not until the article is actually published.
I loved the three storytellers chosen for The American Interest piece. Due to editorial decisions and space, the snapshots I provided for two of the storytellers weren’t published. I’m sharing those with y’all so their voices might also resonate visually.
Mrs. Martha Marie B. Pugh had written a letter to me in the most gorgeous cursive. When I mentioned her exquisite handwriting to Drucilla, Mrs. Pugh’s daughter-in-law, she said such grace was extraordinary, given the tremendous starkness of her mother-in-law’s young life in Pawnee, Oklahoma.
Martha Marie Barnes Pugh and her mother, Lucetta Barnes 1934-35
“I was born in 1931, during the Great Depression. Santa did not show up at our house with a big bag of gifts; my parents, however, did see that we got at least one gift.
The Christmas when I was 4 years old, my gift was a little pink apron trimmed in white rickrack. I loved it and showed it to everyone. It meant so much to me, I wore it until it was falling apart.
That little apron was such a sacrifice for my parents. I can’t imagine what they did without so I might not be disappointed on Christmas morning.
It was my best Christmas present ever.”
From such a hardscrabble world, Martha Marie Barnes would later travel the world, visit England and be presented to the Queen.
Bennie Carrico Swanson was one of the first 46 people to come upon me and my basket of aprons as I traveled on my apron journey. Our paths crossed in 2002, the year her mother, Neva Carrico, died. Bennie’s sadness was still fresh, and through tears, she told me that she and her mom, “…will always be connected by loving apron strings.
Bennie’s story about her mother is so touching and inspirational, that I’m including the entire version, as it is represented in Apron Chronicles, the exhibit.
Neva Carrico and her four young daughters, 1951.
“My mom was a smart and resourceful woman who handled difficulties with style and grace. Twice in her life, she pulled herself together and faced her future bravely. When my own life gets bumpy, I think of Mother for inspiration.
When Dad died of cancer at thirty-eight, Mother had to raise four young daughters by herself. A beautiful woman (she once won a beauty contest), Mom kept our little family going by working in a bakery. After a long day scrubbing floors and cases, she still had the energy to run a house, sew our clothes and sing. She knew the words to a million songs, and Sunny Side of the Street was a favorite: Grab your coat and get your hat, Leave your worries on the doorstep, Gold dust at my feet, On the sunny side of the street. If she had fears, we never knew them, because she always had a song to brighten a cloudy day.
In 1980, Mom again faced her future bravely. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she had to retire from her job as a grocery checker, a position she loved and where her personality shone. With changes made to accommodate her home to her disability, she lived on her own for many years. When the disease worsened and she admitted to needing daily assistance to live her life, I began helping her more and more. Despite losing her independence, Mom kept looking at the bright side of things, and when asked how she was feeling, she almost always replied with a big smile, “I can’t complain.”
My mother and I were very comfortable together, whether we were on an outing to the doctor, doing her housework or eating lunch. It was at one of those meals that I reached into a kitchen drawer and spotted the familiar fabric of the apron I’d made in my seventh grade sewing class. As I slowly tugged it out, I was instantly taken back to 1959 and Mrs. Kelly’s home economics class. Tender feelings overwhelmed me as I realized Mother had kept the apron all those years.
Such wonderful memories are woven into the lavender checked cloth…going to Duckwall’s together to purchase the fabric for the big project, my excitement at learning to sew, the thrill of presenting the apron to her when it was completed, and how special I felt when she wore it to fix dinner.
Mothers and daughters are tied together in many ways, some complicated and some simple. These apron strings remind me of my mother’s pride in me, her unconditional love and how her face lit up when I walked into the room. I miss my mom.”
LeVeta Terzise, the third storyteller selected for TAI article, sent me a postcard seven years ago with the most endearing story typed on one side. It remains one of my favorites, for the precious innocence of a child at the turn of the century.
“In 1899 my father was six years old, and his mother was pregnant with her sixth child.
My grandmother went into labor at home on their farm. The five children were sent across the field to stay at the neighbor’s. As they crossed the field, the neighbor lady was coming to their house to be the midwife for their pregnant mother. As she walked past the children, she had her arms wrapped in her kitchen apron.
When the six-year-old, my father, returned home later in the day, he had a brand new baby sister. And he was forever convinced that the baby was brought to their home in the apron of the neighbor lady.”
When The American Interest asked if I could locate a photograph to accompany La Veta’s story, I didn’t imagine it was possible to even find her after so many years had gone by. A few quick clicks on the internet turned up a phone number for someone identically named. But doing the math, I figured the La Veta I was dialing had to be a relative, not the actual storyteller La Veta. Was I ever mistaken!
La Veta is in her nineties and doing just fine, thank you very much! I felt like I was the millionaire delivering a check when I gave her the news her story would be published. She was so excited to have her father’s favorite story on himself shared with a national readership – and she assured me she would find a photo.
And did she ever! This snapshot was taken in 1904 and the little girl wearing white…is the apron baby.
I’m always appreciative when the opportunity arises to introduce readers to the storytellers and their apron memories, for without their trust, I’d just be an apron collector, instead of the very fortunate apron archaeologist I have come to be.
Apron Chronicles is a large exhibit, comprised of 150 vintage aprons, 46 framed photographic portraits and accompanying storyboards. When hung, there isn’t always the space to show the “face” of Apron Chronicles, Miss Ada Florence Ashford. Fortunately, the Cowgirl Museum’s gallery layout allowed for Miss Ada’s portrait to greet guests upon their entrance to the exhibit. I was so thrilled to see Miss Ada in such a position of honor. Diana Vela is the museum’s exhibit’s registrar and curator – here we are at the portal to the gallery
Following months of conversation and preparation for my visit, I finally met Lauren Williams, Cowgirl’s research coordinator and artist “handler.”
This is a photo of the exhibit, to the right of the entrance. From this perspective, everything looks so small, when in reality, the space is quite large and the exhibit fills every inch! What’s unique to this display is the vintage armoire, where aprons are hanging for visitors to try on.
Here’s a close-up. One side is mirrored, which also serves to reflect the exhibit on the back wall. A great idea, which I’ll be certain to pass along to future venues.
Cowgirl also managed to assemble chef-signed aprons for an apron raffle-off, the proceeds to benefit the museum’s educational efforts.
Every museum and art center is unique, and Cowgirl is no exception. In this one photo, I tried to capture the incredibleness of the view from the second floor of the rotunda. The pictures of the women are actually 3-D glass portraits that change to new faces as you change position. I’ve never seen anything like this and I’ve not done justice to how awesome it is.
The second floor is devoted to the most imaginative displays, each celebrating the women of the American West.
A new display is from Temple Grandin. She gave the museum her original drawing of the cattle ramp and one of her favorite shirts, which she embroidered herself. Immaculate, teeny stitches. Just beautiful.
Between the docents’ gathering , gallery talks, members pre-opening, the loveliest luncheon and my Apron Memories presentation, I met many of Ft. Worth’s apronistas. I’d hoped my path would cross with one such, Margaret Acton, who had written me earlier that she planned to attend the Friday event. Well, she made it, along with a box of her mother’s exquisite handwork. I’m posting Margaret’s story about her talented mom and more photos on my website’s homepage.
If you have an apron or domestic arts-goods story and photos to share, please do so through my website. I’m so pleased to celebrate the handiwork of the women who helped us to become who we are today.
It was this same time 6 years ago that I flew to Dallas for a meeting with The Women’s Museum. I’d read about TWM and was struck by the museum’s mission statement as complementary to my goals for Apron Chronicles. The result of that meeting was my exhibit’s national debut in Dallas in 2006 and TWM takeover of Apron Chronicles’ management. I still feel the need to pinch myself over this extraordinary good fortune! Over the years, I’ve worked with wonderful ehibit registrars, and anticipate an excellent relationship with Danielle Flores, the new registrar of just a few months.
The Women’s Museum has the most gorgeous interior. If you are ever in the Dallas area, you should not miss experiencing this venue. Here we are on the staircase, which appears suspended in air as it winds from the entry level to the top floors.
Apron Chronicles is 1 of 3 exhibits the museum manages – Lauren Green’s Thin and Annie Leibovitz’s Women. AC is in very good company! Regularly on tour, Annie’s exhibit is in-house for now and opening to the public this Friday. Although there’s a policy discouraging any camera use within the exhibit, Danielle allowed I might take this photo from a vantage that the camera’s flash wouldn’t intrude on the portraits.
The exhibit is like seeing the pages of Rolling Stone come alive, only in sizes like 4′ by 3′. It’s very cool. I loved it.
Today, I’m in Ft. Worth, readying for my first view of Apron Chronicles at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Later, I’ll be doing a docent tour and then a gallery talk and social time with members of Cowgirl.
While in my room typing up this post, the housekeeper popped in. She was wearing a service apron…lots of pockets and a rag looped through the waist ties, like a chef or someone in the food industry. A perfect audience to tell about the exhibit, or so I thought. Until I tried explaining the concept of an apron exhibit to someone with limited English skills. But I persevered, as did she, and together we concluded that after living here for years, she will visit a museum for the first time and take her daughter with her. Such is the magic of Apron Chronicles – it really is America’s exhibit and crosses the barriers that can exist between museums and the general working public. The second thing the housekeeper and I concluded: I need to work on my Spanish!
It’s sunny in Texas and I’m thinking of taking a walk, which may or not have me ending up at Anthropology, which is very close by. Can I resist? That I even asked that question is ridiculous.
Two days until I leave for Ft. Worth and the opening of Apron Chronicles at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame!
Scheduled events for the opening include
Thursday, Jan 6: 5:30 to 7:00: Members-only event with EllynAnne, Writer and Apron Curator. Gallery talk and book signing. Wine and cheese reception. And…
Friday, Jan. 7: 11:30 to 1:00: Luncheon, catered by G-Texas catering, Apron Memories program with EllynAnne, booksigning. Members: 15.00, Non-members 25.00. Price includes: lunch and program, parking, admission to the entire Museum.
I always look forward to that first moment when I enter the exhibition space and see Apron Chronicles in its new location, for the displaying of the exhibit is left to the instincts and interpretation of the venue. I’ve seen photographs of the exterior of “Cowgirl,” but the interior will be a wonderful surprise. Tingling with anticipation.
The exhibit is showing in Ft. Worth for three months – to see Apron Chronicles in person is to be touched forever.
Still time to enter to win Jodi Kahn’s latest bit of craft genius. click here to put your name in the cookie jar. Drawing late, late Tuesday evening. Winner posted Wednesday a.m.