Avenir Museum collection feature: An intriguing connection to Colorado history

Story by Brooklyn Benjamin

A mannequin wearing a full-length black lacy dress
Jenks Gown

One of the most enthralling experiences in Colorado State University’s Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising is the ever-present opportunity to gain new knowledge about an object. This full-length beige silk undergown with black lace overlay is just one of almost 25,000 opportunities for learning that the Avenir Museum holds in its collection.

The gown offers a mesmerizing display of early twentieth-century dress; rhinestones and golden metal bullion motifs sparkle and wink at the visitor from underneath the gown’s black lace overlay. Lace, a textile that simultaneously conceals and exposes, is artfully draped from the shoulders and bodice of the gown. The black lace trails to the weighted hem, which features an asymmetrical overlay with a wrist loop. It is all too easy to imagine the magnificence of the sights and sounds of this gown in motion.

Research uncovers link to Colorado history

Two images show the Jenks label and the name Boettcher written on ribbon
The “Jenks Gowns” label and the word “Boettcher” written on the waistband.

But, as with all museum objects, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to this garment. When the object was accessioned into the Avenir Museum’s collection in 2018, it did not come with specific information about the previous owners or date of creation. Based on the silhouette of the garment and knowledge of fashion history, museum staff placed the object in the 1910s cabinets for permanent storage.

When an object is accepted into the collection or pulled for an exhibition, a full interior and exterior visual analysis and condition assessment is conducted. During this analysis, a dress tag on the interior bodice reading “Jenks Gowns, Denver” was noted, suggesting that the object had regional origins. Further research into the dressmaker label via city business directories available for the city of Denver tells us that a few versions of “Jenks Gowns” operated out of the Denver Dry Goods building between 1915 and 1924.

Analysis of the interior of the gown also revealed a surname, “Boettcher,” scrawled into the grosgrain ribbon at the back waistline of the dress. This name matches that of a prominent Colorado entrepreneur and philanthropist, Charles Boettcher (1852-1948), perhaps designating a previous owner of the gown.

As a result of the exhibition, the museum now has a more accurate date for the object record and has uncovered an intriguing connection to Colorado history. This is but one example of the multitudes of stories to be told and information to be learned from the objects in the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising’s collection! This object is currently on display as part of the exhibition “In the Public Trust” on view in The Richard Blackwell Gallery at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising until December 17.

The Avenir Museum is in the Department of Design and Merchandising, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.