From Dior to Africa and Asia, Avenir Museum opens array of new exhibitions

Photos by Allie Ruckman and Jessica Bennett

Dresses inspired by influential fashion designer Christian Dior. Textiles created by the indigenous Hmong people of Southeast Asia. Colorful khanga cloths worn primarily by women in Africa.

These are among the diverse exhibitions recently unveiled at the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University. Here’s a look at each, and at right is a rundown of some of the pieces featured in the rotating “New Threads” display at the Avenir Museum.

Avenir exhibitionsDior’s New Look in the Everyday American Closet

In November, the Denver Art Museum will debut “Dior: From Paris to the World,” and the Avenir Museum is getting into the spirit early by offering pieces in its own collection that reflect Dior’s “New Look” fashion silhouette, which debuted in 1947. The exhibition of dresses inspired by one of the most influential designers of the 20th century is on display until Jan. 4 in The Richard Blackwell Gallery.

Avenir Museum Curator Katie Knowles explains that even though Dior only headed his own atelier, “House of Dior,” for 10 years before his death in 1957, his influence was far-reaching among post-World War II style-setters. His women’s apparel typically featured a tight waist, broad hips and smooth, sloping shoulders.

The Avenir Museum’s exhibition features several Dior-inspired styles arranged in groupings: casual, daytime wear, women’s suits, cocktail dresses and evening gowns. There’s everything from a poodle skirt to a cream-colored dress that belonged to former CSU President William Morgan’s wife, Lilla. One green cocktail dress by Marjorie Montgomery features stuffed fish appliques that give it a 3-D effect. A couple of display cases feature accessories and undergarments from the era.

On Oct. 11 at 7 p.m., Department of Design and Merchandising faculty member Kevin Kissell will speak about “Draping and Dior” at the Avenir Museum as part of the Fall 2018 Evening Lecture Series.

‘New Threads’

“New Threads” is a constantly revolving collection of some of the Avenir Museum’s most recent acquisitions.

The lead-off piece this fall is the military glider uniform donated by World War II veteran Jim Ingram earlier this year. Ingram, a CSU alumnus and professor emeritus in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, wore the uniform during his sole glider flight into Germany as part of the 17th Airborne Division’s Operation Varsity in 1945.

Other items in this round of “New Threads” include a poke bonnet from the 1840s, baby carriers used by the Miao people of China, a women’s brown-checked suit from the 1940s, a contemporary textile wall hanging by CSU alumna and artist Susan Iverson, and a woman’s beaded bodice from the early 1900s.

Avenir exhibitions

Cloth as Community: Hmong Textiles in America

Many of the indigenous Hmong people from the mountain regions of southeast Asia have become dispersed refugees around the world due to conflict.

Avenir exhibitionsKnowles says this exhibition of textiles in the Avenir Museum Gallery until Dec. 21 tells the story of that displacement, as Hmong artists have adapted their traditional styles to the new cultures to which they have relocated, including America, where they sell their wares to make a living.

Geometrically patterned cloths showcase the traditional format, while embroidered story cloths with rough English narration exemplify the evolution of the craft in the U.S. Some are simple colorful squares with borders of repeating triangles; others tell stories with human and animal figures. One shows typical farm scenes, another depicts the birth of Jesus Christ. One of the largest and most complex, “Tiger Fable,” combines both figures and English text to tell the story of a tiger that eats a man, then impersonates him in order to kill his family, but is eventually trapped and killed thanks to a heroine sister-in-law.

“Cloth as Community” is a traveling exhibition from ExhibitsUSA, a national division of the Mid-America Arts Alliance and the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s on display at CSU thanks to the generous support of The Sophie and Ted Aldrich Asian Textile Fund of the Avenir Museum. It was curated by Geraldine Craig, a professor of art at Kansas State University who will be speaking at the Avenir Museum at 7 p.m. on Nov. 8 as part of the Fall 2018 Evening Lecture Series.

Fall events

Sept. 23: 1-3 p.m. UCA 10th Anniversary Celebration Open House

Oct. 11: 7 p.m. “Draping and Dior,” Kevin Kissell of CSU’s Department of Design and Merchandising, Classroom 157

Nov 8: 7 p.m. “Hmong Culture, Cloth and Community,” Geraldine Craig, professor of art at Kansas State University, Classroom 157

‘Armed with Proverbs’: Khanga Cloth in Africa

This exhibition, located in the Avenir Gallery in the University Center for the Arts, gets its name from a 2008 poem called “I am Khanga” by Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo (aka Khwezi) of South Africa. The piece addresses the purpose and power of khanga cloths, which are lightweight printed cotton fabrics worn primarily by women across East Africa.

Avenir exhibitionsKhanga cloths, used for everything from carrying goods to holding children to furnishing homes, date back to the late 1800s on the coast of East Africa, but have since spread around Africa and parts of Arabia. They each feature a saying or proverb, usually in Kiswahili, that is used as a way for women to express themselves and communicate with their partners, friends and other members of their community.

Knowles says the cloths have served as a symbol of wealth and status used in settings as disparate as weddings and funerals. In everyday life, she explains, women have used different khanga cloths to transmit messages like “I don’t care that you’re gossiping about me” or “We should always be together.” One set of the cloths on display in the UCA gallery shows the face of former President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, with the words, “Love and peace come from God.”

The Avenir Museum is located at 216 E. Lake St. It is based in the Department of Design and Merchandising, which is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.