Punch bowls and that purple dress

Story by Katie Knowles, assistant professor and curator of the Avenir Museum

Over the last year and a half, we have been researching and gathering information about the history and growth of our collection for an exhibition planned for the fall of 2020 called Threads of our Community: The History of the Avenir. Sometimes the fun stories you find in your research don’t quite make it into the exhibition. I wanted to share a couple of recurring themes that might not fit into the final show, but that have made me smile. And this sneak peek into our archives is followed by some very big news about the exhibit!

It has been incredibly rewarding and humbling to learn about the thousands of people who contributed objects, time, funds, and their own expertise to create what is now a state-of-the-art museum facility. Listening to audio interviews, reading old exhibit programs, and combing through photographs has made me feel so connected to our Avenir Museum community even as our museum and campus have been closed these last few months.

Punch bowls

A main resource for learning about the many exhibits, programs, and other activities over the years are nicknamed “Jan’s green binders.” This treasure-trove of news clippings, flyers, and photographs was compiled and organized by former faculty member and longtime museum supporter Jan Else.

Green Binders on Avenir Shelf

As I looked through them I began to notice that any time there was a program, photographic documentation of the event included the refreshment table. And a large punch bowl was always a prominent feature of the offerings.

Historic Punch Bowl Photo

Pink, red, caramel brown – always there was punch! There is even a notation in some old meeting minutes with a reminder at the very top: “Punch bowl & ladle.”

Meeting Note

That purple dress

As I looked through Jan’s green binders, I started to notice a familiar dress that kept reappearing. If you had a chance to see our exhibition R.E.S.P.E.C.T. the Dress: Clothing and Activism in U.S. Women’s History in spring 2020, you probably recognize this purple flapper dress and matching scarf. (If you missed the exhibit, you can still check out our virtual tour!)

Professionally photographed Purple Dress 1920s

This 1920s flapper outfit was donated to the collection in 1973 by Carolyn Ostertag, wife of Pastor Edward F. Ostertag at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Fort Collins at the time. It was in Picture the Twenties, the first ever exhibition of the collection in 1986, even before the Gustafson Gallery was officially named, and is pictured below in 1989 for a special event during New West Fest.

Vintage Photo from a previous Avenir Exhibition with the purple dress

Here it is again with quite the grouping of colorfully dressed mannequins in some interesting poses for the 1991 exhibition, Grand Tour: Around the World in 1923-24.

Purple dress used from a previous exhibit.

The museum’s holdings include an extensive collection of dresses from the 1920s, but because they are often made from light, delicate fabrics and heavily embellished with beads and sequins, many are not suitable for exhibiting. But this purple dress is sturdy enough to withstand being displayed on a mannequin, whether it’s part of a gallery installation or a multi-decade rainbow of outfits for students in the classroom. The cut and drape are classic 1920s flapper style, and the feathers add that little something extra!

Classroom demonstration using rainbow colored outfits including the purple dress

The big news!

Now that I’ve gotten you excited about all these fun things I’ve been researching, you might be wondering about how the exhibition Threads of our Community: A History of the Avenir is going to look. At the time I’m writing the university is still determining the fall schedule, including public hours. We knew that the coming months looked a little uncertain, so we found a new plan to make sure we could share all of these wonderful stories. For the first time, the Avenir Museum will be presenting an online exhibition!

A couple of months ago, our colleagues over at CSU Libraries reached out to us about working together and we knew this was the perfect project for our first collaboration. We are excited to bring the expertise of digital librarians and archivists to help us with this project.

And in even bigger news, our collaborative project is supported by a National Endowment for the Humanities CARES grant. This award supports partial salaries for 10 museum and library staff to develop the virtual institutional archive and exhibition over the remainder of 2020.

I hope this virtual exhibition will bring all of you the feeling of connection and community spirit that it has given me in curating it. I invite you to get prepared for the online exhibition launch this fall by mixing up a big bowl of punch and putting on your fanciest feathered party outfit!

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