Flora in Fashion exhibits dresses from 1920s to 1960s

Nancy Gilson
 |  Special to The Columbus Dispatch

LANCASTER – Those who are anxious for spring and its floral finery will find a welcome sight at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio.

The art center, in the historic Reese-Peters House, is hosting through April 23 “Flower Power: Flora in Fashion.” The exhibit of about 60 women’s dresses and accessories – couture clothing from the 1920s to the 1960s – bursts with color and high style. The garments, hats, purses, gloves and other accessories – all with floral themes – are from the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection at Ohio State University.

“It’s a smile on your face, feel-good, spring is coming back kind of exhibit,” said Gayle Strege, exhibit curator and curator of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection.

The dresses are displayed according to color in the various rooms of the Reese-Peters House. Blue and purple gowns in one room give way to pink gowns in the next room, then dresses made from natural fibers in the green room give way to a brown and black room, and finally, a multicolor room that celebrates all the splashy hues of spring flowers.

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There are some breathtaking dresses, whimsical accessories and historic connections in this entertaining show.

Designer Hattie Carnegie’s purple velvet gown from the 1930s is sleek and slinky. George Stavropoulos is represented with several dresses including a remarkable white organza gown with blue floral appliques and descending plant tendrils. A Philippine wedding dress from the 1960s is gorgeous and impossibly made from pineapple fiber cloth.

There’s also a pink and tan sundress made from burlap. Designer Donald Brooks used the fluorescent pinks, oranges, aquas and greens of the psychedelic ‘60s to create a one-shoulder strap, full-length gown that observers might need sunglasses to look at.

Among the accessories: a comical dandelions hair comb made of silk and plastic, a burlap shoe that went with the burlap sundress, and a sweet rose petal hat worn in the 1960s by Annie Glenn (wife of Sen. John Glenn) at a Washington, D.C. luncheon hosted by Lady Bird Johnson.

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Lady Bird Johnson is also represented with a full-length Mollie Parnis lace gown that the first lady wore at her 59th birthday party hosted by President Lyndon B. Johnson. A number of Ohio women wore some of the gowns in the exhibit, including Dorothy Peters (of the Reese-Peters House) and her Sophie Gimbel silk gown adorned with purple violets; Dorothy Firestone Galbreath (of Darby Dan Farms fame) and her floral print gown designed by Norell-Tassell; and Terre Blair Hamlisch (former Columbus television personality and wife of composer Marvin Hamlisch) and her poofy Yves St. Laurent purple and white silk taffeta dress.

Accompanying the dress exhibit is “Botany in Buttons,” framed displays of hundreds of buttons from the Ann W. Rudolph Button collection, which also is part of the Historic Costume and Textiles Collection. These buttons – with images of roses, pansies, lilies, poppies, irises and more on metal, glass, ceramic and other materials – are handsomely set against a wallpaper background of colorful spring flowers.

The items on display in “Flower Power,” Strege said, “represent only a fraction of OSU’s collection” that numbers more than 12,000 objects.

In the gray, often drizzly days of Ohio’s late winter and emerging spring, this is a welcome sampling that demonstrates the power of flowers to inspire dress designers and find their creative way into feminine apparel.


At a glance

“Flower Power: Flora in Fashion” continues through April 23 at the Decorative Arts Center of Ohio, 145 E. Main St., Lancaster. Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Call 740-681-1423 or visit decartsohio.org.