Peabody Essex Museum Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, MA
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Peabody Essex Museum (PEM)
161 Essex Street
Salem, MA 01970
978.745.9500 | 866.745.1876 

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Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion

The Salem Witch Trials 1692

Salem's Other Stories

Anila Quayyum Agha: All the Flowers Are for Me

Peter Hutton: At Sea

Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0


Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion
November 21, 2020 - March 14, 2021

This fall, the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) goes behind the seams to reveal the often-overlooked contributions of women in the fashion world with its headlining exhibition, Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion. From 19th-century White House seamstress Elizabeth Keckley to Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and contemporary labels like Chromat, women designers continue to radically transform our ideas about identity and presentation. Through more than 100 works, Made It celebrates the stories of women who revolutionized many aspects of the fashion industry and traces how these efforts parallel the history of women’s global struggle for equity and opportunity. Show-stopping ensembles, street fashion, ready-to-wear and haute couture illuminate issues of representation, creativity and consumption. The exhibition is organized in association with Kunstmuseum Den Haag and will be on view at PEM from November 21, 2020 through March 14, 2021.

Madelief Hohé, Curator of the Collection of Fashion and Costumes at Kunstmuseum Den Haag is the exhibition’s organizing curator and author of the exhibition concept. Petra Slinkard, PEM’s Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles, is the exhibition co-curator. The exhibition features ensembles from the Kunstmuseum Den Haag, PEM’s renowned fashion collection as well as private and public collections around the world.

“This exciting and thought provoking exhibition celebrates female fashion designers who have worked to shape societal norms and shift cultural perspectives. Reflecting on generations of design, we can see how fashion continually mirrors the values and struggles of its day and consider how we might envision our own future, boldly,” says Brian Kennedy, PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO. “We are honored to share stories and garments of women who forged their own path and did so with incredible determination, focus, and vision. We hope visitors will be inspired by their enterprising spirit and lasting legacy.”

The exhibition covers 250 years of fashion through the eyes of women, some famous, some not so famous, whose experiences intersect with the history of women’s ongoing struggle for equality. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The landmark legislation granted some women the right to vote and the historic milestone provides an occasion to think about the ways in which women — including women in fashion — have pursued equity and greater opportunity.

Born into slavery in 1818, Elizabeth Keckley first learned how to sew from her mother. Despite enduring decades of harsh treatment, her reputation as a high-quality dressmaker rose, and she was able to purchase her freedom in 1855. Keckley soon opened a dressmaking business in Washington, D.C., and rose through the ranks to become a leading designer for the social elite, including the personal dresser and couturiere to First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln as well as a noted civil rights activist and author. Keckley’s remarkable story, along with those of 70 others, are told in this groundbreaking exhibition.

In Europe, Lady Duff Gordon survived the Titanic disaster and went on to establish the fashion design house, Lucile, Ltd. She was known in the fashion sphere for her soft, frothy lace designs and was the first to introduce “mannequin parades,” precursors to today’s fashion runways. Names like Bonnie Cashin and Pauline Trigère emerged after World War II as top-tier designers of coordinated, easy-to-wear ensembles, further establishing the “American Look.” With a simplistic ease and practical bent, designer sportswear led clothing trends in a new direction.

“This exhibition provides us with an opportunity to reveal, recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women designers, individually and collectively.” says Petra Slinkard, PEM’s Nancy B. Putnam Curator of Fashion and Textiles. “Fashion is often thought of as being solely about consumption and presentation. It can be written off as frivolous. But as this exhibition vigorously asserts, fashion represents so much more: from defining cultural moments and advancing political causes, to deeply impacting the global economy and ecology.”

Breaking In
The European clothing trade of the 18th and 19th centuries was strictly divided along gender lines and catered exclusively to royal courts and fashion centers. Men regulated the tightly structured professional guilds and dictated what could be made and by whom. Male tailors bore the responsibility for cutting textiles—the most expensive part of an ensemble—while women served in crucial yet subservient roles as seamstresses. That is until a few bold women challenged the establishment and formed their own guilds and advanced new practices and styles of dress. Their courage and conviction laid the foundation for a more equitable industry.

Enterprising women made significant professional and creative inroads in the evolving fashion industry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Western world saw the rise of fashion designers, the establishment of department stores, and the launch of fashion journalism. Women like Jeanne Lanvin, Valentina, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, and Elsa Schiaparelli leveraged their skills and instincts as they carved out space for themselves. They promoted new business models, forged partnerships, and used their own names and faces to brand their houses. These leaders and the teams that supported them altered the way people conceived, consumed and marketed fashion.

Powering social change
The flapper silhouette that emerged in the 1920s coincided with women’s right to vote and designers like Callot Soeurs and Jenny created waistless forms that allowed for a freer range of movement. In post-WWII America, department stores were cut off from European trends and a distinctive American sportswear look emerged with the help of female designers like Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin and Elizabeth Hawes. These Made It with their simple silhouettes and easy closures set the tone for how Americans continue to dress to this today.

The pace of women defining themselves within society accelerated in the 20th century. Accordingly, hemlines rose and fell, cut and drape shifted to match women’s needs and new technologies prevailed. “Swings in the sartorial silhouette demarcate key movements in history and mirror the freedoms women gained along the way,” notes Slinkard. As women increasingly joined the workforce and needed to assert themselves in male-dominated environments, fashion designers like Donna Karan and Diane Von Fürstenberg helped forge women’s new identities and usher in the modern era.

Fashion as Politics
Visitors stepping through the doors of Made It will have no shortage of ensembles to feast their eyes on, but others will see how fashion through the ages has come to be instrumental in expressing political statements. Color also represents a form of protest, like the early suffragettes leading marches in head-to-toe white ensembles.

Fashion can serve as psychological armor and social pronouncement, giving us the courage to broadcast to the world who we are and how we would like to be seen. It’s also an effective vehicle for putting political ideas in writing as designer Katharine Hamnett found when she met with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 while wearing an oversized T-shirt bearing a nuclear missile protest message. As Hamnett knew and subsequent designers continue to affirm: you can’t NOT read messages on T-shirts.

For Slinkard, the exhibition is a celebration of these women’s vast contributions, and also an opportunity to say thank you. “In times of instability and challenge, these women stand to represent so many more women who persevered to enable us to live in this moment and occupy this space,” she says. “They recognized that fashion could serve as a catalyst for change.”

Since bursting onto the fashion scene in 2010, Becca McCharen-Tran and her sportswear line Chromat has actively engaged issues of gender fluidity, racial inequality and body acceptance. More than a swim- and bodywear company, Chromat is a platform for examining and challenging traditional notions of who —and what body shapes—are considered desirable. From its inception, the brand made a conscious effort to show its collections on trans and non-gender-conforming models, almost all of whom are people of color whose body shapes reflect the diversity found in real life. The #ChromatBABES hashtag on social media serves as a unifying digital battle cry for Chromat fans.

“I am thrilled Made It celebrates this incredible cast of designers. They changed the way women dress, which in turn changed how women moved and where women moved,” says Slinkard.

Consider the freedom gained as women designers shed whalebone corsets and met the evolving needs of women entering the workforce. Fashion is a powerful tool for connection and, in the hands of these women, a potent symbol of self-actualization and change.

South Asian Art
November 27, 2020 - October 1, 2022

Following independence from British Rule in 1947, artists in India aimed to uncover a visual language that was uniquely Indian in inspiration to convey their experiences, struggles, ambitions and dreams. Bridging myth with social and political history, the new Chester and Davida Herwitz Gallery tells the story of nation-building and self-discovery through works by India's most celebrated artistic geniuses of the 20th century.

The new Prashant H. Fadia Foundation and Deshpande Foundation Gallery features a selection of objects from PEM's extensive collection of historical material from India. Focused primarily on the 19th century, the gallery considers India's long and complex history of foreign occupation, and its troubling impact on the representation of Indian people in art. Featuring some of the earliest objects to come to PEM, including unfired clay sculpture, mica paintings and kalighat paintings, the gallery considers and questions the timeless tropes of India that persist even today.

Share your impressions with us on social media using #PEMsouthasian

The following donors have generously supported the South Asian Art Galleries: Carla and David Herwitz, the family of Lisina Hoch, Smita and Mahesh Patel, Brian and Sunita Pereira, and Jurrien Timmer.

“My Dear Davey and Chester …”
November 27, 2020 - October 3, 2021

These words, teeming with affection, symbolize the close relationships Indian artists forged with Massachusetts-based collectors Chester and Davida “Davey” Herwitz over the course of the couple’s long-standing engagement with modern Indian art and artists.

The letters and photographs shared in this Phillips Library Gallery exhibition are a fraction of Chester and Davida’s personal archive, which they donated to PEM along with 1,275 works of art and their library of more than 6,000 books. The artists’ words demonstrate how they influenced the Herwitzes’ appreciation for Indian art and helped them develop a network of friendships and build their collection.

Share your impressions with us on social media using #PEMlibrary

Michael C. McMillen: The Pequod II
Through March 28, 2021

Michael C. McMillen’s The Pequod II derives its title from the whaling ship in Herman Melville’s 1851 literary classic Moby-Dick. The ship’s name refers to the Pequot tribe whose members survive today in Connecticut. Suspended in air like an apparition, the vessel and its billowing sails suggest constant motion, yet it never makes progress.

Look closely and you can see how McMillen created his meticulously detailed assemblage out of common domestic objects, such as vacuum cleaner parts and colanders. His mastery of illusionary techniques draws on traditions from Hollywood set design. McMillen’s father worked as a set builder and McMillen himself worked on renowned films, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner.

The Salem Witch Trials 1692
September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021

The Salem witch trials threatened the very core of the early Massachusetts Bay Colony. The extraordinary hysteria involved more than 400 people and led to the deaths of 25 innocents — men, women and children — between June 1692 and March 1693. Explore rarely-exhibited original witch trial documents from PEM's Phillips Library collection and learn the true story of this tragedy as told through the voices and with the possessions of those directly involved.

Many unfounded theories about the Salem witch trials, from poisoning by rotten bread to property disputes to an outbreak of encephalitis, still persist to this day. The panic grew from a society threatened by nearby war and a malfunctioning judicial system in a setting rife with religious conflict and blatant intolerance. For more than 300 years since, the complex drama of the witch trials and its themes of injustice and the frailties of human nature has fascinated us.

Share your impressions with us on social media using #1692witchtrials

The Salem Witch Trials 1692 is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard, James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes, Kate and Ford O'Neil, and Henry and Callie Brauer provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

TOP IMAGE: Tompkins Harrison Matteson, Trial of George Jacobs, Sr. for Witchcraft, 1855. Oil on canvas. Gift of R. W. Ropes, 1859. 1246. Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Mark Sexton and Jeffrey R. Dykes.

Salem's Other Stories
Through October 3, 2021 -

Salem is a city with many stories of local, national and international significance. Alexander Graham Bell completed the first successful long-distance telephone call from Salem in 1877. Parker Brothers produced Monopoly here. And in 2013, President Obama signed legislation recognizing the city as the birthplace of the United States National Guard.

Using selections from PEM's collection, Salem Stories features more than 100 works, including paintings, sculpture, textiles, decorative arts, photographs, natural history specimens, manuscripts, posters, books, eyewitness accounts, and even a murder weapon. The A–Z structure of the exhibition creates an accessible and entertaining way to engage with Salem's history, from past to present day.

Salem Stories starts with "A is for Always Indigenous" to acknowledge the Native communities who have lived for millennia on the land where the museum now sits. It ends with "Z is for Zoology" and coincides with the return to the galleries of a leatherback turtle specimen captured in 1885, a favorite of longtime visitors.
Photographer in the United States, Sarah Parker Remond, about 1865. Albumen print. Gift of Miss Cecelia R. Babcock. Phillips Library, Salem Streets Collection. PH322. Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum. Photoby Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

"R is for Remond family" introduces visitors to the story of John Remond, who came to Salem in 1798 as a young boy from the Caribbean island of Curaçao aboard the Salem ship, Six Brothers. Remond would become the patriarch of one of the most influential free Black families in early 19th-century New England. All members of his family belonged to local and national anti-slavery societies, and his children Sarah Parker Remond (seen here) and Charles Lenox Remond became renowned international abolitionist orators.

And there are some creative surprises. "C is for Caring for our Community" chronicles how the city has come together in times of crisis, from the outpouring of support after the Great Salem Fire of 1914, to the more recent COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition will continue to evolve, just like the city itself, and new Salem stories will be added along the way. In fact, "Y is for You" invites the community to share their own unique stories of the city.

Episode 19 of the PEMcast, PEM's award-winning podcast, goes beyond the often-told story of the Salem witch trials to offer a deeper understanding of what happened in 1692 and what lessons still resonate today. Hosts Dinah Cardin and Chip Van Dyke talk to those behind the exhibition at PEM, as well as outside experts, to learn what life was truly like in 17th-century Salem. They also explore key sites of the witch trials and even find themselves on a hilltop in Maine. Find this episode at pem.org/pemcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Collection Guide

An essential introduction to the remarkable collection of PEM, the oldest collecting museum in the U.S., is available this October through pemshop.com. The museum's complex history is marked by a series of changes and reinventions dating back to its founding as the East India Marine Society in 1799. In recent decades, PEM has undergone one of the most extraordinary transformations in American museum history.

This beautifully designed and informative guide to PEM's world-class collection traces its storied origins to recent contemporary acquisitions. Thoughtful overviews introduce each of PEM's curatorial departments, which include architecture, Asian export, contemporary, fashion and textiles, maritime, Native American, natural history, photography and South Asian — as well as the renowned Phillips Library collection. Lavish color illustrations represent more than 400 significant artworks and objects from the collection and 19 highlight stories illuminate the people behind the museum's varied, remarkable and beloved objects.

Anila Quayyum Agha: All the Flowers Are for Me
July 16, 2020 to February 22, 2021

Persian and Turkish architecture, textiles and miniature paintings inspire the precise, stylized floral forms that compose Anila Quayyum Agha’s sculptural chamber of light and shadow. This luminous installation provides an opportunity to contemplate the differences and commonalities that shape our lives and relationships. Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, and now living in the US, Agha is acutely attuned to the social codes that inform the lives of Muslim women and all immigrants. She describes this work as her effort to create a sense of how women can reclaim and safely open up private space to welcome others.

Peter Hutton: At Sea
July 16, 2020 to November 1, 2020

Peter Hutton spent nearly 40 years voyaging around the world, often by cargo ship, to create meditative, intimate and luminously photographed film studies of place. At Sea (2007) depicts the life cycle of a container ship from mechanized construction in Korean shipyards, to a journey across the Atlantic and ending with the manual labor of ship breakers in Bangladesh.

Hutton worked as a merchant seaman in the 1960s and ‘70s, travelling the world on freighter ships before the days of containerized cargo. The title of his film, At Sea, evokes a loss of perspective. Maritime artists have long struggled to depict the disorientation of ship journeys, which strip away the familiar senses of time, scale and distance.

Also on view is Shipbreaking, a 2011 model by Nader Taheri. Traditionally, artists made models to record the appearance of a ship, or to guide its construction. This model is highly unusual in commemorating the scrapping of a vessel at the end of its life. It is based on the depiction of ship breakers in Hutton’s film.

Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0
Through January 3, 2021

Internationally renowned for his animated digital projections, artist Charles Sandison installs a site-specific artwork created for PEM's East India Marine Hall. Sandison activates the words and images from 18th-century ship captains' logs to create an immersive environment drawing upon the trade routes, politics, competition and voices that led to the founding of the museum and the origins of its remarkable collection.

Sandison’s responsive algorithmic code, inspired by patterns he observes in nature—the movements of ants or bodies passing through water—combines the bodily movements of museumgoers with historical data to create an ever-changing, lyrical tapestry of past and present. This current installation, which revises the original 2010 work, incorporates real-time location feeds of global ship traffic and weather patterns, as well as cameras that detect visitors’ movements.

Museum purchase with funds donated by Mr. Alfred D Chandler III and The Reverend Susan Esco Chandler, Nancy B. Teiken, Dan Elias and Karen Keane, and The Anna Pingree Phillips Fund.

Charles Sandison: Figurehead 2.0 is made possible by the Nancy B. Tieken Memorial Fund and supporters of the Present Tense Initiative, including The Jeffrey P. Beale Fund for Contemporary Art and Matthew and Rebekah Gardiner. Carolyn and Peter S. Lynch and The Lynch Foundation, Jennifer and Andrew Borggaard and Kate and Ford O'Neil provided generous support. We also recognize the generosity of the East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum.

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