There is a treasure hidden in the basement of Trieschmann Fine Arts Building at Hendrix College.
It has been lying undisturbed for years, gathering dust and maybe a moth or two.
But Dr. Connie Campbell has taken on the project of cataloguing vintage clothing — hundreds of pieces, most of it donated — that has been resting in boxes and on shelves.
Campbell is visiting assistant professor of Theatre Arts and Dance at Hendrix where she has been teaching costume design and make-up to students in the Theatre Department for four years.
Much of the clothing is in a fragile condition having been forgotten and tucked away in attics and trunks before arriving at Hendrix.
Many of the dresses are too small for today’s figures, but because of Campbell’s expertise, they can be used for teaching, for research and for making patterns for fitting today’s taller frames.
It’s a labor of love for Campbell, who is hoping to finish the major portion of the project by summer’s end.
Each dress, suit, uniform will be wrapped in acid-free tissue and packed in acid-free boxes or hung on wooden hangers and covered with untreated muslin.
She will win the war against dust and age.
“I’m pretty passionate about this,” she said Wednesday, as she went down the rows of hanging garments, tsk-tsk-tsking when she noticed a fur coat from the 1940s made from the pelt of an unidentified critter. The coat had lost a battle with an army of moths.
The love of the costume shop is an extension of her love of Hendrix College.
“This is the first place that appreciated my background,” she said.
Her undergraduate studies were in Latin and Greek and classical archeology.
She taught high school Latin for 20 years at a school that produced three theatrical shows a year, including one play by Shakespeare.
She was so taken with the theatre that she returned to college to get an MFA and a PhD in costume design. She taught at the University of Alabama, Prairie View A&M in Texas, Northwest Missouri State and the University of Richmond. Some of those colleges had amazing collections of costumes with great historical significance.
She’s finding that Hendrix’s closet has some great pieces, too. She’s found a set of knit wool underwear from World War II, and someone donated an 19th century top hat from Scotland, made of a beaver pelt.
“As time passes, our collection will grow in importance,” she said. “Some things — even from the 1980s and 1990s — may not seem old now, but 50 or 100 years from now, someone will appreciate what we have saved.”
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 505-1234.)