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Vintage: Hendrix Theatre costumes get care

Posted: June 29, 2011 - 6:01pm
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Connie Campbell shows a Lilly Pulitzer dress from the 1960s to Todd Richard and Kasey Hodges, two Hendrix College rising juniors who are helping with the reorganization of the theatre department’s costume collection. ANN MUSE PHOTO

 

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 becky.harris@thecabin.net and 505-1234.)

 

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Becky Harris
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Becky Harris 06/30/11 - 02:24 pm
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A response to this story

A response to this story came from Kelly Haggard Olson, former general manager of the Conway Symphony Orchestra.

Hi Becky!

Thanks for doing the article on the preservation of costumes at Hendrix! You brought back a great memory: when I was still in elementary school, Hendrix needed a little girl for the play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and I got the part. It won some kind of state competition, and we got to represent Arkansas at a regional competition in Texas.

That was one of the coolest experiences of my young life, AND, I got to wear the prettiest dress I’ve ever had, which was my costume in the play. I hope it is still in the collection there: a little white chiffon number with a poofy skirt and satin ribbon belt. I wore little black maryjanes with it, and lacy white socks and felt oh so pretty! (If I’d seen West Side Story by then, I would have danced around singing ‘I Feel Pretty, Oh So Pretty...!!’)

I hope it, too, is being preserved, and I thank you again for evoking the memory!

Kelly

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