2019 Collectors Symposium

A Collection that Counts: The History, Practice, and Future of Textile Collecting

This symposium was held Saturday April 6 2019.

“A Collection that counts brings knowledge, a losing of self in the sorting and arranging, a huge enjoyment in showing the collection, and the acquiring of many new friends both in making and showing of it.”

Helen Louise Allen

Why do people collect textiles? How do they collect them? And what does it mean to ‘collect’? This symposium was hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Design and Material Culture in the School of Human Ecology in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

Headshot of Author Susan GlossKeynote Speaker: Susan Gloss – Characters who Collect

The keynote speaker was Susan Gloss, local author of Vintage, a novel set in and around a vintage clothing store in Madison, and The Curiosities, about an artist colony in Madison endowed by a philanthropist who was also an avid collector of clothing.

Session 1: ‘The acquiring of many new friends’: Motivations for Collecting Textiles

Beverly Gordon, artist and professor emerita of textile and design history,  discussed the history of textile collecting in the early 20th century, especially as a pursuit for women. This talk was followed by a panel discussion of contemporary collectors sharing their varied motivations for collecting today:

Session II: ‘the sorting and arranging’: Preserving Personal and Family Collections

Edward Maeder, consultant in historic dress and textiles, shared his work preserving and curating the Roddis Family Dress Collection, comprised of clothing from one family, spanning the years 1850-1995. The talk was followed by a panel discussion of curators and conservators on the organization and preservation of textiles within the home.

Session III: ‘showing the collection’: New Modes of Collecting and Display

This session focused on the uses of digital technology to display physical collections and curate virtual ones. Caleb Sayan, the co-founder of Textile Hive, an electronic platform for the preservation and dissemination of textile knowledge and Professor Amanda Sikarskie, a fashion historian on the Uses of Digital Platforms in Collecting Communities.

HLATC 50th anniversary logo

In 2019, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology launched a yearlong anniversary celebration of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection. Over the past half century, the collection has grown from an original 4,000-piece gift to more than 13,000 objects that have inspired and informed thousands of students, researchers, historians, and textile aficionados. The 50-year celebration began on January 27, 2019, with the opening of new Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, a space dedicated to year-round displays of the collections. Activities continue into 2019 with a calendar of public exhibitions, symposia, lectures, and public workshops.