‘Calories’ Handkerchief, Franshaw Inc, mid-20th century, United States, 14 x 14 inches.
While we cannot vouch for the scientific accuracy of the calorie counts on this handkerchief (which in fact seem quite dubious!), tucking this in your pocket might remind you of the relative merits or demerits of the holiday table this Thanksgiving week! This fun, colorful handkerchief from the middle of the twentieth century is one of several in the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection to give advice of some sort on food, in the form of these small, portable textiles. While the overall effect is somewhat humorous in the current era of digital monitoring of our every step and bite to eat, the array of foods, from the zero calories of water or tea to the “danger” warning on candy and butter, with various snacks, meals, and—it has to be said—drinks along the way, is a fascinating reflection of the standard foodstuffs of mid-20th century United States.
Handkerchiefs that commemorated and conveyed information about people, places, and events have existed for centuries as personal memorials, but mass production in the weaving and printing of textiles turned this into a commercial endeavor. The Franshaw company was a major American producer of souvenir handkerchiefs, known for its large-scale and vibrant color printing. The popularity of its geographic series, such as state souvenirs, grew with the expansion of domestic U.S. travel with the interstate highway system in the middle of the 20th century, and solidified the use of these handkerchiefs as both gifts and collectors’ items. The “Calories” handkerchief is a quirky example of Franshaw’s expressions of American popular culture and concerns in this period, which continue to be collected today.
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.