Remaking textile history at the Museum’s summer opening

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Courtesy of MV Museum collections

You know that summer has arrived on Martha’s Vineyard when lovely lawn parties start to roll out across the Island. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s annual outdoor summer opening party is no exception. This year, it will take place Friday, June 17, from 5 to 7 pm on its Edgartown campus.

Coinciding with the party, the museum will open two new exhibits. The first, “Re:Make,” is a collaborative exhibit that pairs local clothing designers with the clothing designers of Martha’s Vineyard of yesteryear. “The museum has a great textile collection that rarely gets exhibited,” assistant curator Anna Carringer said. “And there are so many incredibly talented designers in our community, so this is a great partnership.” The museum’s collection features textiles that date from the 18th century, including uniforms, linens, dresses, hats, embroidered accessories, and even kimonos.

Designers featured in the exhibition include Noava Knight, Stina Sayre, Karen Trotier, and Marlene DiStefano and Randi Sylvia, the last two working as a team. “These designers really showcase a wide range of styles, and so we’re thrilled that they agreed to be part of this project,” Ms. Carringer said.

The local designers have created new garments inspired by an object from the collection. Both garments are then displayed side by side. Intriguing video clips tell the story of the process. “The textiles were chosen completely by the designers,” Ms. Carringer said. “They all spent time perusing the museum’s database and exploring the textile storage areas. After measuring and photographing the pieces, they all went back to their studios and got to work. It was as if each piece reached out to the designers and said, Here I am!”

One of the designers, Stina Sayre, said of the experience, “I picked something that spoke to me, from the mid-1700s, very clearly a wealthy man’s jacket. Very clean lines, very detailed. From that concept, I created my take on that for a women’s jacket.”

Ms. Sayre said the project was a refreshing change of pace. “I’m a designer, and I design commercially. I always have to design things people can buy,” she said. “When you do a project like this, you can do it for the pure art of it. I put in dozens of hours on it. It was a labor of love.”

In the end, that love showed through. “These designers gave each garment a story by how they were constructed and what can be learned from them,” Ms. Carringer said. “This challenges us all to look more deeply at things we pass by. We also hope that this exhibit gets the designer community inspired as well.” The exhibit will remain up through August 13.

The summer opening also features a second exhibit, devoted to the Prohibition era as it was experienced on Martha’s Vineyard. Showing photographs, documents, and oral histories, the exhibition documents a time of risk-taking and inventive endeavors that kept many Islanders busy skirting the restriction of the 18th Amendment for 13 years between 1920 and 1933. “It’s a perennially fascinating topic, and the museum has a wonderful collection of oral-history anecdotes from those who lived here during the time,” Ms. Carringer said. “The museum’s collection of objects that relates to Prohibition is quite small, but the exhibit is brought to life by the many different stories told by Vineyarders who lived through it. We let the stories and the objects guide us.”

Efforts to get around Prohibition laws included rumrunning — smuggling or transporting alcohol illegally — and the common tactic of making homemade moonshine. “While the goal of the exhibit is to present a somewhat lighthearted look at the Vineyard during Prohibition, it also calls attention to how dangerous it was at times. Our geographic location put us right in the path of rumrunners carrying illicit liquor back and forth from Canada down to the Bahamas and points in between,” Ms. Carringer said. “The Vineyard became a waypoint and a hideout for those in the industry.” Such are the stories that show up in this lively exhibition of a unique time in Vineyard history. The exhibit will be up through mid-July.

As part of Friday’s outdoor festivities, the MVRHS drama club will perform a scene from the Broadway musical “Chicago.” Guests can view the new exhibits and tour the 18th century Cooke House.

For history buffs on Martha’s Vineyard, what could be better than sipping a glass of wine among friends and touring these new shows? The Martha’s Vineyard Museum has prepped for another magical evening in Edgartown where history meets the public face-to-face.

Annual Museum summer opening party: Friday, June 17, 5 to 7 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Museum, 59 School Street, Edgartown. Free. For more information, visit mvmuseum.org.