The Fabric of History in Western Mass Weaves a Tale

Historic Deerfield Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Their Textile Collection

Early 19th-century tartan wool cloak.

On June 4, 1965, the brand new Fabric Hall was opened to the public at Historic Deerfield (then known as The Heritage Foundation).  Situated behind the Silver Museum in a renovated 1870s barn (now Historic Deerfield’s History Workshop), Fabric Hall showcased the museum’s growing collection of clothing, needlework and domestic textiles.  The gallery, which included innovative ambient lighting, air conditioning, and radiant floor heat, conveyed an early awareness of the need to monitor environmental conditions to protect fragile items.  Fabric Hall was the dream of Helen Geier Flynt (1895-1986) who, along with her husband, Henry N. Flynt (1893-1970), founded Historic Deerfield. No longer limited to the small spaces of the historic house museums, Fabric Hall allowed Mrs. Flynt free reign to display a range of items in the collection, from more exotic and opulent textiles to historic fashions and textiles demonstrating aesthetic or technical excellence.

Clothing from the collection was initially displayed on mannequins from Wilson’s department store in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Mrs. Flynt enlisted the help of Mary Brosnan, a leading mannequin manufacturer in Long Island City, Queens, New York, to create mannequins that conformed to the correct 18th-century posture for men and women who at the time would have been aided by the use of stays and corsets.

In 1998, the extensive textile collection, which today numbers some 8,000 objects, was officially moved to the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, a state of the art space that allows the museum to permanently display items from the collection in the exhibition “Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile Gallery,” which opened in 2007. The exhibition features a vast array of costumes, needlework and domestic textiles from the 18th and 19th centuries which are displayed on a rotating basis.

c. 1800 wholecloth quilt, the first item in the Helen Geier Flynt Textile Collection, currently on display in the Flynt Center of Early New England Life.

“In addition to our historic house museums, today’s Helen Geier Flynt Textile Gallery is an important showcase for our fashion and textile collection,” said David E. (Ned) Lazaro, Associate Curator of Textiles for Historic Deerfield.   “The current installation engages visitors to think about woven, embroidered, and sartorial masterpieces created from four natural fibers: silk, wool, cotton, and linen.”

Currently, the gallery exhibits the very first item of the Helen Geier Flynt Textile Collection, a circa 1800 wholecloth, blue and white, resist-printed cotton and flax blend quilt with a repeating pattern of stylized vases and flowers.  The quilt is indicative of similar examples made in the Rouen area of France, northwest of Paris.

Also on view is a wool cloak made and worn in New England during the early 19th century.  The garment was made from a tartan check probably from the William Wilson and Son firm in Bannockburn, Scotland, between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Made before the advent of today’s synthetic, high-tech performance fleece, the high quality wool nevertheless provided warmth and some water resistance.

The ongoing anniversary celebration, “Fashioning a Legacy: The 50th Anniversary of the Helen Geier Flynt Textile Collection,”  features a variety of events to showcase the collection, including a lecture series and forum, and special content in the form of blogs, a magazine, and social media posts. The gallery space in the Flynt Center also features a new quilt and coverlet display. Visit www.historic-deerfield.org to see upcoming events and for links to special content.

The permanent exhibit, “Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile Collection,” is open daily, April – December, and on weekends January – March, from 9:30 a.m. -4:30 p.m., at the Flynt Center of New England Life in Historic Deerfield, and is included with general admission to the museum.

– Submitted by Laurie Nivison


About Historic Deerfield

Historic Deerfield, Inc., is dedicated to the heritage and preservation of Deerfield, Massachusetts, and the Connecticut River Valley. Its museums and programs provide today’s audiences with experiences that create an understanding and appreciation of New England’s historic villages and countryside.

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