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The Purse and the Person

A Century of Women's Purses
January 23-March 30, 2008

The Pasadena Museum of History is proud to present The Purse & the Person, A Century of Women's Purses, curated by Curatrix Group.

purseThe Purse & the Person brings together life stories buried right under our noses -- in the purses carried by our mothers and grandmothers.  Developed from a private collection of over 3,000 purses and accessories, this exhibition looks at purses from the inside out, examining day-to-day life reflected in a very personal, very female artifact cache -- a woman's handbag.

In the mysterious depths of their purses, women reveal their personalities, their fashion sense, and the everyday concerns that populate their lives.  What is their image of themselves?  What items do they carry to help bolster that image?  What do they do outside the home where their purse becomes their tool kit for interaction with the world around them?  How do they get around in that world and who goes along with them?  What obstacles do they face each day that might require them to identify themselves, communicate about themselves, or even protect themselves?  With only the contents of a grandmother's purse to go on, what kind of detailed profile would a forensic scientist draw?

Eight exhibition vignettes examine iconic women of the 20th century, from the Edwardian matron to the Superwoman of recent decades.  Each of these figures is a representative of a specific period, but she may also be old or young, rich or poor, urban or rural.  As visitors look at what's inside the purses and discover these personalities, they will find familiar objects from purses that they’ve known as well as objects whose purpose has long since faded.  While some women may be defined by what is inside their purses, others may be interpreted by what's not!  The rouge pot of a 1920s flapper denoted youth and freedom, while the absence of make-up may be an expression of freedom for the counter-culture youth of a later generation.

The 20th century saw the purse evolve into an accessory as indispensable to most women as their shoes.  Specialized bags for all occasions found their way into our closets.  Several areas of the exhibit help visitors explore purses as fashion statements and as idiosyncratic expressions of personality in all their wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and materials.  Purses for all aspects of life provide us with glimpses into a night on the town, a day at the races, or lunch with the ladies.  Likewise, when a woman set out to see the world, her purse went along for the ride.  These traveling bags carrying memories of home and souvenirs of the road provide snapshots as revealing as any travel journal or postcard.

The exhibit's run at the Pasadena Museum of History is part of a nine-city national tour over a three-year period, containing over 100 purses along with an equal amount of artifacts and photographs.  The tour was developed and managed by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, Kansas City, Missouri.



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