News Column

Kitchen chic: 'Apron Chronicles' celebrates icon of American domesticity

July 20, 2014

By Melody Parker, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

July 20--WATERLOO -- Domestic armor.

Ellyn Anne Geisel uses the phrase to sum up the humble apron: a clothing protector, functional art and a symbol of home, good food and warm recollections of the people in our lives who have worn them.

"Aprons don't hold us back. They take us back," says Geisel, author and self-professed apron archeologist. "It's a shame the apron was reclassified by women as a negative symbol, when for so long it stood for the person who created for her family a cocoon of security and warmth."

Now the apron is enjoying a renaissance as a collectible, kitchen chic and practical kitchen garb. "I think this apron revival speaks to the homemaker gene within all of us, and our efforts to reconnect with our past and redefine our homes as sanctuaries from the chaos of daily living."

Aprons from Geisel's extensive collection are featured in a new exhibit, "Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections," open now through Oct. 4 at the Grout Museum of History and Science.

Approximately 100 vintage aprons -- handmade, frilly, fancy, plain, embroidered, appliquÉd and more -- hang from clothespins on clothes lines strung throughout multiple galleries at the museum. A clothes basket is filled with other aprons with the sign "Tie one on!"

The collection is paired with award-winning photography by Kristina Loggia featuring 46 people and their emotional reminiscences that give life to the fabrics.

Aprons recall the women who wore them and what they represented to their family, an event when the apron was worn, recipes, values and traditions, the bond between parent and child, survival, friendship, opportunity and modern perspective.

"When the women's movement designated the apron as the symbol for women's lack of advancement and equality and rallied for its destruction as a step toward liberation, the one piece of historical linkage that tied modern women to preceding generations of women was thrown out. Literally," Geisel explains.

"Unfortunately, out with the bathwater went the validation of homemaker as a career choice. And we've been fussing amongst ourselves ever since whether careers outside the home are more deserving of respect than homemaking. Ironic."

Geisel owns more than 500 aprons. Many are displayed in historical societies, while others are too fragile to travel. "Their rarity and beauty categorize them as irreplaceable textile artifacts. I framed several aprons from this category to travel with the exhibit, so people could view up close stitchery and styles that are representative of part of our history as women," she explains.

As "the Apron Lady," Geisel choses an apron to wear throughout each day, stuffing its pockets with reading glasses, loose change and odds and ends. For jaunts, she often accessorizes her outfit with an apron to hold cell phone, keys, wallet and pink lip gloss rather than carry a purse.

Geisel began writing about aprons and soliciting stories in 1999. "The storytelling became much more about life than fabric." Intrigued, she began speaking on aprons and eventually met photographer Loggia. The traveling exhibit was a result of their collaboration.

Aprons are proving to be a catalyst for conversations among Grout viewers, too.

"When I was hanging the exhibit, visitors would stop to look at the aprons and photos and read the stories, then start telling their own story, which is how the exhibit is supposed to work," says curator Robin Venter.


(c)2014 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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Source: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (IA)

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