Tonawanda News

Features

July 2, 2012

Historical society exhibit features clothing from bygone era

Tonawanda News — CITY OF TONAWANDA ­— For the Historical Society of the Tonawandas and Buffalo State College student Ben Streeter, it was a match made in heaven. 

Streeter, a theater major with a focus on costuming, wanted a summer fellowship funded by the school researching old garments; meanwhile, the historical society desperately needed its historic clothing collection of about 2,000 items cataloged and sorted. Luckily, the young Tonawanda native picked up the phone and gave the organization a call.

“For the last 10 years or so, I’ve been seeing the clothing collection and saying, ‘Wow we need somebody who really understands this stuff,’ ” said Ned Schimminger of the historical society. “I’m thrilled that (Streeter’s) working on it cause he’s got the enthusiasm for it. For about 10 or 15 years we haven’t had a person specifically interested in (clothing).”

With Streeter’s arrival at the historical society, a plan was hatched to include three garments in an exhibit of paintings by Edward Mayes at the City of Tonawanda Public Library. The paintings, mostly created in the 1960s to 80s, are based on historic photographs of the Twin Cities from about the 1870s to the 1910s, Schimminger said. 

The garments were handpicked from the same era.

“They’re authentic garments with only a little bit of conservation done with the materials,” Streeter said. “What you’re seeing is what would’ve been worn for everyday purposes.”

Unfortunately though, Streeter and the historical society have specific information on who wore only one of the three garments in the exhibit.

Schimminger said much of the first-hand knowledge of the society’s clothing collection died with the organization’s founder, Willard Ditmar. Some items had tags attached indicating who certain garments belonged to, but for about 90 percent of the collection, not much is known.

In some cases, Streeter said he had to do extensive research to figure out exactly when some of the items would have been worn.

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