MOWA Presents The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit 

A State of Fashion Featured Exhibition

May 10, 2017
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“There is nothing more potent or poignant than old clothing, and the Roddis family collection is an especially moving document of living history. The garments and the accessories in the collection— remarkably preserved, and remarkable for their depth and range—hold up a mirror to the lives and aspirations of generations of a fascinating Middle American family, bringing both gala events and everyday lives into vivid perspective...” –Hamish Bowles, International Editor-At-Large, VOGUE

The Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA) will dedicate all of its changing exhibition galleries to an unprecedented four-part sartorial-themed show, A State of Fashion, on view June 11–September 17, 2017. The Roddis Collection: American Style and Spirit will feature more than 100 years of fashion unveiled through twenty-six unique garments dating from 1880 to 1991. From stunning haute couture evening gowns to everyday wear, this amazing collection of women's clothing was purchased and worn by six generations of the Roddis family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. It is both a time capsule of American fashion and a remarkable story about individual expression and taste set against the backdrop of a small town in Wisconsin. This exhibition will feature garments loaned by The Henry Ford Museum as well as several loaned by Roddis family relatives, including dresses by Helga, Galanos, Yves St. Laurent, Nina Ricci, and Murray Arbeid, which have never been shown publicly.

About the Collection

An attic in Marshfield, Wisconsin may seem like an unlikely location for an exquisite cache of historic garments to be discovered. Yet, stored for six generations in the Roddis family home was more than 200 perfectly preserved garments and accessories, family photographs, and letters. This was an unprecedented discovery at the time, and the collection has since become a celebrated archive of over a century of American fashion and social history.

The collection contains clothes dating back to before the Civil War, spanning from 1850–1995. The garments were worn by the Roddis family of Marshfield as they ran their hardwood lumber and veneer business, and engaged in civic life and philanthropy. The Roddis family dressed with a style that provided “mute but eloquent testimony” to the habits, character, and taste of the clan. Some garments were reserved for special occasions, others were everyday wear. Some were handmade, others off the rack and masterfully tailored. And herein lies the value of the collection: the dresses were saved by Augusta Roddis, granddaughter of William H. Roddis, not with eventual museum exhibitions in mind-although they are now part of The Henry Ford Collection-but because they meant so much to the family. She remarked, “The way I feel about these clothes is that ... they get increasingly interesting with each passing year.” The family kept clothes and other artifacts as triggers for recalling memories of places, events, and experiences enjoyed.

After the passing of Augusta Roddis, niece Jane Bradbury invited Edward Maeder, who grew up just 17 miles from Marshfield and is now curator of the collection, to visit the home and photograph and catalogue the collection. There was no one more perfect to appreciate this collection or put it into perspective. “We were amazed by the range of clothing that we drew from the closet and trunks in the attic. Even after two days of intensive effort, new items kept appearing. And so began the adventure,” recalled Maeder. He instinctively understood what the dresses represented, and not just in terms of personal taste and changing fashions, but within the wider context of a place within a specific community and the nation. “Further investigation and discoveries about the family history confirmed that the Roddis Collection is vitally important: its survival is almost unique, and, as an archive for both fashion and social historians, it is endlessly intriguing.”

Maeder and the extended Roddis family are delighted that MOWA is bringing the collection home to Wisconsin with an exhibition featuring twenty-six dresses that span more than nine decades. This collection captures a family legacy told through the threads of fashion.

Enjoy the Book! Accompanying the exhibition is a 320-page book, American Style and Spirit, written by Jane Bradbury and Edward Maeder, providing rich historical context and imagery of the Roddis family and its collection. A must-have for every fashion enthusiast!

The exhibition will begin with an opening party on June 17, 2017 from 2-5 p.m. Support is provided by the Hamilton Roddis Foundation, Chipstone Foundation, Wisconsin Department of Tourism, and Wisconsin Humanities Council an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Jessica Wildes, Director of Communications and Marketing, 262.247.2266