Kent State is getting great mileage out of two phone calls and two visits to New York City a half-dozen years ago.
Jean Druesedow’s perseverance led to the donation of a huge collection of costumes worn by actress Katharine Hepburn that the university has parlayed into a traveling show and a book.
Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum, is in New York City now, putting the finishing touches on today’s debut of Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.
“It’s the same show that we did at Kent in 2010-2011,” Druesedow said. “We took it to Ocala, Fla., last November, and then will take it back to the Vero Beach Museum of Art in February.”
Paperwork has yet to be signed for other venues, she said, but the show is popular wherever it goes. At Kent State, it attracted 23,000 visitors, 2.5 times more than any other show staged there.
Druesdow also cajoled four other specialists on Hepburn into providing essays for the new book, Katharine Hepburn: Rebel Chic released this month by Rizzoli New York.
The book dissects the fashion icon’s style, from her difference from fellow fashionista Marlene Dietrich to her influence on modern wardrobes and designers.
Druesedow’s essay is on Hepburn’s working relationships with the designers who produced her costumes for stage and screen.
Hepburn paid close attention to what colors looked good on her. In Iron Petticoat, for instance, her only movie with Bob Hope, she persuaded designers to choose olive drab, not dark green, for an outfit.
“Most of the films were in black and white, but you needed to know what happens to colors in black and white,” Druesedow said.
The cache of clothes fell into Kent State’s hands thanks to Druesedow’s efforts.
She heard that Hepburn’s estate — the actress died in 2003 — wanted to give them to a public institution, and Druesedow had street cred: Before joining KSU in 1993 she was associate curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She made two appeals to the estate by letter and two visits to visit attorneys in New York. She modestly asked for 160 blouses, pants and dresses she deemed especially important.
The estate saw otherwise, giving the university all of the warehoused costumes — some 700 to 800 items in all, including shoes, hats and accessories.
That is huge, considering that the KSU Museum in Rockwell Hall has only 30,000 garments, including the Hepburn collection, and 10,000 pieces of decorative art.
Since then, KSU has worked to identify which garments Hepburn wore in what productions. The university was able to tie 116 pieces to specific Hepburn films or plays. It’s those pieces that made it into the traveling exhibit.
“It’s important to know that she never set out to collect her clothes,” Druesedow said. “She saved things that she liked or that represented lessons learned or that were her personal style.”
The KSU Museum is spotlighting still more of the actress’s wardrobe through September. Seven French negligees made it into the current local show Undress: Shaping Fashion and Private Life.
For more on the KSU Museum, go to www.kent.edu/museum/.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3729.