New artist-in-residence program and support for costume collection
Clare Sauro, director and chief curator, Fox Historic Costume Collection
Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design has received $3.9 million in gifts and pledges from two anonymous donors to support exhibitions and research and curatorial fellowships at the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection, and to establish a College-wide artist-in-residence program.
Part of the gift will establish triennial exhibitions and symposia that will highlight interdisciplinary collaboration among the Fox Historic Costume Collection, other Drexel schools and colleges and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. Exhibitions and symposia supported by an endowed fund will incorporate semiotics, anthropology, history, engineering or technology, and other disciplines. In honor of the director and chief curator of the Collection, Clare Sauro, at the time of her retirement the name of the endowed fund will be changed to the Clare Sauro Exhibition and Symposium Endowed Fund.
An additional fund will provide for two curatorial fellowships at the Fox Historic Costume Collection each year, one held by a graduate student enrolled at Drexel, the other by an undergraduate senior at Drexel who has applied to a graduate program at the University.
Another part of the gift will support visiting artists who will serve residencies at Westphal College with the goal of advancing artistic professions and contributing to Drexel’s intellectual life and discourse. Chosen from among artists in the early to middle stages of their careers who are growing in prominence, each will join the University community for a minimum of three (and potentially up to eight) academic quarters. Working with student assistants, holding periodic “the work-in-progress” open seminars, the visiting artist will be pursuing a creative project to be initiated and completed while in residence, followed by a University-wide presentation of the work.
With this transformative gift, Drexel will invite more professional artists into the life of Westphal College and increase the Fox Historic Costume Collection’s range and ability to educate and inspire future generations.
“I’m profoundly grateful to the donors for their remarkable generosity and commitment,” said Drexel President John Fry. “With their transformative gift, we will invite more professional artists into the life of Westphal College and increase the Fox Historic Costume Collection’s range and ability to educate and inspire future generations.”
Westphal College prepares students for professional careers and leadership in design, media and the arts through several nationally ranked and recognized undergraduate and graduate-level departments. The Fox Historic Costume Collection is a museum-quality collection consisting of more than 20,000 garments, textiles and accessories. Part of Westphal College, the Collection educates and inspires students and the public through the documentation, exhibition and preservation of historic costume.
As one of the oldest university research collections in the United States, the Fox Historic Costume Collection is internationally recognized for the exceptional quality of its holdings and has lent objects to exhibitions in Paris and Milan. Thousands of students and the public have visited each year, at no cost, viewing exhibitions in a custom-built gallery space on Drexel’s University City campus.
“For much of our lives we have been moved, amazed by, and worked to understand the human need for beauty – that is, beauty in the broadest sense,” said the donors. “We began to support the Fox Historic Costume Collection and became acquainted with its curator, Clare Sauro, and her staff. In them we found a core of professionals whose commitment was more than curatorial – preserving and caring for a collection. They were concerned with the social, aesthetic and semiotic implications of all that the Collection presented. Their work was something we wanted to support by providing a larger forum for sharing research and scholarship into this evolving and most human behavior – to bring beauty to the self.”
“After conversations with Clare, we decided to fund a triennial symposium – a significant exhibition and conference featuring scholars, researchers and the brilliance of the Collection. To give students the opportunity to work extensively in the Collection, we funded two curatorial fellowships. That left a gap – the creative. To that end, we also wanted to fund a visiting, working artist to reside at the College each year and become a part of the University community. In the course of the residency, the work being developed will provide a means for others to become allied to the creative process, and increase their understanding of it.
“The three projects are really one, in that all they all coalesce around an attempt to understand what beauty is and why we seem to need it so desperately.”
The Fox Historic Costume Collection serves as an educational resource for Drexel students, including those concentrating in Westphal College’s Fashion Design program, which is highly positioned in national and international rankings, and trains the next generation of creative thinkers for the multi-trillion-dollar fashion industry. The culmination of the Fashion Design program is the Drexel Fashion Show, at which students showcase original garments and accessories for industry leaders.
The Collection provides inspiration and historical perspective to students preparing for the show. It is actively and widely used for research by students enrolled in Drexel’s Design & Merchandising, Art History and other creative and liberal arts programs, as well as students and scholars from other universities. The Collection has been heralded as a “world-class collection of fashion and textiles” by the The Wall Street Journal.
“Passionate supporters can truly transform our College and student success,” said Westphal College Dean Jason Schupbach. “At a time of disruption and opportunity, their amazing generosity will enable us to extend the reach, visibility and impact of both the College and our Fox Historic Costume Collection.”
Housed in the URBN Center (3501 Market Street), the Fox Historic Costume Collection spans several hundred years. Its holdings range from Renaissance textiles to French couture. Many garments were worn by noted women of style, including American socialite and style icon Babe Paley and Philadelphia native Princess Grace of Monaco.
University founder Anthony J. Drexel created a historic collection of paintings, sculpture, costumes and textiles as a teaching resource for students when he founded the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry in 1891, believing that the study of art and design was essential to a well-rounded education. In January 2013, the costumes and textiles were relocated into new facilities when Westphal College moved to the URBN Center, greatly improving the accessibility and visibility of the Collection while preserving it for future generations. In 2014, it was renamed in recognition of a significant gift from philanthropists Robert and Penny Fox, which was designated to digitizing the Collection’s inventory to create an interactive and searchable database of descriptive text and digital imagery.
Venus & Diana: Fashioning the Jazz Age is currently on display in the Fox Historic Costume Collection gallery and can be seen online at venusanddiana.com. Along with other Drexel collections, the Collection also is participating in Gateway to the University: The Collections at Drexel, exhibited at Drexel’s Paul Peck Alumni Center Gallery through February 2022.
“Through their magnificent gift, the donors are helping to make our Collection an exceptional educational resource for Drexel students and an ever-expanding community of historians, scholars, artists, and designers,” adds Clare Sauro, Director and Chief Curator of the Fox Historic Costume Collection.
The donors became involved with the Collection after reading about it in a magazine article. Their first donation was a collection of scarves, followed by accessories that were displayed in the Immortal Beauty exhibition, which was presented in Westphal College’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery in late 2015. Other gifts were displayed in exhibits including James Galanos: Design Integrity.
“Beauty in the broadest sense ranges from ‘that’s a beautiful outfit and you look beautiful in it,’ to Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma,’ which is so beautiful that it’s painful, to Leonardo’s ‘Madonna of the Rocks,’ which captured our soul,” the donors added. “As we grew older, and able to, we wanted to support projects which would try to get at that question and at the same time produce and preserve that which represented some permutation of the idea – beauty at work in its most social sense. That meant finding a university environment that would embrace our purpose – to research, try to understand, and interact with both those who create beauty and those who consume it.”
“On a more practical note, providing support involves more than simply saying, this is something worth doing, and creating the funding. Whatever the project, where it is placed comes down to a question of confidence: Can they do it and will they? So, what we have done is what it is, but, simultaneously, it is also a statement about the ability and commitment of the people of Drexel to bring this to life.”
"It has been a long, interesting and worthwhile journey."
Support the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection