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Child’s Play: Aesthetics, Gender, and Children's Clothing

When it comes to the arts, we're used to talking about paintings, musical compositions, literary releases.   This time around, we're asked to consider a category of objects that, admittedly, one most often encounters in a heap on the floor.

A current exhibition at the Monroe County History Center attempts to elevate our perspective from the laundry room to the lofty reaches of cultural history, sociology, sexual politics.  Child's Play: Aesthetics, Gender, and Children's Clothing displays selected items of children's clothing from Indiana University's Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection.

"The Sage Collection currently has holdings in excess of 24,000 pieces," explained curator Kate Rowold.  "Collecting started in 1913 when Elizabeth Sage was appointed the first professor of textiles, and named in her honor in 1937 when she retired."

Assistant curator Kelly Richardson was inspired to mount an exhibition of highlights from the Sage's children's wear holdings when a Cincinnati family donated some of their heirlooms, including a pristine, late-nineteenth-century sailor suit.  The iconic outfit got Richardson and Rowold thinking about the values adults attempt to represent, literally, on the backs, and fronts of their children.

Child's Play comprises everything from legendary IU Chancellor Herman B. Wells' baby gown to a 1950s Gene Autry costume to a Garfield purse and Batman crocs.

"Child's Play: Aesthetics, Gender, and Children's Clothing" is on view at the Monroe County History Center through February 27th.    You can get more historical background and see photos on a blog being maintained by the curators of the show, which is drawn from IU's Sage Historic Costume Collection.

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