Whimsical Purses on Display at the Lake County Discovery Museum

January 11, 2008 11:38:28 AM PST
Celebrate a woman's most cherished fashion accessory in the special exhibition "Pocketbook Anthropology: A Treasure of Handbags" through January 20 at the Lake County Discovery Museum, near north suburban Wauconda. Organized by ExhibitsUSA, and sponsored by The Daily Herald and The Village at Victory Lakes, the exhibition takes a closer look at this uniquely significant item and its place in today's society

For a woman, one of life's most essential items is her handbag. Of all her belongings -- and by whatever name it's called, whether handbag, bag, purse, or old-fashioned pocketbook -- this object is not only one of the most indispensable but also one of the most meaningful and best loved. The exhibit explores the emotional attachment women have to their purses, as well as the cultural meanings of the object.

"Pocketbook Anthropology" showcases more than 75 purses dating from 1880 to the present day, as well as period costumes and fashion postcards. Visitors will have a chance to view handbags made from a myriad of different materials ranging from cigarette packs to silk to beads to precious metals. There are funky bags, elegant bags, whimsical bags and utilitarian bags. Learn the stories behind a few select purses, including one from Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson. The exhibition includes hands-on activities for children, as well as anecdotes, quips, and literary quotations about this uniquely feminine item.

The entrance to the Lake County Discovery Museum is located on Route 176, just west of Fairfield Road and east of Wauconda, in Lakewood Forest Preserve. Gallery hours are Monday -- Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $2.50 for youth ages four to 17. Children three years and under are free. Seniors are $2.50 after 2 p.m. On Discount Tuesdays, admission is $3 for adults, and youth 17 years and under are free. Admission is always free for Museum members.

"Pocketbook Anthropology" is sponsored by the Daily Herald. For more information about the exhibit or to download discount admission coupons, visit www.LCFPD.org/Pocketbooks or call the exhibit hotline at 847-968-3393.

Here's a look at some purses on display and why they were chosen:

Linen Purse

Made by Dorothy Gleiser, 1926

LCDM 73.9.123

Dorothy Gleiser made this purse when she was 13-years old for her mother, Louise. The flower motif was chosen because of her mother's love of gardening and flowers.

The Gleisers lived in Lake Forest, first on Brae Burn Farm from 1914-1922, and then in town. Dorothy's father, Lorenz, managed the 400-acre farm for Robert Leatherbee, an executive of the Crane Company of Chicago. Leatherbee and his wife and son lived in a sprawling one-story stucco home, and the Gleisers lived in a farmhouse near the entrance to the property. Louise Gleiser maintained a row of white and red peonies along the farm's orchard.

Women's Army Corps Leather Purse

circa 1945

LCDM 92.24.123

The Women's Army Corps (WACs) was created to fill a manpower shortage during World War II. There was a great deal of opposition to women joining the armed services. Some of that tension was alleviated by designing a uniform that was both feminine and practical. WACs served in clerical and hospital work, sold liberty and war bonds, were parachute riggers, aerial photo analysts, and trained servicemen in aviation gunnery. Fort Sheridan was the second post to receive women soldiers in December 1942, and in November 1943 one of the first African-American WAC detachments.

Leather Bowling Purse


LCDM 94.47.41

Leather tooled, bowling purse. Used by Jean Ladd in the area of Lincolnshire, Illinois in the 1960s. Inscribed on bottom "Jean."

Red Leather Purse

(Similar to leather purses on exhibit)

On loan from Susan Brown Nicholson

Made in Mexico

Circa 1945

This purse was purchased in Mexico by Susan Brown Nicholson and used as her childhood purse. Mexico has a history of making fine-tooled leather products.

Pink Mesh Evening Bag

(Similar to the c. 1930 mesh bag on exhibit)

On loan from Susan Brown Nicholson

circa 1920

Silver, mesh and enamel

Companies often hired women to work from their homes to painstakingly craft these bags. The invention of a mesh-making machine in 1909 transformed the industry and fueled the mania for these dainty handbags. By the 1920s, the company of Whiting & Davis of Massachusetts had developed a method of printing designs onto mesh, creating elaborate geometric and floral patterns.

Glass-Beaded Purse

(Similar to beaded purses on exhibit)

On loan from Susan Brown Nicholson

ca. 1900

Metal, glass beads, satin, and chain

After the economic depression of the 1890s, fashion turned to luxurious fabrics with an emphasis on detail. The era of penny pinching was over.

About the Lake County Discovery Museum

The Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda provides visitors with hands-on exhibits and educational programs. The nationally accredited Museum also is home to the nation's largest collection of picture postcards. The Museum is part of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, which manages over 25,400 acres of land and offers innovative educational, recreational and cultural opportunities for all ages.

About Exhibits USA

"Pocketbook Anthropology: A Treasure of Handbags" is organized and toured by ExhibitsUSA. The purpose of ExhibitsUSA is to create access to an array of arts and humanities exhibitions, nurture the development and understanding of diverse art forms and cultures, and encourage the expanding depth and breadth of cultural life in local communities. ExhibitsUSA is a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance, a private, nonprofit organization founded in 1972.