Kristen E. Stewart: At this time General Robert E. Lee’s boots are not on display, but cared for in storage. Next year’s costume and textiles exhibition will examine menswear and the boots may be on public view at that time.
I have not yet uncovered a pair of shoes/boots quite as “famous” as Robert E. Lee’s at this time, but as a contemporary counterpoint to that representation of 19th century men’s military costume I have discovered a pair of military issued standard desert boots worn in Kuwait in 2003 in the collection. Compared to Lee’s black leather boots these sand-colored canvas boots speak to the changing nature and theatre of war.
One of the signature collections at the History Center is the Costume and Textile Collection? What are the stars of the Costume Collection?
Kristen E. Stewart: There are so many stars in the Costume and Textiles Collection. The Costume and Textiles Collection, comprising about 40,000 pieces, enjoys an international reputation and is the largest collection of its kind in the South. Although the Valentine’s primary collecting concentration is objects related to Richmond, the Costume and Textile Collection’s focus is broader, including items worn, used, made or sold in Virginia from the 1600s to the present.
Of particular note are:
-a beautiful example of the famous “Delphos” gown designed by Mariano Fortuny, now on view in the galleries
-a men’s shirt designed by Richmond’s own Ledbury, inspired by research in the Valentine Costume and Textiles Collection.
-a pair of commemorative women’s gloves worn by a guest of the Lafayette Ball given in 1824 in honor of General Lafayette by the Citizens of Richmond the occasion of his last visit to the United States.
Is there any items that you are more fond of?
Kristen E. Stewart: I find that I have a new favorite everyday. When I arrived at the Valentine in September I jumped into preparation for “Classical Allure: Richmond Style” almost immediately and only now feel like I am able to study the rest of the collection in earnest. Exploring the collection is like being a kid in a candy shop and I uncover new treasures everyday. Current favorites include:
-a woman’s university basketball uniform complete with bloomers from 1906
-several gorgeous pairs of fur-lined women’s carriage boots from the late-19th century
-the surviving wardrobe of late-18th century Virginian, General Lewis Littlepage, who served as ambassador from the court of Poland to the court of Russia in the 1790s.
What is the most difficult thing about your line of work?
Kristen E. Stewart: My greatest challenge has been adjusting to a medium-sized museum with a large-sized collection. I began my career in collections management at the Costume Institute in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and most recently worked as a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Textile Arts at the de Young Museum. Both of these are enormous institutions with large staffs available to support the care, conservation, and curation of large costume and textiles collections. The Valentine has a costume and textile collection that is comparable in size and breadth to the larger institutions and an ambitious vision, but a much smaller staff. We all have to wear a lot of hats (and shoes!) in order to get things done. It is hard work, but ultimately very fulfilling.