Aside from some construction on I-76 in Akron, a trip to Kent seems to go pretty quickly from Sidney when you have a specific destination in mind.
Kent State University Museum currently has an exhibit titled “Katharine Hepburn, Dressed for Stage and Screen.” It was fun to find a piece of Hollywood tucked away in Northeast Ohio.
One of the most honored actresses in the history of American film, Hepburn not only received 12 Academy Award nominations and four Academy Awards, but in 1985 was presented with the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Hepburn said she did not set out to collect her costumes and then later said she didn’t know why she had not kept more of them. In her New York City home, she had a closet reserved for costumes she had worn on stage and screen which she said needed special care. Separated from her other wardrobe, when the townhouse was closed, the special garments were inventoried, carefully packed and placed in a Connecticut warehouse.
After her death, her estate executors were given the discretion to give the clothes to an educational institution and they are now housed at the Kent State University Museum. The exhibit includes costumes and everyday clothing and is displayed with film stills, posters and playbills. The university even has more than 30 pair of slacks from Hepburn’s wardrobe, most in shades of beige and brown.
Hepburn’s career spanned 66 years of performing on stage and screen. She knew the importance of the costume in defining character and drawing the audience into the story. Conscious of the tools of the costumer’s craft, she had a sure sense of what would work for her, and her costume designers followed her suggestions.
For Hepburn fans, there are many memorable costume displays from films including “Little Women,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “Adam’s Rib,” “The African Queen” and “Desk Set.”
The earliest costume example displayed is the wedding gown from the 1934 play, “The Lake.” Hepburn also starred in the stage production of “The Philadelphia Story” (1939) and saved the pink organza wedding dress in her personal collection and 34 years later, re-used it in the 1973 television film, “The Glass Menagerie,” when she portrayed Amanda.
The film costumes on display run the gamut from the 1934 film “The Little Minister” to the 1967 “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” the 1968 “The Lion in Winter” (for which she won her third Oscar), and the 1973 “A Delicate Balance.”
Several televisions in the room have narration about make-up and accessories from film, stage and television, which accompany the many costumes.
The exhibit runs through Sept. 2 and admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children under 18.
There are several other exhibits worth the drive. A room with the title “Fringe” was unique, as it displays clothing and accessories with fringe, including a pink and white silk taffeta evening dress circa 1855-60, a 1920s sheer dress, a purple suede vest and pants from the 1960s and a Sioux Indian leather dress and Chinese blue silk embroidered vest, both from the late 19th century.
On the first floor is an exhibit of 200 years of costume history. The university owns more than 4,000 costumes and rotates the history display frequently. There is also a room called “For the Birds” which displays clothing and hats with bird designs and feathers.
The museum houses more than 30,000 pieces in its collection, which includes a 5,000-volume reference library from New York dress manufacturers Jerry Silverman and Shannon Rodgers.
The writer fell in love with the stage after seeing her first Kenley Players production in Dayton at the age of 7. She has been associated with Sock & Buskin Players of Sidney since 1980 as an actor, director, producer, music director and more. She has received awards from Ohio Community Theater Association (OCTA) as a singer and lighting designer. She has been associated with OCTA since 1993.