Roaring '20s review

'The Jazz Age' exhibit now open at the WCMFA

'The Jazz Age' exhibit now open at the WCMFA

March 05, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

An exhibit at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts hopes to show that there was more to the Jazz Age than rising hemlines, speakeasies and art deco lamps.

"We wanted to show what was going on culturally in art as well as what was going on socially," said Jennifer Smith, assistant curator at the Washington County museum.

"The Jazz Age" will be on view in the Groh Gallery through Sunday, April 26. A reception is scheduled for 2:30 to 4 p.m Sunday. Smith said between 60 and 70 pieces will be included in the show.

The exhibit was a collaborative effort among the museum, Shippensburg University's Fashion Archives and Museum, Washington County Historical Society and Washington County Free Library's Western Maryland Room.


Smith said the exhibit will focus mostly on the fashion and decorative arts of the period, while tying in local history.

"This just wasn't about some far off thing, about what was going on in New York City," Smith said. "Things were happening here that were also significant."

Smith said key pieces include a 1920s painting of City Park, back when it was known as "The Swamp;" clothing worn by local women; an oil painting by Leopold Seffert, "My Mistress (Woman in a Chair);" and decorative items. There also will be a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and local snapshots taken during the 1920s, Smith said.

The period known as the Jazz Age lasted from 1918 to 1929, a very busy period in American history. Women received the right to vote. Consuming alcohol was deemed illegal. And society was reveling in a sense of prosperity following World War I.

Artistically, the Harlem Renaissance emerged, a new genre of music - jazz - was all the rage, and modern art and modern dance developed.

Curators say the Jazz Age was about a society trying to harness a new sense of freedom. It just so happened these ideas manifested themselves in the art, clothing and everyday objects of the period.

Karin Bohleke, director of the Fashion Archives and Museum at Shippensburg, said that in fashion, much of what people associate with Jazz Age clothing had its beginning during World War I. During the war, European women were using less fabric and American women were being asked to give up their corsets - the metal was needed for the war effort.

So by the 1920s, women were wearing shorter dresses with low waistlines, cloche hats and short, bobbed hair - creating a straight silhouette worlds apart from the frou-frou, hour-glass shapes pre-war women favored, Bohleke said.

Some women wore bust and stomach flatteners to achieve a "boyish" look.

"If you were curvy or full-figured, it was a very trying time, as far as fashions go," Bohleke said.

If you go ...

WHAT: "The Jazz Age"

WHEN: Continues through Sunday, April 26.

WHERE: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown


CONTACT: Call the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, 301-739-5727, or go to

The Herald-Mail Articles