As of last Friday, Branford senior Bea Koch ’12 is a bona fide curator.
“Nature’s Own Shape,” Koch’s show on clothing and textile in early modern England, opened last week in the Exhibition Corridor of Sterling Memorial Library — one of the handful of student-curated art shows exhibited on campus every several years.
Koch, who is a special divisional major in Renaissance studies with a concentration on women’s history and textile, said she first became interested in her niche three years ago as a freshman while taking a seminar titled “The Historical Imagination of Early Modern England.” After being encouraged by her professor, Koch decided to put together a project regarding the political and social significance of clothing and textiles in the 16th to 18th centuries in England.
While Koch said that she spent a large portion of her summer working on the exhibit, she also stressed that she received a lot of support from her advisor Berkeley College Dean Mia Genoni, Sterling Memorial Library staff member Julie Niemeyer and library preservationist Kerri Sancomb.
“In addition to working in Sterling Memorial Library, I am a part-time Master of Library Science Student,” Niemeyer said, explaining her connection to “Nature’s Own Shape.” “For my final project I needed to do the publicity for an event or program in a library.”
“I felt very supported, but I think it takes a very self motivated student to do it,” Koch said on launching the show. “There’s a lot of stuff you have to figure out on your own.”
The exhibit — which includes five display cases of books, prints and themed embroidered textiles — took almost two years of planning and organization, Koch said.
“Embroidery is an important part of human history,” Koch said. “The politics of the time period come out in the clothes and embroidery.”
To show how embroidery can be used to gain an understanding of the political and social aspect of the time period, Koch analyzed the “Portrait of a Woman,” a traditional portrait showing the use of symbolism to express a statement about the subject’s politics and religious beliefs.
Koch proceeded to point out the red rose on the woman’s bosom — explaining that it is a symbol for the House of Lancaster, a powerful English family of the time — and also the golden flower located on her arm as a Christian symbol.
While Koch said that there is much to be learned from the texture and design of clothes in any time period, there is always the challenge of looking at something as a piece of art or as a functional consumer product.
“It is important to remember that any piece of clothing has in itself a practical aspect; therefore it is necessary to look for patterns and things that reoccur such as flowers, bugs and creatures,” Koch said, explaining that certain fashions were not symbols but rather just trends of the time.
Pieces showcased in the exhibit are from collections of the Yale Center for British Art, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Sterling Memorial Library and the Lewis Walpole Library. Koch mentioned that while she her focus was on colors and visuals, part of the purpose of the exhibit was to highlight the libraries’ collections, which account for the central focus on books in the exhibit.
Three students at the exhibition’s opening on Friday said the show was well-organized and engaging.
“There’s so much I don’t understand,” Charlie Polinger ’13 said, noting his lack of familiarity with the subject of the exhibition. “But I was able to follow.”
Beginning in October, Koch will be leading scheduled tours of the exhibit.