Valentine Intern Spotlight: Erika Holshoe
Our Costume & Textiles Intern Erika fills us in on her love of fashion, curatorial work and being an archival detective.
Howdy! I’m Erika and I am beyond thrilled to be interning this summer with the Costume & Textiles Department here at the Valentine.
I’ve always had a love of fashion, but its reputation as frivolous and unacademic made me shy away from pursuing fashion studies. My love of culture and history drove me to study linguistics instead. Fashion was always on the back-burner until I took a general education course my final semester of undergrad that looked at fashion through an anthropological lens. So much can be learned about humanity through the way we dress. The course validated my interests and demonstrated that fashion was worthy of being studied.
I’m currently finishing up my master’s degree at the University of Rhode Island, specializing in dress history. My aim is to become a curator, creating exhibitions that utilize fashion and dress to challenge the way we understand the world. In comparison to high-brow art, fashion is hugely accessible for visitors and is thusly a fabulous platform to connect with visitors and foster conversations. I was drawn to the Valentine because their mission supports challenging traditional ideas and methodologies and encourages conversation about difficult topics. Plus, their costume and textiles collection is out of this world!
My mentor Kristen Stewart, the Nathalie L. Klaus Curator of Costume & Textiles, has been so supportive of my ideas and goals and has tailored my internship to help prepare me for a career in costume curation. Story-telling is integral to museum exhibitions; without it, an exhibition would be kind of, well, boring! Research (endless hours of research) creates the foundation for material culture analysis and story-telling. Ms. Stewart has let me dive deep into the archives to research a Richmond based dressmaker from the turn of the 20th century named Fannie Criss.
As a first child born out of enslavement, Criss navigated a tumultuous and changing South and created a name for herself as a dressmaker for the elite of Richmond. She lived in the wealthiest parts of the city and charged around 200 dollars for a dress at a time where an average dress cost 5 dollars. Her success led her to move to New York City, where her business continued to be successful. Her clientele include Maggie L. Walker and Gloria Swanson, and one of her best friends was the famous Madam C.J. Walker!
Like many of women of color, Criss’ story seems to be erased from the books of history. But my research is uncovering just how amazing her life was. It may sound geeky, but it’s a thrill to be a detective in the archives and discover nuggets of lost knowledge. It’s high time that Criss gets the recognition she deserves and I am so honored to contribute to this research.
Erika Holshoe is the Costume & Textiles Intern at the Valentine in Richmond.