M Milwaukees Lifestyle Magazine December 2014 : Page 116

Arts & Culture Short Take » Stitching History by Joan Elovitz Kazan | photography by Dan Bishop For the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, this story begins in 1997. Burton Strnad’s mother passed away that year, and he found a large red envelope in her Fox Point basement. Burton opened the enve-lope, not knowing he was opening a window to the past, to trea-sures that tell a tragic story. Kathie Bernstein, executive director of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, explains, “Burton came to the office and said, ‘I’ve got something that I think the archives should have.’ It was one photo, one letter and a packet of dress designs.” Jewish Museum Milwaukee Education Director Ellie Gettinger says, “In 1939, Paul Strnad writes this letter to his cousin Alvin (Burton’s father) and says, ‘My wife (Hedwig) is a very talented dressmaker, and I’m sending you these designs so you can show a manufacturer.’” At the time, Alvin’s father, Benedict, owned Strnad’s Department Store. “We know that Alvin, despite his best efforts, was not able to get them visas to come here, and we know that they (Paul and Hedwig) both died,” says Gettinger. Fast-forward to 2012, when Kathie Bernstein approached the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s costume department and senior draper Alex Tecoma. Bernstein wanted to explore the idea of bringing Hedwig’s high-end designs to life. “The designs were so fresh and different (even though they were from 1939). The whole shop felt it was important to honor and cel-ebrate Hedwig’s life,” says Tecoma. “Perhaps the biggest challenge was figuring out what was left out of the sketches. We had no back views, no notes on fabric, and no one to talk to about the sketches. It was all an educated guess.” After extensive research and countless hours of pattern making, fabric creation and tailoring, the eight complete looks, which include hats, shoes and purses, were ready to go on display in July 2014. “I’m actually very proud of the entire project. We certainly couldn’t have worked any harder on the exhibit. It’s definitely the most meaningful project I’ve ever worked on,” says Tecoma. “I believe Hedy would be very happy with the results.” The museum staff wholeheartedly agrees. Molly Dubin, cura-tor of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, says, “I’m proud that we are giving a glimpse into what should have been and what could have been. We are using one woman’s story to represent the 6 million lives that were extinguished and all of the talents and dreams that were never realized.” “I’d love to see (the exhibit) go to Prague. I’d love to see it blanket the United States, so that if you’re a kid in Seattle or South Florida, you had access to understand the Holocaust through this story,” says Gettinger. Dubin adds that traveling the exhibit “will give us an opportu-nity to share an important story and to educate people about how we can still honor the dreams of those whose fates should have been otherwise.” “Stitching History from the Holocaust” runs through Feb. 28 at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for students, with group rates available. Visit www.jewishmuseummilwaukee.org for more information. 116 M | December 2014

Stitching History

Joan Elovitz Kazan

For the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, this story begins in 1997. Burton Strnad’s mother passed away that year, and he found a large red envelope in her Fox Point basement. Burton opened the envelope, not knowing he was opening a window to the past, to treasures that tell a tragic story. Kathie Bernstein, executive director of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, explains, “Burton came to the office and said, ‘I’ve got something that I think the archives should have.’ It was one photo, one letter and a packet of dress designs.”

Jewish Museum Milwaukee Education Director Ellie Gettinger says, “In 1939, Paul Strnad writes this letter to his cousin Alvin (Burton’s father) and says, ‘My wife (Hedwig) is a very talented dressmaker, and I’m sending you these designs so you can show a manufacturer.’” At the time, Alvin’s father, Benedict, owned Strnad’s Department Store.

“We know that Alvin, despite his best efforts, was not able to get them visas to come here, and we know that they (Paul and Hedwig) both died,” says Gettinger. Fast-forward to 2012, when Kathie Bernstein approached the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s costume department and senior draper Alex Tecoma. Bernstein wanted to explore the idea of bringing Hedwig’s high-end designs to life.

“The designs were so fresh and different (even though they were from 1939). The whole shop felt it was important to honor and celebrate Hedwig’s life,” says Tecoma. “Perhaps the biggest challenge was figuring out what was left out of the sketches. We had no back views, no notes on fabric, and no one to talk to about the sketches. It was all an educated guess.”

After extensive research and countless hours of pattern making, fabric creation and tailoring, the eight complete looks, which include hats, shoes and purses, were ready to go on display in July 2014. “I’m actually very proud of the entire project. We certainly couldn’t have worked any harder on the exhibit. It’s definitely the most meaningful project I’ve ever worked on,” says Tecoma. “I believe Hedy would be very happy with the results.”

The museum staff wholeheartedly agrees. Molly Dubin, curator of the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, says, “I’m proud that we are giving a glimpse into what should have been and what could have been. We are using one woman’s story to represent the 6 million lives that were extinguished and all of the talents and dreams that were never realized.”

I’d love to see (the exhibit) go to Prague. I’d love to see it blanket the United States, so that if you’re a kid in Seattle or South Florida, you had access to understand the Holocaust through this story,” says Gettinger.

Dubin adds that traveling the exhibit “will give us an opportunity to share an important story and to educate people about how we can still honor the dreams of those whose fates should have been otherwise.”

“Stitching History from the Holocaust” runs through Feb. 28 at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for students, with group rates available. Visit www.jewishmuseummilwaukee.org for more information.

Read the full article at http://www.mydigitalpublication.com/article/Stitching+History/1866470/234850/article.html.

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