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A Clothes Call

Collector Provided Hard-to-Find Items for Kimono Show

July 11, 1996|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If anybody is wondering where the staff at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton found 30 pre-1945 kimonos for its current "Kimono: The Expression of Inner Harmony" exhibit, it's the same place that the Fullerton Museum found kites for a show about 10 years ago.

"I am probably the world's largest pack rat," says Elizabeth Morrow of Sibley, Mo. Morrow is president of Blair-Murrah, a nonprofit organization that has been providing traveling exhibitions for museums for almost 20 years. Her kimonos have also been displayed (in 1988) at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana.

"I don't discard things," Morrow says. "Most collectors collect postage stamps, or dolls or guns. . . . I'm an unusual collector. I collect anything. It all means something educationally."

And the kimono exhibit, which runs through Aug. 11, aims to educate. Though books on the subject exist now, Morrow says she could find nothing in the library on kimonos when she first mounted the show 15 years ago.

She has included examples of each type of kimono, from work clothes to wedding robes, made of materials from fine crepe to heavy silk brocade. Text panels trace eras of Japanese history and fashion influences from the time of the first known kimono, around 600 BC, and outline the proper sequence of dressing.

In conjunction with the exhibit, acting Muckenthaler director Betty Tesman has scheduled a Japanese Festival in the center's outdoor amphitheater for July 29. On the program are a lecture, "Sumarai: Code of the Warrior"; a samurai demonstration; and performances by the Cypress Misae Bando Dancers and the Nagayashi Singers from the Orange County Japanese School in Anaheim.

To be announced are dates for classes in ikebana (the art of flower arranging) and origami (the art of paper folding) and a tea ceremony demonstration.

Kimonos are one of many collections that Morrow oversees. In fact, she believes that Blair-Murrah is the largest supplier of museum exhibits in the country. "We travel 75 shows," she says. "The Smithsonian, by comparison, mounts less than 40 traveling shows."

To mount those exhibits, Morrow continued, "we don't borrow from other institutions. All the kimonos come from [Blair-Murrah]--and originally from Japan, 20 years ago. I bought them, out of my own pocket. More came from auction houses in New York and London."

Blair-Murrah's other exhibitions (read: Morrow's other collections) range from "Valentines: The Art of Romance" to "The Civil War: Innovations in Transport" to "Povungnituk: Inuit Art." Before founding this agency, Morrow served as head of the art department at the University of Hawaii and director of the Pensacola Museum of Art in Florida.

She said there is no end to the fascinating things she learns putting by these shows together.

For instance:

"When they clean a kimono, they don't wash them, they don't hang them in closet, they don't hang on a hanger ever. Kimonos generally stay clean because of all the undergarments. . . . When they are cleaned, they take them apart at the seams and sew back every stitch."

Morrow co-curated this exhibit with Lana Setsuko White of Independence, Mo., whose parents had a kimono shop in Japan. White pointed out that though kimonos can be lined, unlined or cotton quilted (and seem to boast infinite decorative possibilities) the similarities are greater than the differences.

For starters, said White, a dress designer herself, kimonos can be thought of as one-size-fits-all.

"Everybody buys a roll that is 4 yards long but only 19 inches wide. Then you hand-stitch to suit. Small person, large person, doesn't make a difference. It comes in one [size] roll."

* What: "Kimono: The Expression of Inner Harmony."

* When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and noon-5 p.m Sundays. Through Aug. 11. (Japanese Festival: July 29 at 6:30 p.m.)

* Where: The Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton.

* Whereabouts: Take the Riverside (91) Freeway to the Euclid Street exit and head north. Turn left onto Malvern.

* Wherewithal: Adults $2, students $1, children 12 and under free. (Japanese Festival: adults $6, children 15 and under $3, 5 and under free.)

* Where to call: (714) 738-6595.

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