Being a new graduate student at Iowa State University (ISU) working as the Research Assistant for the Textiles and Clothing Museum (TCM), I have access to a collection of history that is like no other. I am starting to gain familiarity with how things work at the TCM, but I cannot say that I have had the opportunity to explore all of the amazing items in the collection, simply because our collection is rich with objects that are all unique and special. During my first week here, I decided to look inside the storage spaces and see what interesting things I could discover. I know that I have barely scratched the surface of the items I will find within the collection, and I am eager to learn of what else is in store.
Spending some time going through the collection, it will not take long for you to stumble upon a beautiful, unique piece of history. As I began exploring the collection, I came across this breathtaking garment and immediately decided to research its history and learn how it ended up being donated to the collection.
The dress was donated to the Textiles and Clothing Museum by Jorie Ford Butler (Mrs. Geoffrey J. W. Kent) in December 1984. The garment can be described as a black and white evening dress consisting of an over-tunic and a strapless under-dress. The over tunic appears to be made of burnout pile fabric, leaving a floral design. The under-dress has a fitted bodice with a long narrow skirt. Digging deeper into the history of the dress, I found that the donation letter was signed “Butler Company Oak Brook, Illinois”. Having being born and raised in the Chicagoland area, the town of Oak Brook was easily recognizable and sparked a memory of home as I start my journey here in Ames at Iowa State University.
Learning that this dress had come from somewhere close to home, I became even more intrigued and determined to learn more about it. I learned that Jorie Ford Butler is the daughter of the late Paul Butler, “multimillionaire Oak Brook founder…who in the 1940s had founded Butler Aviation Corp., once the nation’s largest general aviation company. Mr. Butler’s ancestors in 1844 had established the Butler Paper Co. in Chicago” (Goldsborough, 2014). After learning this information, the story began to unfold. Jorie Ford Butler was the daughter of a very wealthy businessman who is known in history as the man who build the town of Oak Brook, IL. Throughout my life I have often spent time in Oak Brook with my family, usually for the outdoor shopping mall and variety of restaurants. Who would have known that the first garment that I interacted with here at the Textiles and Clothing Museum would take me back to where home is? This was such an amazing discovery for me because it proved that however far away home may feel, we all live in a small world and there is always something near that can remind you of home.
Today, Jorie Ford Butler and her husband Geoffrey Kent are head of Abercrombie and Kent which, “allows A&K travelers private, sometimes exclusive access to museums, archaeological sites and cultural attractions around the world” (Abercrombie & Kent, 2018). She enjoys traveling and photography, as well as philanthropy work. It seems as if she is upholding the vision that her father had; to provide people with a lifestyle of luxury that will produce nothing less of heartfelt experiences and memories. The Textiles and Clothing Museum is thrilled to have a piece of her life experience with us to share with the Iowa State University Community.
By Dyese Matthews
Abercrombie & Kent. (2018). Abercrombie & Kent History. Retrieved from https://www.abercrombiekent.com/about-us/history
Goldsborough, B. (2014, September 4). Frank Butler of Prominent Oak Brook family dies. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/hinsdale/ct-frank-butler-obit-20140904-story.html