Women at Work 100 Years Ago
Poring over images from the New York Public Library digital collections today, I came across these great costume designs by Will R. Barnes. They were labeled “Women at Work: ‘Doing Our Bit’.”
I was able to find out that Doing Our Bit was a 1917 Broadway Musical (but with a different designer credited), and the NYPL gives these sketches quite a long date range, between 1912 and 1930, so it is possible these are from another production. Maybe they were for a dance number in another revue. I have been reading through programs from fundraisers of the era but I have not found anything yet.
They were designed by artist Will R. Barnes, of whom there is not much information on the internet. A brief biography on Design and Art Australia Online says that he was born in Australia in 1851, painted watercolors and designed theatre costumes, and came to the US about 1897. More information about his career comes from the George Glazer Gallery which says that he worked on Hippodrome spectacles until 1922.
The New York Public Library mentions Barnes once in a biography of his boss, R. H. Burnside, and says that after 1923, he was the resident designer for a theatrical rental company, whose slogan was “We Furnish Everything” and whose brochure stated, “Can supply 1-10,000 costumes within 24 hours.” Seven hundred and twenty-two of his design sketches are available on the library website.
There are other sketches labeled “Women at Work: ‘Doing Our Bit'” by another artist, Robert McQuinn. His are simpler and more realistic looking.
But on his sketches, the backs are blank. On most of Barnes’, the backs have notes — eight numbers with names (I am assuming of the dancers who would wear that costume), and notations like “Cut,” “Shirts not cut.” I am wondering if both artists submitted sketches, but Barnes’ were the ones selected and used.
It was a nice find. I have enjoyed the book Hollywood Sketchbook, but it had not occurred to me to look up Broadway costume designs. And I especially love art that is in the public domain!
Pants! How modern. Fascinating sketches. Racy for the time.
Looking at the other costume designs by Will R. Barnes, some of them were pretty racy — sort of Las Vegas show girl type. It is amazing to me how much work went into costumes that would not be seen that many times.
Impressive work ethic.
I got a chuckle out of the shoes for the carpenter. The muted colors in the second set are so pretty.
Yes, they don’t look too practical — for either actual carpentering or dancing!
I love the shoes and the word Farmerette. A fascinating post, thank you.
And the waitresses were called Waiterettes too. Glad you liked it, I found these designs very cheering. 🙂
Ack, the shoes!
What, don’t you wear shoes like that as you go about your chores?
I was also amused by the lovely variety of poppies and other wildflowers that ended up in the Farmerette’s rake.
How cool! I like the Engineer and Fire Fighter outfit designed by Will R. Barnes.
Love the creativity. The firewoman is so funny! Can’t you just see a woman, wearing this, walking daintily down to see about a fire? They used to make sure there were at least a couple of fashion shows inside the real shows and maybe these were some of costumes. Delightful!
I think they would have 8 dancers dressed in each of these costumes. If this was for a show at the Hippodrome, the article said they would have 500 performers in one show, and 525 staff working behind the scenes! When the Hippodrome opened, I think in 1903 or so, for their first show, the first act was “A Yankee Circus on Mars,” which sounds like it would have been a sci-fi movie from the 50s, and the 2nd act was “Andersonville,” about the Confederate prisoner of war camp. What a combination!
While there is tea there is hope!
I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at
Thank you, Chris
I clicked on a few of your links there and enjoyed them — the British Museum’s new acquisition, the refurbishment of The Quiet Man train station among other. But when I tried to comment there, I could see the comment section, but no box to comment in. I tried typing just in the area of the comment section but it didn’t work. So, anyway, I enjoyed the links, but I am sorry I don’t understand how to comment properly on Blogspot. 😦
Actually, I wrote Good for another post and the cursor slipped and then I cursed! Theater costumes is right and those SHOES! I kind of like them but not for what they were supposed to be doing! Munitions worker with her lacy collar…
Yes, and should a munitions worker be tap dancing? Seems pretty dangerous… 🙂
A good friend is a costume designer and I am always amazed at the attention to the tiniest detail that goes into each costume for, as you say, just a few performances on a college stage! She taught a whole college course on period design and how to make the costumes consistent with the period of the play, etc. These drawings are just wonderful–your explorations always come up with great finds!
That would be such a fascinating and exhausting job. A lot of my favorite costume books are the ones written for the stage costumer, because they pack in so much information on each era.
I’d love to know what led you to pore over images from the NYPL digital collections, but I’m glad you did. What a treasure trove. You’ve chosen fascinating idealized images of real work. Farmerette indeed! And fighting fires in a skirt.
Well, when you put up the link about the SAQA auction, it got me thinking how I always bookmark these great sites, and sometimes even post about them, but then I rarely go back and really explore them. So I decided that Wednesdays are going to be my World Wide Web day, and I am going to take some time to look at those bookmarked sites. So you provided the tipping point! 🙂
Love these designs… Excellent post 😀 xx
Thanks, I had fun exploring his work!
Well, those were a hoot! You are always discovering something interesting 🙂
Ooh! You should make “zippered chicken” your signature recipe, since you are the Zippy Quilter! 🙂
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