Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Limited Engagement, Pocketbook Exhibit at the House of the Seven Gables

There are always so many unique things going on in Salem, it is sometimes hard to keep up with them all.  Here is one you will not want to miss, with thanks in advance to the Salem News for this great article.  Please note this only runs through March 17:, Salem, MA

March 5, 2014

Pocket-sized history on display at House of Seven Gables

By Carissa Collins
Gordon College News Service
---- — SALEM — Some people think of The House of the Seven Gables as the home base for all things Nathaniel Hawthorne. Troops of elementary school students may remember the historic house as a quaint destination where they climbed up the secret staircase. This month, guests of The House of the Seven Gables can experience a very different aspect of history: an exhibit of antique, high-society handbags.

The exhibit, run by Karen Barter, the Gables’ director of development, includes more than 50 pocketbooks dating from the early 20th century throughout the historic home. It opened this week and runs until March 17.

“These bags are little treasures,” Barter said. “If you got one of these for Christmas, you knew your husband loved you.”

Because the bags come from various eras and countries, each bag is unique. Several will be staged with backgrounds, like a grand piano, alongside other historical pieces like clothing and opera glasses.
The pocketbook used in the “wedding” stage is covered in pearls, created by iconic French designer Paul Poriet. Predating Poriet’s pouch-style bag are others, including one made entirely of metal mesh. These laboriously crafted mesh pocketbooks were posh during the 1930s.

The unique accessories are a combination of two collections, one owned by Mary Lou Ferriero, and the other by Marion Powers, an art teacher at Manchester Essex Regional High School who owns about 100 such pocketbooks.

“I have always loved art and history,” Powers said. “I see the pocketbooks as beautiful works of art, like small sculptures.”

Barter saw the pocketbook exhibit as a great opportunity to build on the Gables’ twofold mission, which began more than a hundred years ago when then-owner Caroline Emmerton opened the historic house to tourists to help fund a settlement house where new immigrants could learn useful skills, including English. Besides historical education and preservation, Barter said, “our other mission has always been to serve immigrant kids and families.”

Today, that service continues most notably through their Caribbean Connection program. Funded through a grant from the Essex National Heritage Foundation and sponsored by PBS documentarian Ken Burns, Caribbean Connection helps kids of Caribbean descent discover how their ancestors helped contribute to Salem today.

Children do their own research, attend classes at the Gables and go on field trips, learning about how the trade triangle of the 17th and 18th centuries — in which all types of goods were exchanged between the Caribbean, Salem and England — makes them a part of Salem’s history.
“Two different immigrant mothers told me that they didn’t feel connected with Salem. They didn’t even want to go to parent-teacher conferences,” Barter said. “But this program is a fabulous connection for those families. It builds self-esteem.”

And that’s part of the reason Powers decided to bring her collection of handbags to Hawthorne’s house.

“Aside from the beauty of the buildings and its history, I appreciate what the Gables stands for,” she said.

And like the Caribbean Connection, Powers believes these pocketbooks also build bridges between the past and the present. In fact, as she prepared for the exhibit, Powers brought pocketbooks into the classroom for her students to draw. Even though the bags are from the time of their great-great grandparents, the children can experience their legacy and understand how such symbols can transcend cultures.

“I see these historical artifacts as inspiration for new creations,” Powers said.

The antique pocketbooks exhibit is on display until March 17. The Gables is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Wednesdays. Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children under 12, members free. Information at 978-744-0991 or visit

Please note:  Through April 9 the House of the Seven Gables will be closed on Wednesdays.


I hope to see you here.


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