'Drawn to Fashion: Illustrations of Mary Mitchell' at Hillestad Gallery

Fashion illustration by Mary Mitchell
Fashion illustration by Mary Mitchell

The Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design announces the dedication of the Mary Mitchell Fashion Studio in conjunction with the exhibition "Drawn to Fashion: The Illustrations of Mary Mitchell."

The public is welcome to view the work of this Omaha fashion illustrator Oct. 22 through Nov. 30 at the Robert Hillestad Textiles Gallery on the second floor of the Home Economics Building. The Friends of the Gallery will host a First Friday reception in the gallery from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 2. Professors Michael James and Barbara Trout co-curated the exhibition. Garments from the historic costume collection, models for select illustrations, will also be featured in the exhibition.

Born to Greek immigrant parents in Buffalo, N.Y., Mary Mitchell first showed a penchant for art making in high school, where her talents were nurtured by the mentorship of her art teacher and encouraged by early success in national art competitions. An unexpected bequest from her late mother made it possible for her to attend the Albright Art School, affiliated with the University of Buffalo, from which she graduated with a degree in fashion illustration before launching her career as a professional fashion illustrator with the Flint & Kent department store in Buffalo.

After she met Kearney native and Georgetown Law School graduate John Mitchell, a long-distance courtship ensued and the couple married in 1951, settling in Kearney. Mary took classes at Kearney State Teachers College, now the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and this association led to her teaching courses in the college's art department.

In 1968 the Mitchells moved to Omaha and Mary returned to fashion illustration full time, working for the Nebraska Clothing Co. for what she described as "four fabulous years." After striking out on her own as a freelance illustrator, she continued to refine her fashion illustration skills with clients including Topp's, Goldstein Chapman, Herzberg's, Zoob's, Parsow's and Wolf Brothers. Her career flourished during a period when fashion illustration's role was critical to successful commerce in everything from haute couture to ready-to-wear, and when Omaha's fashion merchants helped to define the meaning of style in the heartland.

In the 1960s and '70s, pages of the fashion press were filled with drawn images that captured the energy of the industry at its peak. That period of dynamic social and cultural change affected fashion but was in turn affected by it. This is one of the critical dimensions of fashion in general: it is inseparable from the age that spawns it, and it serves inevitably as a barometer of that age's tendencies and unique character. In "Drawn to Fashion: the Illustrations of Mary Mitchell," the post-War period of American affluence and exceptionalism comes convincingly to life.

The Mary Mitchell Fashion Studio in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design is dedicated to a fashion illustrator that celebrated designer Oscar de la Renta called "a true artist, elegant and masterful." It also honors the generosity of both Mary and John Mitchell who, through the University of Nebraska Foundation, endowed the Mary Mitchell Fashion Illustration Scholarship Fund and the Mary Mitchell Fashion Excellence Fund, and helped to underwrite the costs of the 2012 renovation of this primary apparel studio. Just as Mary's mother's gift contributed to her education and to what Mary describes as a "rich and fulfilling" career, so the Mitchells' gifts will help future generations successfully pursue and ultimately realize their professional dreams.

The Hillestad Gallery is part of the Department of Textiles, Merchandising and Fashion Design in the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences. Gallery hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and by appointment. Admission is free.

- Michael James