“There are no ghosts here, but there’s plenty of humanity.”
– Professor Marcella Milio, about The Design Center at Philadelphia University
It’s the Friday night opening of a Graduation Exhibition at The Philadelphia University Design Center and curator Marcella Milio is all smiles. “I’ve never seen this place so full,” she says of the crowd wandering among the textile exhibits.
She’s only been curator of the Center since June, but most of her experiences so far have been long, quiet days and nights searching through the Center’s 200,000-piece collection of garments, accessories, textiles, industrial swatches, tools and technology-related artifacts.
It’s been a challenging, mostly solitary job from the start to catalog such a massive collection, especially one that’s been in transition since 2010. Milio was named curator to restore order and create an index of all of its pieces.
“It suits me perfectly,” she said “because I have a lot of experience doing this kind of work and I’m a very detailed-oriented person. A typical Virgo that way.”
Despite her obvious skill at the job (she teaches the history of textiles and costumes at PhilaU), she’s been tested from day one.
“There haven’t been any dull moments since I got here. My focus has shifted almost by the hour. We’re still discovering items in closets and other areas that we’re trying to make sense of. Some of the studies we find are half-finished, which raises lots of questions. We do a lot of investigating here to try to understand the intent of some of these pieces.”
One thing she is certain about: “The collection represents a lot of humanity. We have pieces that date back to the 1st century AD. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in energy. This house has a special energy. In the beginning it felt like it was negative and I took some of that home with me.
“I think maybe it was because the collection seemed so unorganized. But when I finally started making progress, it became positive and that’s when my volunteers arrived. I believe that positive energy attracts positive energy.”
It’s easy to believe her as she wanders through the rooms of the Graduation Exhibition, filled with artful displays of fine prints, knits and weaves.
Guests snap photos and chat with the artists, Masters degree candidates. “Plus Ones” hit the spread, moms juggle babies and little kids play tag in the back yard.
Certainly, there’s a special vibe in the place that night. Easy to imagine similar soirees when the house was owned by an heiress, Goldie Paley, known for her lavish parties during the height of “Mad Men” style.
Such buzz makes Marcella Milio smile, and fuels her goals for the collection:
“I want it to be more accessible to the public, especially online. Ultimately, I also would like it to serve as a teaching tool, a resource for scholars, and a design inspiration for the fashion industry.”
NOTE: All photos courtesy of the Textile and Costume Collection at The Design Center at Philadelphia University.