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City Suburban News: Discover PURSEonality in Bethlehem

October 14th, 2019 |

October 2019 | In The News

Written for City Suburban News

When Ilene Hochberg Wood’s mother gifted her a little red handbag as a child, there was no way to know that the bag would become the basis of a world-class collection. Now, years after the first bag that started it all, a portion of Wood’s collection is being displayed across several museums. PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History, opening Friday, October 11, will showcase over 400 handbags at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites’ (HBMS) Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts and Moravian Museum of Bethlehem. The exhibit runs through April 30, 2020.

The styles in the collection range from folk art, to contemporary designers, to embroidered. PURSEonality is the inaugural debut of a curated selection of Ilene Hochberg Wood’s bag collection, which numbers into the thousands and believed to be the largest in the U.S., if not the world. Highlights include the largest collection of handbags from Anne-Marie of Paris. Anne-Marie of Paris was a 1940s designer based in a Parisian hotel. She specialized in novelty bags such as the “Champagne and Ice Bucket” and “Telephone.” A version of the latter is in the collection of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

“We are thrilled to bring PURSEonality to life at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. This the first exhibit in the history of the museum that covers such depth and diversity of a critical fashion accessory – the handbag!” remarks Lori Ann Wukitsch, Vice President of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites. “We encourage visitors to experience what we hope is a fun, intriguing and tantalizing exhibit, and that they will develop their own sense of the expanse of Ilene Wood’s unique collection.” 

Visitors will have the opportunity to photograph their purse and its contents. Exhibition elements include explore a timeline of the handbag, representing the trends of each decade; the Handbag Hall of Fame featuring the most rare, unusual and expensive purses acquired by Wood in her decades of collecting; and a wall that demonstrates the democratization of fashion, from designs right off the runway to mass-produced bags available at big box retailers. 

Displays at the Kemerer Museum will showcase 300 handbags arranged by themes such as design, innovation, materials, and personal stories of previous handbag owners and eccentric designers. One display will spotlight bags hand-decorated by Lehigh Valley artists. The Moravian Museum will focus on a selection of needlepoint handbags paired with examples of needlepoint from Historic Bethlehem’s collection. 

An additional 100 handbags are on display in a pop-up exhibition at America On Wheels, titled Cars & Purses: A Timeless Pairing. This display of automative-themed bags includes designers such as Kate Spade, Karl Lagerfeld, and John Gaillano. A special combination ticket is available online starting October 11 through December. For one price you will be able to visit the pop-up exhibit at America On Wheels and the full exhibit at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts and Moravian Museum of Bethlehem. 

An opening reception for PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History will be held October 11 at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Get a first look at the exhibit and meet the collector herself, as well as Karen Giberson, president of The Accessories Council, a trade organization dedicated to fashion accessory products with corporate members such as Swarovski, Bloomingdale’s, and Tory Burch. Admission is $10 for future members and free for members and includes wine and light refreshments. Pre-registration is required and space is limited. 

For information, contact LoriAnn Wukitsch at, or Lindsey Jancay, Director of Programming and Collections, at 

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites is a not-for-profit institution that brings to life three centuries of American history. Historic Bethlehem tells the story of a small town of great influence, home to some of our nation’s early settlers, to the first pumped municipal water system in the American colonies, and to one of the world’s greatest industrial companies. Historic Bethlehem is located in eastern Pennsylvania, only an hour drive north from Philadelphia and 2 hours west of New York City. Historic Bethlehem is an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, part of a National Historic Landmark District, and a designated site on the US Tentative List. 

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