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Morning Call: ‘PURSEonality’ to spare: Massive handbags exhibit coming to Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

October 4th, 2019 |

October 10, 2019 | In The News

Written by Craig Larimer for The Morning Call

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites will host “PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History, the personal collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood” Oct. 11 through April 30, 2020.

The exhibit will be at the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts at 427 N. New St. and the Moravian Museum of Bethlehem at 66 W. Church St.

The collection’s design style ranges from folk art to contemporary, and is the debut of curated selections from Wood’s collection. With a stockpile in the thousands, it is perhaps the largest assortment of handbags in the U.S., if not the world.

Museum visitors will have the opportunity to experience a timeline of the handbag, which represents the trends and styles of each decade. Also, guests can explore the Handbag Hall of Fame, which features the most rare, unusual and expensive purses acquired by Wood — a lifetime collector of art with a degree in Design and Environmental Analysis from Cornell University.

More than 300 handbags will be on display as Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites hosts “PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History, the personal collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood” Oct. 11 through April 30, 2020.

“We are thrilled to bring ‘PURSEonality’ to life to the Kemerer Museum of Decorative Arts. This is 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’s Wood’s unique collection.”

Highlights of the “PURSEonality” exhibit include top designer brands (past and present) such as Chanel, Coach, Gucci, Hermes, YSL, Dior, Judith Leiber and more.

The local artist section will spotlight bags hand-decorated by Lehigh Valley artists.

The Henbag Handbag will be on display at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites with “PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History, the personal collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood” Oct. 11 through April 30, 2020.

The Moravian Museum displays will focus on a selection of needlepoint handbags paired with examples of craftings from Historic Bethlehem’s collection.

An additional 100 handbags will be on display in a pop-up exhibition at America On Wheels, titled “Cars & Purses: A Timeless Pairing.” This display of automotive-themed bags includes designers such as Kate Spade, Karl Lagerfeld and John Gaillano.

“I view my collection from both aesthetic and academic perspectives, and always seek specific handbags to fill a gap in the collection. I read extensively on fashion history and the art of adornment to learn as much as I can about my growing collection,” says Wood.

“Women love handbags. They are totems and objects of desire that convey who we are and what we hold dear, both literally and figuratively. Look at any woman and the bag she carries, and you will learn a lot about her and the image she wants to convey to the world. Empty the bag and examine its contents to learn who she really is and what she finds essential to her everyday life,” she added.

With a personal collection of over 3,000 handbags and counting, Wood hopes to bring the collection to additional cities after its debut in Bethlehem, to create excitement among viewers of all ages and an appreciation of fashion history and the arts.

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites interprets three centuries of the history and culture of Bethlehem, from its founding as a Moravian community in 1741 to the 21st century.

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