Historical Style Show with a Twist

Tell the stories of the women in your city, match models with the women of the past, add costumes of the times, and a luncheon from century-old recipes, and what do you have? An entertaining celebration of women and history.

In Peoria they call it A Salute to Women. The historical style show and luncheon are put on by the Peoria Historical Society every other year for an audience of 500. Volunteers do the research to locate women who helped shape their community. Then they invite models whose careers or experiences connect with the women of Peoria’s past. For example, Margaret West Kinney was a portrait painter and book illustrator at the turn of the 20th century. To portray her, they asked a contemporary Peoria artist to model. Clara Bourland started the Ladies Art Society in 1873 and she was played by a woman who devotes her energy and talents to originating and keeping alive Peoria’s art and civic organizations, just as Clara Bourland did. Jessie Page who brought the YWCA to Peoria in the 1890s was portrayed by today’s YWCA executive director. Ardella Brown, Peoria’s leading suffragist, was played by a Peoria City Council member. Artist and teacher Juliette Whittaker gave Richard Pryor his first stage role in a play she wrote. For the style show, she was portrayed by today’s school district fine arts director.

The Historical Society committee researched the fashions the women would have worn, located or made vintage outfits, found authentic undergarments and accessories, and tracked down props to help the models portray their characters as they walked the runway. They found menus from Gathered Crumbs (the Peoria Women’s Club’s 1888 cookbook) and updated the recipes for today’s palettes. They wrote a script and found a perfect narrator, staged the production, and found a pianist to play appropriate music.

The Peoria Style Show offers a unique opportunity to learn history through the experiences of the women who lived it. With themed events, the audience experiences new aspects of historical fashion, culinary arts, womanly behaviors or roles.

The title of the latest style show was “Smiling and Beguiling, a look back on our wise and wonderful womanly wiles!” The narrator began the event saying: “You know, we Peoria women have Attitude! We’re a brave and spirited bunch. We’re smart. We’re resilient. Resourceful and generous. Always have been…even a century or two ago when it was difficult for women to get things done. Even then, Peoria women found ways to make their lives work, no matter what. They collaborated and strategized, outwitted, cajoled, and simply worked harder to accomplish what they wanted. With imagination and skill, they created full lives for themselves. This morning we’ll meet 28 remarkable women who helped shape our community.”

What a Salute to Women!

For more information, email us at illinoiswomenartists@comcast.net. Please let us know about your events. We’ll share your ideas with our IWA community.