What do insects, alphabets, circus clowns, shadow puppets, the solar system, and a lumberjack beaver all have in common?
These are all themes featured on printed cotton handkerchiefs manufactured for children and adolescents between the 18th and 20th centuries. Usually carried close to the user’s body, these intimate, everyday objects taught lessons, instilled predominant social and cultural standards, and sometimes even inspired a giggle or happy memory while providing soothing relief for a runny nose. Close examination of these objects reveals technological innovations in manufacturing, shifts in understandings of children and the idea of childhood, the development of ideas like nationalism and cultural identity, the evolution of gender norms and racial stereotypes, and more.
Featuring 21 selections from the collection of J.J. Murphy and Nancy Mladenoff, Right Under Your Nose is inspired by Murphy and Mladenoff’s compendium of more than 3,200 examples of children’s printed textiles, gifted to Shelburne Museum in 2020. This digital resource is a sneak peek to a bricks-and-mortar exhibition featuring dozens of examples of children’s handkerchiefs and associated ephemera in the Dana-Spencer Hat & Fragrance Textile Galleries from May 13 to October 21, 2023.