New Davenport Museum Staffer Sitting Pretty in Pink at Dream Job
Erika Holshoe has traveled from one end of the U.S. to the other, and to Europe, to pursue her passions.
It marries her affection for her own family’s German heritage, German culture, language, and her love of museums. Holshoe has hustled since she began work here in January to conceive, research, assemble and install the latest GAHC exhibit – “Who? What? Wear? German Costume and Culture,” which opens Friday, April 9 and runs through Aug. 22.
The goal of this third-floor exhibition is to offer a survey of the history of German ethnic dress and stimulate discussion about its future. German “Tracht” is not as simple as lederhosen at the Biergarten, Holshoe said. “The concept of German ethnic dress is entirely fabricated. It didn’t
exist until the 1800s,” she said.
“Essentially, it’s clothing as propaganda, the aim of which was to create German ethnic identity, and as you can imagine, its political nature creates quite the interesting narrative,” she said.
The Nazi party in the ‘30s and ‘40s used “Tracht” (or “traditional” dress) as their own propaganda, which became part of their narrative of the ideal German. “After the war, the association of Tracht with the Nazis left a sour taste in the mouths of Germans who had come to see their heritage in Trachten only to have it abused,” Holshoe said.
Nazis realized a large portion of the workforce in the fashion industry in Germany were Jewish people “and so they were like, well, we can’t have that,” she said. “So they got rid of that but then when they did that, it was like, okay, well now we have no fashion industry. “This is really a kind of interesting idea of, we got rid of all the talent just because you know, somebody’s religion seemed threatening,” Holshoe said. “I think it’s just very interesting and so Germany has really been trying to rebuild their once existent fashion industry.“And so that’s kind of where the exhibition took off — this kind of idea of like, well, what’s next? Who are the next designers who are going to reinvent this?” she asked. “Who’s going to push it to the limits?”
“More recently, we’ve seen a revival of Tracht and designers reinventing the wheel. Dirndls are now on the runway,” she said. A dirndl is a woman’s dress in the style of Alpine peasant costume, with a full skirt and a close-fitting bodice.
The new exhibit (which includes about a dozen garments) will explore the history, culture, and future of German ethnic dress, through a variety of textiles, clothing and accessories from the GAHC collection and members.
“I think what we have is like a really great, diverse array of different examples of German ethnic dress, and I think they helped to really tell the narrative of the history of German ethnic dress,” Holshoe said.
On her LinkedIn profile, she calls herself a “dress historian with an expertise in cultural analysis of dress, textile conservation and fashion museology.” She has experience working with historic fashion and textile museum collections in many different roles: curatorial, collection
managerial, conservation, exhibition design and installation.
Holshoe got interested in Germany partly because her dad’s side of her family is from there. He works for the U.S. Public Health Service, so their family moved around a lot – including Portland, Ore., and to Rhode Island, where Erika finished high school.
Holshoe didn’t study German in high school, but Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and was really interested in opera. She sang in high school choir and took private voice lessons, even though she can’t read music.
“I just followed along; I can kind of get the gist just by following like the notes, but if you were to ask me to just sing the one pitch based on the sheet of music, I would not be able to do that,” she said. “If you play it for me, I can sing it right back to you.”
Holshoe earned a bachelor’s in German language, literature and linguistics at the University of Rhode Island and a 2020 master’s there in textiles, fashion merchandising and design.
She visited Austria and Germany during a semester abroad her junior year of college, at University of Salzburg, and her family also visited Germany while she was in high school.
“I love the German culture. I love the German language,” Holshoe said. “It’s not only my heritage, but there’s just something about it that really clicks with me and I just really enjoyed my time over there; it very much felt like home. So I loved it and I’m always looking to go back there.”
It was her last semester of senior year in college, when she took an influential course in cultural analysis of fashion class and thought – “Oh my God, why didn’t I take this like years earlier? This is what I want to do, I want to study fashion. I want to work in a museum.”
Holshoe didn’t know University of Rhode Island had a master’s program in precisely that — in the history of fashion, textiles, how to repair and maintain clothing, and museum practices for fashion.
The university’s program also has a 20,000-item collection that students can use, to learn how to fix, conserve and clean historic pieces, and it wasn’t part of a museum studies program.
“It’s like this little hidden gem when I was there. I think we had like three students registered in the program,” Holshoe said. “We were really lucky that we had some professors at the department who specialize in textile science and textile conservation and they really pushed it and made it really awesome.”
“It allowed us to do more of the hands-on stuff that because there were so few of us,” she said.
“I do love to study clothing but you can’t really make much of a career out of it, unless you want to be a professor and so I just saw the museum world as a way for me to kind of merge a bunch of different things that I love,” Holshoe said. “I love working hands-on with the clothing; I love doing the research on it. I love educating people about fashion and textiles and I really love putting together exhibitions, curating them, working hands-on and installing them.”
In New York City, the Fashion Institute of Technology has its own museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a Costume Institute (the basis for the glam annual Met Gala headed by Anna Wintour), she noted. In Davenport, the Putnam Museum has a large collection of clothing and textiles, Holshoe said.
A personal museum highlight so far was when she got to work at the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2018, when her dad was stationed there. It showcases a private collection of both antique automobiles and garments.
“So like a car will go with the outfit from the same era,” Holshoe said. “You can envision yourself in the car and in the outfit and in the time itself. That’s something that is a big thing for me and studying fashion, especially in the museum world — I think it’s just such this great visual representative of humanity and people can really see themselves in the garment.”
She also enjoyed a 2019 summer internship at the Valentine Museum in Richmond, Va., as a costume and textiles intern. Holshoe completed primary source research regarding a local dressmaker, Fannie Criss, and local 1920s nightlife.
While she was teaching art part-time at Colorado Mesa University late last year, she learned about the GAHC job, and fell in love.
“This is like the best of both worlds — of all the German and Germany and the culture and you know all my life,” Holshoe recalled.
A virtual happy hour and virtual May programs
To celebrate the opening of “Who? What? Wear?,” she’ll host a virtual happy hour at 6 p.m. Friday (which is free with registration on Eventbrite), and Holshoe will prepare two different German-themed cocktails. “Germans aren’t really huge cocktail drinkers, but it’s just more fun to have a cocktail rather than just be like, okay, here’s a beer.”
“My plan is to kind of give an overview of some of the cool German beers, that you can get locally and then make two cocktails,” she said.
The first is an Aperol Spritz, made with cherry aperol and sparkling wine or champagne, and the second is an Autobahn (named for the famous German highway where there are no speed limits) – made with gin, Hefeweisen beer, simple syrup, and lemon juice, and Holshoe will use locally brewed Hefeweisen. Then she will give a virtual tour of the exhibit, highlighting some interesting details.
“Those are the kinds of things that I really enjoy hearing about, the little behind-the-scenes moments,” she said. “I’m hoping that that will kind of get people even if they can’t come in person or even if they can, you know, if something to just kind of sit back and enjoy and learn something new.”
In coordination with the new GAHC exhibition, they also will be hosting cultural programming related to German ethnic dress. Each also is free and online.
- On May 2 at 2 p.m., Erika Neumayer of Rare Dirndl in Chicago will host a lecture on the modern German dirndl industry.
In 2010, she combined her love of fashion and her passion for the German community to fill a gaping hole in the American Dirndl market by founding the brand, Rare Dirndl. Since then, she has continued to produce fashion-forward designs in the U.S. hand make custom bridal dirndls, plus provide her customers and followers with creative, fun content. Rare Dirndl has grown from a one-woman show that started in
a living room to a team of women constantly striving for quality and innovation.
- On May 23 at 2 p.m., Irene Guenther will lecture on the history of German ethnic dress.
She is a University of Houston Honors College professor specializing in 20th-century American and European history. She received her doctorate from The University of Texas in 2001. Her teaching interests include genocide and human rights, the construction of “race” and the consequences of systemic racism in the U.S., Nazi cultural policies and comparative Second World War home fronts. She has published on the Nazi takeover of the German-Jewish fashion industry; the contested politics of women’s clothing in the four occupied zones of Germany after World War II; magical realism from 1920s Germany to 1940s Latin America; and the anti-war artists of the First World War.
- On May 30 at 2 p.m., Hannah Hogue of Geneseo will talk about her research on Nazi propaganda and German ethnic dress, as well as her dirndl project to be added on display in the exhibition.
She is a first-year student at Illinois State University. From a long line of seamstresses, she was taught to sew by her grandmothers. Although Hannah has acted in theater productions, under the wing of her former high school costume designer, Allison O’Hern, she was thrust into the world of costume design.
After graduating from Geneseo High School, Hannah chose to pursue a major in Communication Sciences and Disorders with an emphasis on Speech Therapy, but soon found herself again gravitating towards the stage. As a result, Hannah is additionally pursuing a minor
Her dirndl project for a course at ISU will be on display in May as a part of the GAHC exhibition. More cultural programming will be announced in the upcoming weeks.
“One of my major goals for GAHC is to expand and diversify its audience. Museums like GAHC struggle to get young people in the door, but young folks are our future,” she said recently. “I’m specifically trained to work with fashion in the museum industry, so as you can imagine I’m a sucker for anything pop culture.
“I figured that using pop culture, specifically film, was a great way to introduce young adults and teenagers to the museum, it’s mission, and hopefully get them involved in our future,” Holshoe said. “Cultural programming like the Kinogarten (film garden) is an important facet of what we do at GAHC, so we are always looking for ways to make our cultural programming more inclusive, diverse and engaging.”
The new museum exhibit will be included in the price of admission — $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $3 for children and free for members. The museum is at 2nd and Gaines streets in Davenport. For more information, call 563-322-8844 or visit www.gahc.org.