Gracefully Chic: The Fashions of Philip Hulitar New exhibit opening July 27th

Stony Brook, NY – June 28, 2019

From July 27th to October 20th the Long Island Museum will proudly present the exhibit, Gracefully Chic: The Fashions of Phillip Hulitar. This will be the first major retrospective exhibition to explore the work and lasting influence of mid-20th century designer Philip Hulitar (1905-1992).  In the rapidly-changing world of postwar American couture, Hulitar became known for his distinctively tailored and elegantly decorated cocktail dresses and evening gowns.  Launching his label in 1949 after 18 years of success as one of Bergdorf Goodman’s chief designers and head of its women’s dress division, Hulitar quickly earned critical acclaim and a fervent following in New York and Long Island society.  “The star of a gifted designer has risen recently on the fashion horizon,” one contemporary journalist stated, shortly after his business opened.

Hulitar’s consistent success in each new runway season throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, including a spectacular showing at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, gave him a discerning audience for his precise interpretations of glamour. He converged an Old World upbringing and sensibility – his father was a Hungarian diplomat and his mother came from Italian nobility – with a thoroughly modernized American one, arriving and building his career in Great Depression New York in his mid-20s.  Marrying the charming and beautiful Mary Perry Gerstenberg (of New York and North Shore Long Island) in 1951, Hulitar built a life around his work, extensive travels, and love of art.  The Hulitars were also active and extraordinarily generous members of their communities in Palm Beach and Long Island.

“His designs really evoke an era,” says the exhibition’s curator, Deputy Director Joshua Ruff. “His dresses were sold in department stores and high-end boutiques all across the country, from Boston to Seattle, and a number of famous actresses—Rosemary Clooney, Jane Fonda, Lee Meriwether, Patty Duke, and Joan Fontaine—all wore his clothing.”

In our interactive dressing room, set up to look like an early 1960s department store, the museum invites visitors to try on a Hulitar replica. Dresses of various sizes — with Velcro panels to make them easy to slide over regular clothes — have been reproduced from an original Hulitar pattern. Visitors can try on the dresses and take selfies wearing Hulitar creations.

The Long Island Museum is proud to be the first museum to fully explore Hulitar’s influence and work. Gracefully Chic will utilize loans of the designer’s drawings, apparel, and dresses from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Museum of the City of New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and a variety of other public and private sources.  It is only appropriate that the Long Island Museum – home of The Mary & Philip Hulitar Textile Collection – should be the place to mount this important exhibition.

About the Long Island Museum:

Located at 1200 Route 25A in Stony Brook, the Long Island Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate dedicated to enhancing the lives of adults and children with an understanding of Long Island’s rich history and diverse cultures. Regular museum hours are Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for students 6 -17 and college students with I.D. Children under six are admitted for free. For more information visit



Building an Exhibition



Long Road to Freedom: Surviving Slavery on Long Island

It’s January 31, 2019; two weeks and one day until opening day of one of the most important exhibitions the Long Island Museum has ever done and here is where we are:      

How, you might wonder, does this pile of hardware and paint splotches become a world-class, impactful exhibition on such a major subject on a limited budget? To answer that question, we need to go back to the fall of 2017, when our curatorial staff began discussing an exhibition examining slavery on Long Island – a topic that had come up more than once in various meetings over the past couple years.

Curator Jonathan Olly, who joined the museum staff in 2016 as Assistant Curator, was assigned the task of organizing the show (that’s insider lingo for the more formal term EXHIBITION). A challenging task given, according to him, “documents are the most common type of surviving artifacts from the period of slavery on Long Island.  There are no known items of clothing, photographs, shackles, paintings, or other objects that either depict enslaved African Americans on Long Island or were owned by them.”

Fortunately, he had a committee of advisors to consult with on some of the research and findings, who helped sift through the information to tell the story about slavery.

But how does one go about organizing an exhibition from documents? I should explain that the documents we’re talking about are most commonly letters, contracts and bills of sale…for human beings. Imagine trying to tell the world about your beloved grandmother with nothing but a birth certificate to prove she lived.

So you can see the challenge here.

Jonathan explains, “One way is to show objects that are products of the slave trade, such as the mahogany furniture with which wealthy Long Islanders furnished their homes. The wood used to make this furniture was harvested by enslaved labor.”

“Additionally, many of these wealthy Long Island households had enslaved servants, who would have moved, cleaned, repaired or otherwise used this furniture. Archaeological material likewise provided examples of things that enslaved people on Long Island likely handled.”

So at this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, just where does one find these archeological objects? Reportedly, 49 different organizations and individuals contributed items to the Long Road to Freedom exhibition. These included historical societies, libraries, other museums and individual lenders. Jonathan says he knew where to look for particular items partly by word of mouth. When talking to one museum or collector about an object, you learn where to go for the next object, and the next and so on until you have enough substance to start connecting the dots.


Here’s where it’s important to talk about the exhibition designer. Joe Esser, Exhibition Designer and Facilities Manager wears a lot of hats. In addition to his many other non-exhibition related responsibilities, he’s the guy who takes all those documents, objects and paintings you heard tell of, and visualizes where they go and how they should look in the gallery. Then he draws the whole gallery out on paper (or in a computer program) so he can show Jonathan and make adjustments as needed. Once they get a good idea of what goes where, the installation can begin.

Walls have to be painted, pedestals have to be built and vignettes have to be constructed. Yes, vignettes; those three dimensional sections of the exhibition that draw you in and illustrate exactly what those documents were talking about. For example, in his research Jonathan discovered a diagram of a slave ship’s hull that shows how enslaved Africans were carried to maximize space. But when I read about people being stacked and shackled in layers, it’s a little difficult to draw the picture in my mind. Sure, I saw Roots – the landmark 1977 miniseries about one family’s experience in slavery – but that was television. Surely that wasn’t how it really was.

Wrong. It really was. And it was awful. Yet it’s one of the most powerful sections of the exhibition because there it is in three dimensions, illustrating the conditions people were forced to endure. In addition, the exhibition features paintings, documents, videos and photographs all in one gallery that measures about 2800 square feet.

So after about 18 months of planning, drawing, constructing and assembling (over 200 man hours in the week leading up to opening day alone) our curatorial team, consisting of exactly five people, along with the help of seven consultants and a maintenance staff of three, completed the exhibition and had it ready for opening day.

The final result is an exploration of two centuries of slavery and the subsequent growth of free communities of color on Long Island in the 19th century. If you haven’t seen Long Road to Freedom, you need to. The show runs through May 27 and is open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.



Birth of an Exhibition

This is the first in the Long Island Museum’s blog posts…this is only a test