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Park City • The aprons hanging in the Park City Museum are as diverse as the 100 cooks who once wore them.
"Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections" features long aprons that go over the head and half-aprons that tie around the waist. There are children's aprons, barbecue aprons, holiday aprons and crocheted aprons. There are fancy ones made with sheer organza and lace and utilitarian ones with deep, sturdy pockets.
The personal apron stories and professional portraits that accompany the exhibit punctuate the universal nature of this iconic piece of clothing.
Storytellers include women and men from all walks of life, from preteens and grandmothers to a biology professor from Mali who remembers his "Mamou" wearing an apron while cooking the family meal.
"When everyone had gathered, she removed her kitchen outfit and apron and changed into a beautiful dress," the professor explained. "Changing between the cooking and service was as much a part of her presentation as the meal she prepared."
The personal stories "show that we are more alike than we are different," said author and apron archaeologist EllynAnne Geisel, who started in 1999 collecting the aprons that eventually formed "Apron Chronicles."
From the exhibit, one sees how aprons cross age, politics, gender and racial lines, she said. "While many things divide us, the apron ties us together."
While it was women who primarily wore aprons, the garments left an imprint on the men in their lives. Many of the narratives come from men, including the one from Geisel's husband, Hank, the only child of Holocaust survivors Albert and Else Frank Geisel.
Hank Geisel helped after school at his family's business, Al's Market, a neighborhood butcher and grocery store.
"If I were to choose a symbol for survival, a white butcher's apron would be one I'd consider," his story explains. "It defines my parents' work ethic and their attempt to be productive citizens of America."
EllynAnne Geisel began collecting aprons and people's memories when the younger of her two sons was getting ready to move away to college. The stay-at-home parent hoped to find something meaningful for the next chapter of her life.
"I had always wanted to be a writer and the apron this domestic icon symbolized what I had just done for the past 26 years of my life," she said during a recent interview from her home in Colorado.
She had her stories and memories about aprons while growing up in North Carolina. "I thought other people might, too."
She spent the next four years on an "apron journey," carrying a laundry basket in the back of her car and collecting stories and aprons wherever she went.
In 2004, when the collection reached more than 100, she turned it into an exhibit that has been traveling the country continuously for 12 years. It will be at the Park City Museum through Dec. 11. (See box for details.)
Courtney Titus, the curator of the Park City Museum, called the exhibit "colorful and thought-provoking," with a lot to look at and read.
"We showcase two or three traveling exhibits in our Tozer Gallery every year. We look for exhibits that bring new topics into the museum while still connecting in some way to our local community," she said. " 'Apron Chronicles' tells the stories of everyday people through a common and simple object, the apron."
The museum added local flavor to the exhibit by displaying a Masonic apron and a nurse's dress and apron from its permanent collection, she said.
"Every story in the exhibit is distinct; it's hard to chose a favorite," Titus added. "Some are funny, some are sad, some are heartwarming. They are all worth reading."
Patrons also can leave their own apron memory or rummage through a basket of aprons and try one on.
"Everyone who has come through has been enthusiastic over the photographs and stories," said Titus. "It has reminded people of their own memories of Mom or Grandma wearing aprons."
Emily and Jace Webster of Provo stopped by the museum recently. The owner of two aprons, Emily Webster said her mother has kept the apron tradition alive for the young women in her Mormon ward.
"She makes aprons and gives them to everyone when they go off to college," she said.
Ties that bind
"Apron Chronicles: A Patchwork of American Recollections" features 100 vintage aprons as well as personal stories and photographs about this iconic piece of clothing.
When • Through Dec. 11; Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Where • Park City Museum, 528 Main St., Park City; 435-649-7457 or parkcityhistory.org
Tickets • Adults, $10; seniors and military, $8; youths 7-17, $5; 6 and under free