I've been working with the museum's Curator of Collections, Carmela Quinto, this week on a new exhibit called Icon, American Style. The exhibit will open on May 4 and will focus on Millicent Rogers' role as a fashion icon, muse, and designer. The exhibit will feature a lot of archival material from our collection, which includes many photos of Millicent including the one pictured above, as well as examples of her own jewelry designs. Going through archives can in many ways be an emotional experience because you are privy to mementos from someone's life that were kept private. As I've learned more about her life, it changes the way you look at some of this material.
Our archives include letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, sketches, her childhood diary, and various drafts of her will. I'll be posting a selection of archival finds on the museum's Instagram and Facebook pages (be sure to follow us and invite your friends!) as we lead up to the exhibit opening, but if you don't do social media, here's a little caption I drafted for this photo of the young Millicent Rogers surrounded by opulence and dangling her leg over what other than a tiger skin rug.
Born in 1902 as an heiress to the Standard Oil fortune, Millicent Rogers was set to live a life of luxury and privilege. However, shortly after this photo was taken, she became gravely ill with rheumatic fever. She recovered, but suffered from lifelong health complications with her heart and lungs as well as physical disabilities. Knowing that she would inevitably die young, Millicent Rogers had an insatiable lust for life and defied the advice of her doctors, family, and friends when it came to her health. She was told to not have children. She had three. She was advised against physical exertion to protect her heart and lungs from further damage. She traveled the world and was an avid skier. She also purchased a dusty old adobe home in the high desert town of Taos, New Mexico where the high elevation can make it hard to breathe. A rebellious spirit until her death on New Year’s Day in 1953, she eventually succumbed to the effects of her childhood illness and was laid to rest in her beloved Taos wrapped in a Navajo blanket with her face turned towards Taos Mountain. In a letter to her youngest son Paul who would open a museum in her honor three years after her death, she wrote “Life has been marvelous, all the experiences good and bad I have enjoyed, even pain and illness because out of it so many things were discovered . . . Life is absolutely beautiful if one will disassociate oneself from noise and talk and live it according to one’s inner light.”