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Flapper mania, Haitian art bringing the heat

Published January 29. 2013 05:02PM

The Allentown Art Museum of the Lehigh Valley is offering an antidote to the winter doldrums with two new exhibitions that allow visitors to experience the colorful styles of the 1920s along with exotic, tropical scenes from the heart of the Caribbean.

Fabulous Flappers: Fashion from the Ellie Laubner Collection and Haitian Art from the Rodale Family Collection will run from Feb. 3 through April 14, with a festive opening party planned for Saturday, Feb. 9 from 6-8 p.m., complete with Roaring 20s themed food, music and dress-up.

In 2009 local resident Ellie Laubner donated more than 2,000 items, spanning over 200 years, from her private collection to the Allentown Art Museum. Laubner, who has a BS degree in elementary education from East Stroudsburg University, began collecting vintage fashions when her mother-in-law presented her with evening gowns, beaded bags and eyeglasses.

This seminal event inspired a 30-year quest to acquire clothing and accessories that reflect the styles, events, technology, decorative arts, and the sociological changes taking place in our society. From 1986 to 1992 Laubner taught "History of Costume" and "Color, Line, and Design" at Northampton Community College. She has written two books: Fashions of the Roaring Twenties and Collectible Fashions of the Turbulent 1930s.

Housed in the museum's Scheller Gallery, the clothing, accessories, and jewelry of the period show off in dramatic fashion the sociological changes taking place during this transitional decade and the liberating role of the Flappers young women who delighted in defying the social norms of the era by bobbing their hair and wearing short skirts as American society stepped into the modern age.

Approximately 150 items worn by Flappers and their beaus to beaches, football games, tea dances, weddings, night clubs, and speakeasies will be on display.

The Haitian art exhibit is from the Rodale Family Collection and includes 30 paintings by select artists of Haiti. The exhibit is in the museum's Rodale Gallery, an appropriate location since most of the collection was acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Rodale in 1986.

The collection materialized because Robert Rodale (1930-1990), a Lehigh Valley resident and chairman and CEO of Rodale Inc., was interested in improving conditions in underdeveloped countries, including Haiti. He befriended Jacques Lauriac, who was the director of two French relief organizations in Haiti. Rodale purchased most of the artwork from two galleries in Haiti, and Lauriac delivered them to the United States, where they were displayed at both the Rodales' home and the Rodale office building.

The Haitian paintings and sculpture in the Rodale Family Collection are surprisingly expressive and dynamic, which seems almost contradictory given the generations of poverty, repression, disease, and despair that have made Haiti one of the poorest countries in the world.

This vibrant, colorful, and exuberant exhibition includes work by more than 20 different Haitian artists the generation of painters influenced by the founders of the Haitian National Art School in the 1940s, such as Gabriel Alix (1930-1983), Prospere Pierre-Louis (1947-1996), Jacques-Richard Chéry (b. 1938), André Normil (b. 1934), Audes Saül (b. 1949), and 15 other artists.

Subjects include animals, lush landscapes both real and imagined, wedding ceremonies, colorful city scenes, and Vodou (Voodoo) imagery, which is prevalent in Haiti.

For more information on the exhibits, including related programs and events, and the opening reception, visit

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