The Arts

Hanky Panky

Manufactured in 1949 by the Hermann Handkerchief Company, this pocket map won’t be much help in navigating roads, but it highlights the cities, industries, and recreational activities of the Great Lakes region. Most of the UW’s handkerchiefs were collected by former professor Josephine Pollock, who was a hanky historian as well as an influential figure in home economics in Wisconsin. Courtesy of the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection.

You may think it’s funny, when your nose is runny, but it’s snot — unless, that is, you’re visiting the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) and its novelty handkerchief holdings.

Part of the School of Human Ecology’s Center for Integrative Design, the HLATC holds around 13,000 pieces, of which nearly 1,100 are hankies. But only forty-one of those are novelty handkerchiefs, created as souvenirs, party games, historical mementos, or humorous gifts.

Most of the handkerchiefs were donated to the university twenty years ago by Josephine Pollock, longtime home economics professor, UW-Extension education specialist, and author of Handkerchiefs and History. And while they may seem like nothing more than pocket oddities, the nose-rags present insight into the culture of the twentieth century: jokes, maps, election slogans, sports cars, and more. They’ve been included in several exhibitions, including Political Textiles and Nothing to Sneeze At (an all-hanky exhibit).

In October, the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection moved into Nancy Nicholas Hall (a newly opened, expanded renovation of the Human Ecology building). But you don’t have to come to Madison to see the novelty handkerchiefs. They’re included in a digital collection, which can be found online.

Published in the Winter 2012 issue


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