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"Silk City" On Display At the Paterson Museum

Ang Santos

The city of Paterson has a rich and well-documented industrial history.   On the site that was once the Rogers Locomotive and Machine works plant, is where the Paterson Museum is today.  Giacomo Destefano is the museum director.  He says revolutions in the silk and firearms industries crossed paths not too far away.

“The silk industry in the United States started right here.  The first successful spinning of silk onto bobbins took place in the winter and spring of 1839 to 1840 in the old gun mill.  It’s where Sam Colt on the bottom two floors was manufacturing his very first revolvers,” said Destefano.  “His brother Christopher brought them first silk machine into town but couldn’t get it to work.  It was John Ryle from England who grew up since the age of five in textiles that got the stuff running.”

A new museum fashion exhibit is showcasing the city’s history with recycled materials donated from local manufacturing companies. 

“Everything in the museum was either manufactured here or used here in Paterson.  We have a complete working textile factory here.  We run it very intermittently to preserve it.  Some of the pieces are well over 100 years old but they’re real workhorses.”

Cristina Deutsch is the curator of Paterson Eco-Chic, a fashion exhibit that compliments the artifacts.

“This program is about history, fashion and ecological sustainability,” said Deutsch.  We developed the program around the major role that the city of Paterson played as a textile industry.”

Not every piece in the exhibit is wearable.  Some of the life-size models are made completely from plastic, rubber, bubble wrap, and recycled fabric from local manufacturing companies.  One of them is a soldier holding a sword made from computer chips.

“The future of fashion and textiles is to go sustainable.  We wanted to bring awareness to the past, the present, and the future,” Deutsch said.

Credit Ang Santos / WBGO
Made out of recycled materials from local factories . One of several displays created by students and artists.

The Berkley College Fashion Club of Woodland Park organized a fashion show to open the exhibit.  

“On the fashion show we created eleven different outfits that span from the 1980’s to the early 1800’s.  We show what people were wearing during those periods.  It shows the types of fibers they used to use,” said William Filerino a professor in fashion marketing and management at Berkeley College.  “Recycling and repurposing didn’t really start to happen until the 1980’s.  Looking further back you see a lot of materials that weren’t eco-friendly.”

The fashion show items are on display with the rest of the Eco-Chic exhibit, a new permanent display at the museum.