Tags Posts tagged with "suffrage exhibit"

suffrage exhibit

Nan Guzzetta. Photo by John Griffin

By Tara Mae

The Port Jefferson Village Center’s second floor gallery unveiled its latest exhibit today, March 3. Titled Celebrating Women’s Suffrage and the Timeless Collection of Nan Guzzetta, it recognizes the determined advocacy of historical local suffragists and celebrates the life and legacy of Port Jefferson’s Antique Costume and Prop Rental proprietor Nancy Altman “Nan” Guzzetta, who passed away in 2021. The show runs through March 31. 

Fifteen costumed mannequins supplied by the estate of Nan Guzzetta and a comprehensive display on the suffrage movement by Town of Brookhaven Historian Barbara Russell are the focal points of the exhibit, which consists of textiles, photos, posters, and documents. It was conceptualized by Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant. 

‘The sky is now her limit’ by Elmer Andrews Bushnell. Image courtesy of loc.gov

“This serves a twofold purpose: celebrating Women’s History Month in March and honoring and memorializing the life work of Nan, a longtime resident,” said Mayor Garant. “Nan’s work has in particular helped this village for many decades, as she put her trademark costume design on many of our festivals including our traditional Dickens event. This exhibit gives us the ability to open up her displays to the general public with a special emphasis on the women’s suffragette movement.”

Established in 1977, Guzzetta’s shop on Main Street in Port Jefferson Village provided costumes and props for parties, weddings, historical re-enactments, museum exhibits, and other private and public events. The women’s suffrage display was her last project.

“Mom got the mannequins ready for another suffrage exhibit that then didn’t happen due to COVID. They were dressed in the parlor and throughout the house when she died; we preserved all those mannequins. They have been dressed that way for a long time, waiting to go on display,” said Nan’s son, Dave Guzzetta. 

Port Jefferson historian Chris Ryon reached out to Guzzetta’s family to request the use of the styled mannequins for the exhibit. Expertly draped, Guzzetta’s historical replicas add a dynamic element to the display, according to according to Sue Orifici, who is the Graphic, Archival, and Special Projects Coordinator for the Port Jefferson Village. “The show is in part a homage to her contributions to the community,” she said. 

Through her passion for her craft and history, Guzzetta sought to make sure the past, including the stories of suffragists, was not only remembered but alive. “She loved history and bringing it to life,” her daughter-in-law Lorraine said. 

A co-founder of the Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival, Nan collaborated with the Port Jefferson Village Center and local educational nonprofits such as the Port Jefferson Historical Society and the Three Village Historical Society, offering her expertise, insight, costumes, and accessories.

“Nan was a tremendous part of our annual Spirits Cemetery Tour, outfitting and designing each costume worn by actors for nearly 20 years,” said Director Mari Irizarry of Three Village Historical Society. “Nan will forever be remembered as a significant contributor toward the fostering of interest in local history and a fuller appreciation of the rich historical and cultural heritage of our community.” 

It was such a shared professional and personal investment in historical education and preservation that connected Guzzetta with Barbara Russell. Like many people involved in the suffrage exhibit, Russell worked with Guzzetta and personally experienced how the intersection of her interests formed her business and her support of the community. 

Annie Tinker

“I met Nan when she first started her business. She called Fran Child from the Port Jefferson Historical Society and suggested a fashion show using her costumes and models from the Society. I think it was circa 1978…I ended up modeling 19th ‘underclothes.’ Trust me, I was well covered up in cotton fabric. It was a really fun event and kicked off Nan’s new business,” said Russell.

Now, once again, Guzzetta and Russell’s efforts complement each other. The mannequins are the three-dimensional component to the pictures and documents that comprise the rest of the exhibit, specifically Russell’s traveling suffrage display, which explores the suffrage movement on a local, state, and national level.  

“One display is six panels on the centennial of women’s right to vote in 2017, organized by the New York State Library, New York State Archives and New York State Museum,” Russell said. “The other standing display is from the National Archives. The town has loaned both displays to the Port Jefferson Harbor Education and Arts Conservancy.” 

Individual local suffragists, such as Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and Annie Rensselaer Tinker, are highlighted in the exhibit. Belmont, a wealthy socialite who parlayed her social status and money into fighting for women’s suffrage, founded the Political Equality League and co-founded of the National Woman’s Party. She opened up her lavish Oakdale estate Idle Hour for fundraisers, networking, and strategizing. 

Tinker, a member of the Woman’s Political Union, who summered in Poquott, participated in meetings, rallies, marches, and theatrical benefits for women’s suffrage. She also established and trained a women’s cavalry.

These individual profiles and details enhance the human interest element that Guzzetta strove to embrace with her costuming, combining art and entertainment with learning. “She really loved the historical, the theatrical. She really wanted to be sure that everyone had fun. It was not enough to be appropriately dressed. She wanted people to have fun … people had to have fun,” her widower Charles said.

Guzzetta’s joy in sharing stories and making history more tangible were hallmarks of her business, one that Dave and Lorraine hope to continue. “There is a plan and we are in the middle of organizing… We are hoping there is a call for her work, that it is able to sustain itself,” Dave said. 

Celebrating Women’s Suffrage and the Timeless Collection of Nan Guzzetta will be on view on the second floor of the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101-A East Broadway, Port Jefferson through March 31. The Center is open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Join them for a reception on Sunday, March 6 from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, please visit www.portjeff.com/gallery/ or call 631-802-2160.