Anderson aprons going on road

Mindy Carls
On Saturday morning, June 5, Loran Anderson, left, of Lynn Center speaks about his late wife Karen’s collection of more than 400 aprons. Waiting to speak is Karen’s sister, Marlowe McSparin.

Aprons are more than something Mom or Grandma wore to protect her clothing while she cooked.

During her lifetime, Karen Anderson of Lynn Center collected hundreds of them. She drove as far as Omaha, Neb., to display them for audiences.

Her family selected 111 of them to show visitors at the Andover 175th Anniversary Festival.

Anderson’s husband, Loran Anderson; her sister, Marlowe McSparin; and her daughter, Melinda Anderson, were in the American Legion Hall to answer questions about the aprons.

Aprons can be art, the family explained.

From January to July 2009, the Anderson aprons were featured in an exhibit called “Artistic and Functional: Aprons From the Karen Anderson Collection.”

The exhibit was mounted at the Castellani Art Museum on the Niagara University campus in Niagara Falls, New York.

How do aprons get from Lynn Center to Niagara Falls? The Castellani’s permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dali, Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson and Andy Warhol.

A curator at the museum was a childhood friend of Anderson and McSparin, and she asked McSparin to bring the aprons.

“Artistic and Functional: Aprons from the Karen Anderson Collection” featured 47 aprons, which the museum described as “beautiful pieces of domestic art (that) demonstrate the ingenuity of a century of American women who fashioned aprons from recycled feedsacks, dresses, curtains, handkerchiefs and blue jeans.”

The museum said visitors were “captivated by the array of styles and awed by the sewing skills of appliqué, embroidery, smocking and tatting.”

A national magazine, “Museum,” highlighted the exhibit in its July/August 2009 issue. “Museum” is the official publication of the American Association of Museums, and the Anderson aprons earned the Castellani its very first mention in the magazine.

Later this summer, the aprons will go traveling again. They will be displayed in August and September at the Marsh House, in LaFayette, Ga. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Next year, the aprons will spend two weeks, including Mother’s Day, at Bishop Hill.

But on Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6, the Anderson aprons were in Andover.

Anderson collected more than 400 aprons over a 10-year span, McSparin said.

“It kept growing like throwing seeds in the ground,” Loran Anderson said of his wife’s collection.

She purchased them at auctions and estate sales, and at antique stores.

At one auction, the husband and wife bid against each other until the auctioneer noticed, Loran Anderson said.

Karen Anderson spent $350 for a piece of furniture just to get the apron inside it, according to her sister.

Many of the aprons were wrinkled, torn and soiled, McSparin said. Anderson occasionally left the stains as they were, saying they gave the aprons character.

When she was invited to speak, she carried the aprons in trunks, her sister said.

Loran Anderson said his wife spoke at mother-daughter banquets, Home Extension Unit meetings and nursing homes.

Once a storm knocked out the power in an Aledo church where she was giving a presentation, and Anderson carried on by candlelight, he said.

Part of his wife’s preparation for a talk was ironing each apron and thinking about what to say, Loran Anderson said. She selected one apron for each minute she expected to speak. Thirty minutes, 30 aprons.

McSparin washed and ironed all of the aprons in the Andover exhibit.

Women carried many things in apron pockets, Melinda Anderson said. She pulled a skate key out of the apron she wore during the Saturday morning presentation.

Farm wives gathered eggs in their aprons, Loran Anderson said. They waved their aprons to signal men in the fields, and they used their aprons to wipe snotty noses.

When they saw company coming, they used the corners of their aprons to dust their furniture, McSparin said.

Melinda Anderson said aprons go all the back to Adam and Eve.

“They called them fig leaves,” Loran Anderson said.

Carpenters and blacksmiths wore aprons to protect their clothing, Melinda Anderson said.

Karen Anderson’s aprons don’t go back as far as Adam and Eve, but she did have one that went back to 1890. That apron was longer than most because dresses were longer 120 years ago.

One of the expected visitors was a representative of a Rockford museum, who would be making the final arrangements for bringing the aprons there, McSparin said.

Many more people will be learning about the uses, and the history, and the art, of aprons.

On Saturday morning, June 5, Melinda Anderson describes the history of aprons for an audience in the American Legion Hall in Andover. Her mother Karen’s apron collection was on display during the 175th Anniversary Festival.