A Rome native who’s creativity and work made its way to the White House and the Smithsonian, is celebrated in an exhibit at Chieftains Museum. And soon, Rome residents get to see that exhibit for free.
The exhibit, “Style With Substance: The Designs of Frankie Welch,” focuses on the work of Frankie Welch, a Rome-born fashion designer. Welch is perhaps best known for her designing scarves for presidential inaugurations. But she also designed dresses and fabrics. One of her dresses, which was worn by First Lady Betty Ford, is on display in the Smithsonian’s First Ladies’ Hall in the National Museum of American History. She also designed dresses on display at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.
“She was from Rome and she grew up here,” said Heather Shores, Executive Director of Chieftains Museum/Major Ridge Home. She went to Rome High School and when she started designing, she was interested in history and in the Cherokee.”
The temporary exhibition, made possible through the support of Mohawk Industries, the Welch family and the Rome Area History Museum, features a selection of Welch’s work that represents her career and influences with particular emphasis on her connection and work related to Georgia, the Rome community and Native American history.
Welch moved to Alexandria, Virginia in 1952 with her husband, William, whose work in a variety of government agencies granted her access to the political scene in Washington, D.C. She became a private fashion consultant and personal shopper for Washington’s high society, opening her own clothing store in 1963.
Welch is best known for creating over 4,000 designs for scarves, dresses, and accessories for companies, political campaigns, and government initiatives, including her famous “Cherokee Alphabet Scarf.”
“What’s significant for us is that this famous scarf, called the Cherokee Alphabet Scarf, features the Cherokee syllabary,” Shores said. “It was accepted by the Cherokee nation. People don’t realize how important that is. And Welch donated sales from that scarf to scholarships for Cherokee students.”
She designed items for several First Ladies including Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. Her work has been sold and featured in venues all over the world and resides in several museum collections today, including the Smithsonian.
“A lot of people remember her work,” Shores said. “But there’s also a new generation of people who are just now discovering it and trying to find pieces they can own.”
The exhibit has been on display at Chieftains Museum since November and will be on display through Feb. 29, but on Sunday, Feb. 9 the museum will host a special free event for visitors.
The “Tea With Frankie” event will provide visitors with a chance to experience the exhibit as they enjoy tea and cookies in the museum from 2-4 p.m.
The special free event is part of Super Museum Sunday, an annual event sponsored by the Georgia Historical Society, that allows Georgians and visitors alike to experience the state’s rich history and cultural life as historic sites, house museums, art museums, and other points of interest open their doors to the public.
In addition to the “Tea With Frankie” event at Chieftains, the Rome Area History Museum will open to the public for Super Museum Sunday.
The “Tea With Frankie” event is free and open to the public from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 at the museum located at 501 Riverside Parkway in Rome.
For more information on these upcoming events, contact the museum at 706-291-9494 or visit the museum’s website at www.chieftainsmuseum.org.