Uncovering the costumes of Denishawn & Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers

The last comprehensive inventory of The Jacob’s Pillow Archives’ extensive costume collection was in 1981. This year we’re working with the costumes again in preparation for an upcoming exhibit at Williams College Museum of Art called Dance We Must:​ Treasures from Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940. It will feature costumes, photographs, paintings, and other ephemera from the Pillow Archives relating to The Denishawn Company & Ted Shawn and His Men Dancers. Archives Fellow and co-curator Caroline Hamilton has joined the Pillow team for this project, follow her discoveries below!

These vintage Polaroid images were made by Norton Owen, current Director of Preservation, while the sketches were created by Charles Schoonmaker, the Pillow’s former Resident Costume Designer, in 1981.


Many of the costumes in our Archives are still housed in the original Denishawn and Ted Shawn’s Men Dancers trunks. Some of the original trunk markings remain, including remnants of a Ziegfeld Follies label from the 1927-28 tour.

Norton Owen and Caroline Hamilton moved Trunk 8 much like the Men Dancers did themselves every day while touring the country in the 1930s. During this project Caroline went through 27 trunks to do a complete inventory of all the costumes and re-house them all in new archival boxes.

Photo White Studio

Ted Shawn’s costume for Cuadro Flamenco is one of the few items from our Archives costume collection that has been exhibited previously.  Purchased by Shawn from a bullfighter in Spain who had been gored while wearing it, this traditional traje de luces (suit of lights) and capote de brega (bullfighter’s cape) have extensive traditional gold embroidery, which must have shone beautifully when Shawn performed in them.


Ruth St. Denis’ costume for Kuan Yin (goddess of mercy), which she created in 1919. Caroline is beginning this 2018 costume project with four trunks of Ruth St. Denis costumes. Notice the buttons and beads decorating the headdress–the necklaces and belts strung together to form the body jewelry. In performance St. Denis transformed these everyday bits and baubles into sumptuous jewels.  

Stay tuned for more updates from Carolines discoveries

Dance We Must: Treasures from Jacob’s Pillow, 1906-1940

Enter the world of Ted Shawn and Ruth St. Denis at Williams College Museum of Art with over 350 objects from the Jacob’s Pillow Archives.

Learn More