Date of Degree
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Jessica C. Kimmel
A historic division between fine and mechanical arts led to a marginalization of certain art forms including textile beading and embroidery. Despite the opulence of beading and embroidery in theater costumes, there is limited documented history and scant scholarly literature about professional beading and the beaders who create the costumes. The aims of this study were to construct a history of professional theater beading in New York and to examine the oral histories of professional theater beaders. This qualitative oral history study included 12 participants who work in the professional beading industry. Open-ended interviews took place in New York City and focused on the development of the professional theater beading industry through the perspectives of each participant. Three beaders were interviewed a second time to ascertain their perspectives about relationships of their memoires and histories. Using a three-step analysis process, I identified three themes according to how the participants described professional theater beading: industry origins, specific companies in professional beading, and specific people related to professional beading. Participants described five origins for professional beading in theater: the fashion beading industry, actors and high fashion, the need to replicate historical designs, the glamor of beading, and uniform companies. Participants also described changes in theater beading companies, including company mergers and loss of samples and history. Finally, participants provided detailed accounts about specific people whom they considered important to professional theater beading. The second set of interviews yielded two additional themes: knowledge of history and value of history to the beaders, the industry, and larger audiences. This research built an oral history of professional theater beading and presented views from the artists’ perspectives, meeting the oral history and qualitative goals to contribute scholarly knowledge from the point of view of the participants. This study added scholarly research to a marginalized area of study using oral history methodologies. Participant narratives show the importance of viewing professional beading as an art form. This research can be used in teaching costume and embroidery courses as well as courses in theater history and fashion design.
Alexander, Mary Lalon, "Oral History of Professional Theater Beaders in New York City" (2014). Theses & Dissertations. 41.