A passion for fashion: Using the Roddis collection to recreate American style
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — The Roddis Lumber & Veneer Company, once one of the largest employers in Marshfield, is noted for its resilience during the Great Depression. Its quality products made it a go-to for those with the means to purchase materials during the 1930s.
The company’s notoriety kept its workers employed and provided a comfortable living for the Roddis family through multiple generations.
After the sale of the Roddis plant and the death of her parents, Augusta Roddis lived out her remaining years in the family home at 1108 E. Fourth St. There she preserved 150 years of fashion history that would provide a treasure trove of historic information and exposition that two individuals with a passion for fashion would use to recreate American style history.
The Roddis House treasures
“(My cousins and I) all went back to this old homestead that never changed,” said Jane Bradbury, co-author of the book “American Style and Spirit” and niece of Roddis. “It was like our roots. That house was our roots, and my aunt (Augusta) would tell us all stories about the family, so it was a reminder to us all where we all came from.
“The house really was a time warp. It hardly changed since it was built in 1914. Very little had changed.”
The Roddis house held women’s and men’s clothing, hats, shoes, scarves, gloves, mourning veils, and other fashion accessories, as well as some 10,000 letters of correspondence and approximately 2,000 photographs.
“What is important about the clothes, as well as the objects and the letters that were found in the Roddis house on East Fourth Street, is that together they turned out to be the most well-documented and really important family collection that has come to light in America,” said Bradbury, “I am talking about a family collection spanning generations, in this case almost 150 years, but it had so much documentation that goes with it, and that’s what makes it so unique. That is why the Victorian Albert Museum in London, which as you know is one of probably the top five museums in the world, agreed to publish this book about a Marshfield family.
“This book has been reviewed, now, internationally, so academics and reviewers in Australia, Italy, England, as well as all across America have picked this up because it really is very unusual.”
Making a connection
“Back in 1972, I think it was Augusta contacting the state historical society because she needed two of the gowns repaired,” said Shirley Mook of the Marshfield Historic Preservation Association.
The Wisconsin Historical Society introduced Roddis to Edward Maeder, who took the dresses and repaired them in Europe.
Roddis, who wrote long, compelling letters to her nieces and nephews, shared this event with her niece Bradbury.
“Back in July 2010, she (Bradbury) looked on the Internet and found Edward’s name,” said Mook. “She found him in Massachusetts and contacted him. She arranged for him to come over the Fourth of July in 2011 to evaluate the gowns, but Augusta died in January.
“So she called him, and he readjusted his schedule, and he came out the day of the funeral. The next morning, they started in.”
After years of research, Bradbury and Maeder pieced together the stories behind more than 200 garments connected to three generations of the Roddis family and American culture.
The duo’s book, “American Style and Spirit,” was published to accompany an exhibition of the Roddis collection, which concluded April 2 at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Michigan.
On April 22 Bradbury and Maeder will return to Marshfield, where they will present a two-part lecture on the family’s collection.
Uncovering hidden tales
“It seems like a no-brainer that Edward, my co-author, and I need to come to Marshfield itself and tell this story,” said Bradbury. “So the Marshfield Historic Preservation Association asked us to come, and I am delighted to do that for many reasons.
“First of all, Shirley Mook has been a great friend. She helped us all along. When we got stuck on something or needed something looked up in some old newspapers, she would go dashing off to the library. … The other reason is that I feel that I am the fourth generation, and I need to continue tradition.
“I know from newspapers and things that we found in the house that my great-grandfather gave talks in Marshfield, my grandfather gave talks, my aunt Augusta Roddis gave talks, so it is sort of a tradition. … I need to do it, and I want to do it because Marshfield was so important to them, and, frankly, it’s important to me.”
“Uncovering Hidden Tales from the Attic,” a luncheon and two-part lecture sponsored by the Marshfield Historic Preservation Association, will take place April 22 at Hotel Marshfield. Tickets are available at the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry or online at roddis.eventbrite.com.
Bradbury said, “I’m going to talk about my own person experiences with the attic, with the clothes, and finding things and finding letters.
“Edward, my co-author, also had known my aunt and did some restoration work on some of the earliest dresses, and he is going to talk about his association, and he is going to talk about how we took that big bunch of clothes and documented them, restored them, and mounted them to be photographed, that whole process.
“Then both of us are going to talk about what clues we found to find out different information.”