“Showcasing the evolution of the American woman”
ESSE Purse Museum & Store is the culmination of owner Anita Davis’ dream of sharing her love of purses, art and history — while honoring women and their struggles, accomplishments, hopes and dreams. The name ESSE (“to be” in Latin), which means essential nature or essence, embodies what you’ll find in the museum: that a purse is not just a utilitarian bag in which a woman carries her essentials, but an extension of her personal space — not a possession but a hallowed repository of the things that make her “her.” Flamboyant or simple, tiny or enormous, leather or vegan — the choice of handbag tells much about the woman, and the wide variation in style through the years is reflected in the exhibits. More than just a fashion history, ESSE shows the evolution of the 20th-century American woman — decade by decade — not only through the bags she carried but through their contents. More than a trip down memory lane or history lesson, ESSE Purse Museum is a don’t-miss experience. ESSE grew out of a traveling exhibit selected from Davis’ extensive collection. From 2006 to 2011, “The Purse & the Person: A Century of Women’s Purses” (curated by Curatrix Group and managed by Smith Kramer Fine Art Services) traveled the country. The collection was exhibited in Concord, Mass.: Little Rock, Ark.; Edmund, Okla.; Columbia, S.C.; Pasadena, Calif.; Rockford, Ill.; Logan, Kan.; Fullerton, Calif.; Baton Rouge, La.; Dallas; Sacramento; and Seattle. Now Davis has brought her handbags back to Little Rock for good and given them a home worthy of the part they have played in women’s lives and history. ESSE is housed in a historic building in SoMa, an up-and-coming, hip neighborhood in downtown Little Rock. Women and men leave with smiles on their faces or tears in their eyes — often both — especially after experiencing the showpiece art installation created by architect Kwendeche and art director Steven Otis. You’ll understand why when you visit.
This museum is well done with the purses and history grouped by decade from the 1900s to 1990s. Not only are purses displayed, but compacts, dance cards, and other things ladies carried in their purses at the time. The museum shop has purses, scarves, jewelry and hats. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly. Loved it!
Amazingly well curated and educational. It's a nice way to present a brief history of women (primarily in America) from the looking glass of their accoutrements. 5 stars!
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Esse Purse Museum
- Sun, Tue - Sat: 11:00 am - 4:00 pm
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