Even as a young woman testing the waters of fashion design, philanthropist Nancy Blackburn Hamon demonstrated a taste for glamour and an eye for detail. Between 1933 and 1942, she created a series of illustrations featured in the exhibit “Fashion Design Sketches by Nancy B. Hamon” in the Mildred Hawn Gallery at Hamon Arts Library.
A special preview on September 23, a Second Century Celebration event commemorating SMU’s first 100 years, was followed by the public opening on September 24 during Centennial Homecoming Weekend.
Drawn from the Jake and Nancy Hamon Papers, housed in the Jerry Bywaters Special Collections in Hamon Arts Library, the sketches were completed while she was in her late teens and early twenties. The vibrant works on paper were created with tempera, watercolor, pen and pencil. Her designs range from red-carpet-ready gowns to stylish day dresses to playful hats. Three oversized reproductions of her work, arranged along one wall of the gallery, provide visitors a life-sized look at the timeless dresses.
It is not known if any of the designs were ever fabricated, but “based on the sketches, I certainly think she did design some with herself in mind, because quite a few of the figures look like a young Mrs. Hamon,” says Emily Grubbs, archivist with the Bywaters Special Collections, who discovered the little-known illustrations while cataloging the papers, and the exhibit’s curator. “We do not know if she was planning a career in fashion design, but she was obviously interested in fashion and the arts from a very young age and that passion continued her entire life.”
Born in San Antonio, she attended the University of Texas at Austin before enjoying a brief career as a dancer in Hollywood. She moved to Dallas after marrying Jake L. Hamon in 1949. An extraordinary hostess, she was known for the extravagant theme parties she hosted with her husband, almost one per year from the 1950s through 1972, says Grubbs. Mrs. Hamon’s events are documented in scrapbooks, and pages from the party scrapbooks are being shown on a digital screen outside the gallery.
The exhibit will continue through December 13. For more information, visit https://sites.smu.edu/cul/hamon/.