Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

In association with the Smithsonian Institution


PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History

From the Personal Collection of Ilene Hochberg Wood

Showing October 11, 2019 - April 30, 2020,

Kemerer Museum
of Decorative Arts
427 N. New Street
Bethlehem, PA

Moravian Museum
of Bethlehem
66 W. Church Street
Bethlehem, PA

America On Wheels
5 N. Front Street
Allentown, PA

Spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, ranging in style from folk art, to contemporary designer to embroidered. Wood’s collection, which numbers into the thousands, is broken up into sub collections of 150 to ~ 300 purses grouped by material, aesthetic elements, and use.

Explore a timeline of handbags, representing the trends of each decade, displayed alongside corresponding fashions and paired with life-sized graphics from fashion advertisements that visitors can pose alongside.

Additional displays at The Kemerer Museum will consider themes of design, innovation, materials, the personal stories of previous handbag owners and eccentric designers, and the local artist section will spotlight bags hand decorated by local artists invited to participate.

The Moravian Museum displays will focus on a selection of needlepoint handbags displayed alongside examples of needlepoint from our collection.

About Ilene Hochberg Wood

"Women love handbags. They are totems, and objects of desire, that convey who we are and what we hold dear, both literally and figuratively. Look at any woman and the bag she carries, and you learn a lot about her, and the image she wants to convey to the world. Empty the bag out and examine its contents, to learn who she really is inside, and what she finds essential to her everyday existence


I am interested in fashion, and the artistry and history of purses. I am drawn to bags that convey a story about their past, and the women who originally owned them. I appreciate originality, humor, bold statements, and details that give insight into the women who chose to carry them.


My collection is comprised of many categories. “It Bags”, evening bags, needlepoint bags, wooden bags, box bags, tramp art bags, and bags that signify their time and era, from the Victorian period through the jazz age, war years, and the “50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today."

~ Ilene Hochberg Wood

America On Wheels Pop-Up

Combo Ticket Includes:
"Cars & Purses - a Timeless Pairing"
On View from Now - April 30, 2020

America On Wheels - An Over-the-Road Transportation Museum
5 North Front Street, Allentown, PA 18102

Automotive innovation and fashion design have long drawn influence from each other. This relationship is particularly evident in purse design. Whether it is a carpet bag carefully packed to accompany a traveler on a long coach ride, a delicate bejeweled clutch held by a limousine passenger, or a practical, everyday purse containing a wallet and to-do list slung across the passenger seat of a family car, it is easy to imagine where bags reside within the car interior and our daily transit.

In this display, you can see a variety of handbags inspired by the automotive industry. Some examples feature cars as subject matter, while others are "travel bags" design to accommodate the needs of the mobile fashionista. In addition, many bags in this display use materials typically found in cars such as metals, lucite, wood, and vinyl. The designs even mimic shapes found in auto details, such as headlights, tires, tailpipes, and vents.

Come discover a beautiful setting of cars and purses and take a journey through the ages of their design and fashion.

Combo Tickets to see the Pop-Up and Full Exhibit: $20

NYC Pop-Up Event

NYC Pop-Up Event
September 4, 2019

Co-Hosted by the Accessories Council, LIM College, and Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites was honored to partner with the Accessories Council and LIM College to bring a preview of the PURSEonality exhibition to New York City. Over 50 purses from Ilene Hochberg Wood's collection were displayed for industry professionals, friends and fashion students at this unique pop-up event. Special thanks to Ilene Hochberg Wood for providing a wonderful selection of purses, to Accessories Council and LIM College for hosting, and to Peter Gourniak for documenting the evening. Don't miss your chance to see over 300 handbags when PURSEonality: A Stylish Handbag History opens at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites on October 11th.

Photos by Peter Gourniak. Click the thumbnail to view a larger size!

Thank You To Our Sponsors, Partners, and Supporters


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