Phoenix Art Museum's Dennita Sewell on the Couture Collection of Ann Bonfoey Taylor

Dennita Sewell can't believe she didn't keep the note she scribbled on a pad by her phone the day she got a phone call from Vernon Taylor.

It was late 2007, or early 2008, when Taylor called Sewell, the Curator of Fashion Design at the Phoenix Art Museum, to say that his mother, Ann Bonfoey Taylor, had died and left behind closets full of expensive clothes. 

Sewell says Vernon was quick to admit he didn't know much about fashion, but that his mother was good friends with Cristobal Balenciaga. 

Sewell booked a flight to Denver. 

"When Vernon took me through his mother's house, I could see the collection coming together," says Sewell. "It was a fantastic mix of things -- photographs of Ann on the walls in outfits and gowns ... I opened the first drawer of her dresser and it was a Charles James. I was speechless." 

Sewell admits she didn't know much about Ann Bonfoey Taylor before visiting her house. There was a short obituary she found on the internet that she printed and read countless times before taking her first -- and subsequent handful of trips to Taylor's home to retrieve her collection. 

Vernon told Sewell he had reached out to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but it didn't have enough space. The family of New York socialite and fashionista Nan Kempner, reached out to Vernon. They had loaned the Met an extensive collection of Nan's for an exhibition in 2006, and heard about Sewell's efforts at Phoenix Art Museum. 

Rather than contact his hometown Denver Art Museum, he went straight to Sewell. 

"We're incredibly fortunate, yes," says Sewell. "But her collection also belongs out here. She was a woman of the American West, so her pieces fit in well here. Plus, we have the resources to really show the collection and let it be seen." 

Vernon gave his mother's entire collection, which includes day wear and evening wear by Balenciaga, Charles James, Madame Gres, and Givenchy (to name a few), to Phoenix Art Museum in 2007. It was recognized as one of Arts and Antiques's top 100 gifts in 2008. 

Sewell will share the collection with Art Museum visitors tonight at 7 p.m., along with a special tour of the exhibition.

Hamish Bowles, editor-at-large for European Vogue and curator of the international exhibition of Jacqueline Kennedy's fashion collection, will be at the museum on May 25 to talk about the designs of Cristobal Balenciaga, including pieces in Taylor's collection.

Bowles will begin at 7 p.m. and Sewell says the museum will also host a big band and refreshments.

Phoenix Art Museum is at 1625 North Central Avenue. For more information see the Phoenix Art Museum website.

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Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton

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