(updated September 25, 2001)

The Northampton Silk Project is a community effort to uncover, understand, and convey the story of silk in this region from its beginnings in 1832 to its demise a century later. It is a story of broad scope. Over the course of its 100 years, the industry moved from cottage to factory, and from small factory to large. By 1876 the Nonotuck Silk Company was one of the leading silk thread manufacturers in the world. For many years Northampton's largest employer, the silk industry played a major role in the social, economic, and technological development of this region. The story of Northampton silk illuminates significant facets of American history in an era of profound and rapid and change.

The Northampton Silk Project was begun about five years ago by a few members of what is now the project's Steering Committee. We had no idea, at that time, how vast, rich, and complicated the story would turn out to be. The Nonotuck Silk Company's trade symbol, the "Corticelli kitten" playing with a tangled skein of thread, is a metaphor for the project itself!

As of today, the project has seventeen interrelated components, not including the several publications that are in various stages of development (only a few of which are mentioned here). The table that follows describes the present status of each of them. A lot of work remains to be done -- but we have come a long way. The project will culminate in 2002-03 in a year-long celebration.



Status 9/25/01

To  Do

(by 9/02)


By whom


Exhibitions of local silk industry

artifacts, wall texts, oral histories, photographs, machinery

site selected: Historic Northampton; initial selection of materials

prepare materials; design and mount the exhibits

Kerry Buckley, and curators; for fall exhibit, Nancy Rexford (tentative); for spring exhbit, Alena Shumway, with the assistance of other project participants

At Historic Northampton: fall semester, silks from the collection; 2003 (calendar year), Northampton's silk industry, 1832 - 1932.

Exhibition of silk in New England, 1730-1930

silk made, worn, or collected in New England

site: Smith College Museum of Art

curator: Madelyn Shaw

mount exhibit

Madelyn Shaw, Suzannah Fabing

opening will coincide with the Smith symposium in late March, 2003

Science Exhibit (live)

the life cycle of the silkworm; the uses of the mulberry tree

site: JFK Middle School

design exhibit

Dan Duffy, Aleksander Xhoxhi

spring 2003

(Alan Bloomgarden coordinates)

Oral Histories

interviews with area residents who worked in the silk mills

lists developed; some interviews conducted

continue the interviews; transcription

Kiki Smith, Camilla Humphrey

Curricular materials for  schools

The mulberry craze and efforts to raise silkworms; the abolitionist utopian NAEI;  industrialization

teacher team formed; several workshops conducted; materials designed

test the lesson plans; disseminate to teachers in the area

Mike Sullivan, Anne Bussler, Fred Morrison, Elaine Kavachos

(Alan Bloomgarden coordinates)

Brown Bag Lunch Lectures

monthly talks, on a wide range of silk-related topics; open to the public

5 successful semesters

continue through 2001-02

Marilyn Smith and the NSP steering committee

Karen Herbaugh,  Oct. 1

TBA Nov. 5

Robin Russo, December 3

Karen Kohler,  Feb. 4

Marc Steinberg,  March 4

preview of the silk project,
April 1

Research: social and economic

investigating the role of silk in the development of the region, in particular the labor history of the  silk industry

in progress

continue, and put in form suitable for dissemination

Paul Gaffney, Kim MacDonald, Jane Hovde

Research: science and technology

what was made here,  and with what machinery, over the course of the century

silk reeler built; Jacquard loom in progress; many libraries and archives consulted; list of patents developed

finish the loom; build a twisting machine; outline the later history  of the machinery; write research report

Marjorie Senechal, Alena Shumway, Greg Young, STRIDE students

Silk History Quilt

a story quilt, made of silk, depicting important developments in the history of the local silk industry

panels completed 

finish the quilt

Sally Dillon

Bicycle/walking Tour Guide

a guide to the local silk sites: maps, timelines, and brief history

sites identified

draw the maps, write the text, etc

Paul Gaffney, Kiki Smith, Elli Lazarus,

Marilyn Smith

sell accompanying audio cassette?

state funding for markers for sites?

Silk Fashion Show;

Gallery Walk

an exhibition of contemporary silk fashions created by local artists

Skera Gallery has offered to arrange this; is working

with the CofC

plan and mount the show

Skera Gallery,

Chamber of Commerce

Gallery walk will take place

during the TSA meeting

Photography Exhibition

"Silk Threads: a portrait of the Nonotuck Silk Company at 1900"

site: Pivot Media Gallery;

restoration and reprinting: Stan Sherer. Photographs selected.

restore and reprint; mount the exhibit; prepare wall texts

Stan Sherer, Jim Gipe, Marjorie Senechal

September - October, 2002

Symposium at Smith College


Part I: Afternoon: From Moth to Cloth. (Hands on demonstrations of reeling, dyeing, weaving silk)

Evening: lecture by Madelyn Shaw (about her exhibit)

Reception at the Museum

Part II: Case studies: Why does silk production succeed or fail?  Tentative  speaker list:

The NAEI -- Chris Clark,

Asia --

Italy -- Luca Mola

Turkey -- 

respondents: Smith faculty

Part III: What is silk worth today?  (globalization/textile economics; silk trade world-wide; silk as a cottage industry today)

Speaker: Morton Ashley

program planned, speaker list drawn up;

KS will arrange Parts I and III; MS will arrange part II

finalize speaker list by Sept 2001; Choose the respondents

Invite speakers (formal invitations sent by Jan 2002)

locate rooms,

apply for funding;

Provisional program

by spring '02

Kiki Smith and the Steering Committee


Place announcements in

By late spring 2002 for fall newsletters:

Smith Museum, W. New England Archaeology, TSA, CSA, SHOT, local papers,

Yankee Magazine

March 28-30, 2003

TSA meeting

The Textile Society of America's biannual meeting will be held in Northampton

conference organizing committee has met several times; call for papers, program drawn up

continue to plan exhibitions at nearby museums; continue to make local arrangements

Marjorie Senechal, Ute Bargmann, Kiki Smith, Walter Denny

(area members of the organizing committee)

September 26-28, 2002

Fiber Arts Exhibition

to coincide with TSA meeting

planning underway

final arrangements

Joan Hastings

September 26-28, 2002

Alumnae College

day of activities for returning Smith alumnae, May 2003

May, 2003

Northampton silk project web site

information about the project; history of silk in this region; etc

see URL below

continue to develop the site

Marjorie Senechal


The Steering Committee

Alan Bloomgarden (Advancement Office, SC)
Kerry Buckley (Director, Historic Northampton)
Suzannah Fabing (Director, SC Museum of Art)
Judith Fine (owner, The Gazebo)
Paul Gaffney (Professor of Humanities, Landmark College, and Director, Florence History Project)
Al Rudnitsky (Professor of Education, SC)
Marjorie Senechal (Professor of Mathematics, SC)
Kiki Smith (Professor of Theater, SC)
Marilyn Smith (Project Coordinator)
Greg Young (Director, SC Science Center Machine Shop)

(SC = Smith College)

For updates or more information, contact Marilyn Smith, the Northampton Silk Project Coordinator,

This page was last modified on Monday, August 26, 2002.