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Kathi Jones

Kathryn Russell for Hot Springs Heart Ball Sweetheart Program

Kelly Fleming

Diana Smithson

Anne Marie Coy

Paul Leopoulos for Thea Foundation

Rodney Showmar for Arkansas Federal Credit Union

Not Necessarily Noir

Karen & Britt Skarda for Friends of Ozark Mission Project

Ginny & Bob Shell

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Esse Purse Museum

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A Century of Women and Handbags

By Kim Meyer-Webb | Photography by Sarah Oden

     As Anita Davis reflects on the tenure of the Esse Purse Museum, she is struck by the magnitude of its composition. “It’s really just my cherished keepsakes, but it seems as relevant today as ever,” she notes. Her extraordinary collection of purses is organized and displayed by decades, along with memorabilia from each era. It’s the recreation of seemingly ordinary moments in history, yet it showcases the evolution of American women through the contents of their handbags. It honors the past while celebrating the present, offering contemporary and unique accessories in the museum’s shop. “The personal perspective of history in the museum is remarkable,” Anita explains. “It seems to resonate with each visitor differently – many remember mothers or grandmothers that carried similar bags. It draws them into their own family history and that’s a really special gift.”

     With this in mind, Anita’s idea of a book has come to fruition. “I’ve often thought a book would be the perfect compliment to the museum,” she says. “Visitors have requested a book, most museums have books and the timing seemed perfect for a book of our own.” With her unique flair for fashion and history, Anita comprised the “dream team of mostly women” to bring What’s Inside? A Century of Women and Handbags: 1900 – 1999 to life with more than simply museum artifacts. In addition to stunning photography and exhibit details, essays and illustrations add intrigue. “After all, ESSE means ‘to be’ and each purse – and hopefully What’s Inside? A Century of Women and Handbags: 1900 – 1999 – is a vessel of femininity that holds the essence of a woman’s individuality.”

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