Hoffberger's visionary wardrobe Favorites: Like snapshots in an album, a museum president treasures her closet full of memories.


As you would expect, Rebecca Hoffberger's approach to clothing is as imaginative as her eye for art. Why settle for a perfectly presentable but dull suit when you can drape yourself in silks, velvets and caftans? And like the wonderful visionary art that Hoffberger, the founder and president of the American Visionary Art Museum, has collected, she saves favorite garments, whether they fit or not, for their beauty and the memories they carry.

This is a chock-full week for Hoffberger. She will celebrate the opening of the museum's new show, "Love: Error and Eros," this Saturday.

Then, on Monday, she will co-chair the Women's Housing Coalition's third annual Kitchen Party. AVAM's Joy America Cafe will be the setting for the evening's festivities, to include savory samplings of dishes prepared by top local chefs, a wine tasting, silent auction and live jazz. (Kitchen Party tickets are $50. For more information call 410-235-5782.)

When you look into your closet, what does it tell you?

Like a lot of overweight people, I have over the years transformed my closet into a shrine. A shrine to the size 12 Mandarin dress I wore to Jimmy Carter's inaugural ball with yellow forsythia and orchids in my hair, and to the dress I bought for the AVAM opening two and a half years ago, convinced I would be able to fit into it by the opening.

What did that dress look like?

It's amazing. It's like the dress I would draw when I was a little girl. It was a "queen of the night" dress, all navy and see-through. A real ball gown with little pearls and little tiny sequins that looked like the stars of the universe. It was tres visionary.

Have you held on to other things for sentimental reasons?

I have my "Emma Peel" outfit from my "Avengers" period in Paris. It's a jump suit with zippers up the middle and sleeves. I wore that all the time. It was a uniform.

Where do you like to shop?

My favorite place to shop is Something Else in Mount Washington. Owner Elsie is a friend and nurturing to people of all sizes. I shopped there when I was pregnant with my daughter who will be 27 on the Fourth of July. We have all grown together.

Describe a recent purchase.

In Santa Fe, I recently got a lovely, flowing jacket made from antique cut-up kimonos and beautiful hand-dyed velvet. Velvet is my all-time favorite material; it's the greatest comfort material. I'm only sad that you can't wear it in summer.

Do you have any unusual wearable artifacts from your travels?

I have my ancient Mandarin fingernail covers that covered those huge, long nails.

Will there be any textile pieces in the new show?

There will be a whole textile environment by a French woman who embroidered every square inch of her house and an unbelievable wedding dress. There will also be a 12-foot by 12-foot section of the AIDS quilt and a divorce quilt.

Do you wear anything that symbolizes your own love?

The wedding band I designed in Victorian style, with a ruby, lapis and another ruby. The first letters stand for "Rebecca Loves Roy," and its reverse, "Roy Loves Rebecca."

Any final thoughts about your closet?

What we put in our closets isn't only what we put on our backs. It can be those things that embody a whole memory and a time. We don't think twice about saving photographs. So why not save something we wore at a time when we were particularly happy?

Do you know any snappy dressers? Let us know. Write to Stephanie Shapiro, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 5/14/98

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