Hedy is no longer with us, but she can live in our memories indefinitely. Because Hedy did not leave behind a diary or letters, there is much about her that we can only know through our imagination. How would she feel, seeing her dresses finally made? What other dreams did she, and the other victims of the Holocaust, leave unfinished?

There are many ways to engage with the dresses through the imagination. A powerful example comes from the work of Arts@Large, a Milwaukee arts education organization. The Jewish Museum Milwaukee partnered with Arts@Large, and with the Milwaukee Public Schools to introduce a group of exceptional young women in the 7th and 8th grades to the story of Hedy and Paul Strnad. The selected students were able to go behind the scenes to learn more about the art and craft of costume design, and to document their experience through photography and art.

Eight students from two Milwaukee Public Schools, Fernwood Montessori School and Westside Academy, were selected to participate. Amy, Jackie, Jocqita, Kyanne, Mallory, Shawanda, Sophie, and Stella met the staff of the Rep’s Costume Shop and had the privilege of working alongside them as they learned about Hedy’s dress designs, and the work of costume design and creation. The students carefully documented the entire dressmaking process through photography. As the work of dressmaking came to a close, the students reflected on their experience by creating self-portraits inspired by Hedy Strnad’s sketches for her dress designs. Through the resulting artwork – life-size portraits painted in acrylic on Masonite board – we can see Hedy’s dresses worn by a new generation of young women.

The self-portraits were featured in a Fall 2014 exhibition at the Arts@Large gallery, along with their photographs and the finished dresses, bringing Hedys’ dresses, and her story, to an even wider audience.

Arts @ Large Gallery