The death of Richard Blackwell Sunday in Los Angeles was felt at Colorado State University, where he was a friend, donor, student advocate and inspiration.
The world’s largest collection of Mr. Blackwell’s designs is part of the holdings of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising, which contains many original gowns, most of his master patterns and personal scrapbooks that chronicle his career.
In June 2007, Mr. Blackwell donated one of two original copies of a 1960 "Worst Dressed List" to Colorado State’s Department of Design and Merchandising. The other original is located in the Smithsonian Institution.
Linda Carlson, curator of the Avenir Museum, has had a 20-year association with Mr. Blackwell and his long-time partner, Robert Spencer.
"While Mr. Blackwell was most well known for his worst-dressed lists, we remember him as a creative and innovative designer for many of the Hollywood greats and first ladies," Carlson said. "Many of his designs are timeless and still considered classic today."
Blackwell visited Colorado State University twice, first in 1989 after the Department of Design and Merchandising received the first part of his collection, a donation of originals from Lum and Montez Jenkins, now both deceased, who had owned Cate’s First Avenue in Cherry Creek of Denver.
In 1997 Blackwell spent a week on campus with students, faculty and staff, teaching and lecturing to students in the Department of Design and Merchandising.
"He was extraordinarily interested in students," Carlson said. "He invested his time and talent on their behalf so they were well trained and prepared to meet the challenges of a competitive industry."
"The thing I recall most vividly during that week was that Mr. Blackwell was able to take one of his garments and turn it inside out and talk about the construction details," Carlson said. "It was clear to me that this was someone who was really a craftsman -a creative designer – who also understood clothing construction. He also did beautiful design sketches, many of which we have in the collection."
In 2001, Blackwell and Spencer established an endowed scholarship in Blackwell’s name to benefit students majoring in Design and Merchandising with a concentration in apparel design, especially women’s apparel.
Blackwell and Spencer are recognized as benefactors to the University Center for the Arts, which recently officially opened on Oct. 16. The Blackwell collection is part of the Avenir Museum of Design and Merchandising now located at the new University Center for the Arts. The Avenir Museum is scheduled to open in April 2009.
"The last time I saw Mr. Blackwell was in November, when he, Spencer and I had a lovely dinner together in Los Angeles," Carlson said. "Although he was starting to slow down, he was still active and busy."
The Department has been planning a retrospective of Blackwell’s designs, life and work to open in fall 2010 that will feature many of his garments. It will be one of the premier exhibitions in the new Avenir Gallery in the University Center for the Arts. During a visit to Blackwell’s residence in June 2007, Carlson and he reviewed many of his photographs and made selections on garments he wanted to include.
"We’re terribly sorry that he won’t be here to see it, but we’re also happy that he was working on it with us and knew it was in our plan," Carlson said. "He’ll always be a special part of our legacy and one of the reasons why we’ve become one of the best museums of its kind in the country."