Miniature Couture

january 25, 2022 - february 20, 2022

Final Installment in The Collector's Series

ESSE Purse Museum is pleased to present the third and final portion of our three-part temporary exhibit, The Collector’s Series, which is set to open January 25th, 2021.  
The Collector’s Series celebrates the joy people find through collecting and displaying objects special to them. Each portion of The Collector’s Series offers visitors an exclusive look into the private collection of one of three vibrant Little Rock women.  
The third feature of the series, ‘Miniature Couture’, opens January 25th, 2021 and runs through Sunday, February 20th. Miniature Couture offers visitors a window onto the world of high-end fashion dolls. With bodies sculpted to mimic those of top models, fashion dolls are a convenient way for many designers to test out new, extravagant styles. Although they average just 14” tall, these dolls seem like they could step right out of the case and onto a runway. Their larger-than-life outfits must be seen to be believed!  

Worlds Within

December 7, 2021 - January 9, 2022

ESSE welcomes second portion of exhibit highlighting local private collections! 

ESSE Purse Museum is pleased to present the second portion of our three-part temporary exhibit, The Collector’s Series, which will open on December 7th, 2021.  
The Collector’s Series celebrates the joy people find through collecting and displaying objects special to them. Each portion of The Collector’s Series offers visitors an exclusive look into the private collection of one of three vibrant Little Rock women.  
The second feature of the series, ‘Worlds Within’, opens December 7th, 2021 and runs through Sunday, January 9th. Worlds Within provides guests an introduction to the multi-layered world of matryoshka - also known as nesting dolls. As guests will discover, 
these dolls contain far more than meets the eye; they have been used as a medium for artistic, cultural, and political expression since their creation. Visitors are invited to explore and delight in the various forms matryoshka can take! 
 Stay tuned for the final installment of The Collector’s Series, which will highlight one of the collections of local material culture enthusiast Marsha Stone.

So Shoe Me

October 26, 2021 - November 21, 2021

A Conversation with Collectors

ESSE Purse Museum presents a new three-part temporary exhibit, The Collector’s Series, which opens October 26th, 2021.

The Collector’s Series celebrates the joy people find through collecting and displaying objects special to them. Each portion of The Collector’s Series offers visitors an exclusive look into the private collection of one of three vibrant Little Rock women.

The first feature of the series, ‘So Shoe Me’, opens October 26th, 2021 and runs through Sunday, November 20th. So Shoe Me offers visitors a humorous glimpse into the mind of local educational powerhouse, Leesa Renshaw. Visitors are invited to smile, roll their eyes, and giggle their way through her collection of wacky, wild, ‘redonkulous’ shoes!

Stay tuned for the next installments of The Collector’s Series, which will highlight the collections of locals Kathleen Pate, followed by Marsha Stone.

PRIDE and the power of LOVE

June 1, 2021 - October 10, 2021

New exhibit is temporary but Pride is permanent 

Just in time for Pride month, ESSE Purse Museum is proud to open the temporary exhibit “Pride and the Power of Love: Celebrating our LGBTQIA+ friends and loved ones.”

The rainbow-colored exhibit, which begins Tuesday, June 1, and runs through Sunday, October 10, is lively, loving and fact filled, featuring photos and artifacts carefully cu-rated in cases in the colors of the gay pride flag. And, of course, because ESSE is a purse museum, parts of the rainbow flag are created with purses.

But that’s not all — each case also features facts and intriguing bits of LGBTQIA+ history. You’re sure to learn something you didn’t know or be reminded of something you’d forgotten.

Trust us, it’s fabulous. You’ll be over the rainbow.

I Can See Clearly Now

June 9, 2020 - April, 2021 *extended due to covid-19

If you agree with the expression “hindsight is everything,” you’ll certainly want to see ESSE Purse Museum’s newest temporary exhibit, “I Can See Clearly Now.”

The eye-opening exhibit, which begins Tuesday, June 9, and runs through Sunday, Sept. 13, offers a fun and intriguing look back at glasses and sunglasses of the 20th century, plus glasses cases, accessories, photos, and quirky surprises.

But the focus is definitely on eyeglasses of all ages, shapes, and sizes, and shades ranging from functional to out-of-sight, man. Mark your calendars and don’t miss it, be-cause the temporary exhibit will pass in the blink of an eye.

Since ESSE is always safety conscious, guests must wear a face covering while in the building and maintain social distancing of the recommended 6 feet both in the store (which is always free to enter) and in the museum.

During this special time, ESSE is pleased to offer small group private appointments for museum visits and shopping at $10 per person (10 people maximum) on Mondays from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Call 501-916-9022 or email to schedule an appointment.

That '70s Exhibit

January 14, 2020 - March 22, 2020

Whether the ’70s were “just the other day” or the decade is ancient history, you won’t want to miss ESSE Purse Museum’s “That ’70s Exhibit: 50 years later, a supersonic decade still resonates.” 

A time capsule of history and hipness, the temporary exhibit is open for exploration Tuesday, Jan. 14, through Sunday, March 22.

Maybe you’ll recognize your wild wallpaper or stylish shag carpet in the display cases, set up to recreate fun and funky rooms. Maybe you’ll find fashions and accessories you were so proud to wear or own. Maybe you’ll be shocked at just how out-there ’70s styles could be. 

You’re sure to enjoy the timeline of women’s history, either as a stroll down memory lane or a learning experience. Highlighted are wins (and losses) in women’s rights, female firsts (and greats) in sports, fashion, music, pop-culture icons – and more. 

You may dig the styles of the decade or believe they’re best left buried, but don’t miss your chance to decide at “That ’70s Exhibit.” 

Experience it, virtually, HERE

Hats And Pins

September 3,2019 - December 30, 2019

These days, matching a hat to your shoes and purse or picking out the perfect hat pin may seem long gone. Instead of the pillbox, we have a baseball cap, sun protection is now as alluring as the cloche was in decades past. But there is something to be said for the perfect hat that transforms an outfit to an ensemble! 

ESSE Purse Museum is bringing back the sophistication and style of this sometimes underestimated accessory. The glamorous hats and pins that will be on display come from ESSE's permanent collection. 

Join us for a free mad hatter tea party reception on September 19 from 4pm - 7pm, and wear your most spectacular hat.ESSE Museum & Store is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. General admission is $10 and student, senior (60+), and military admission is $8. Ask us about group rates.

Purses With Purpose: Girl Scouts through the decades.

May 21,2019 - August 18, 2019

This show spans from the year 1912, when the Girl Scouts were formed as an organization by Juliette Gordon Low, to the present. With her creativity and tenacity Juliette Gordon Low was able to foresee what girls and woman are capable of with the guidance and support of this organization. 

Many would claim that cookies are the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of the GirlScouts. The courage, confidence, and character that are synonymous with these young woman is seen through the handbags, uniforms, and objects on display. The remarkable history of the GirlScouts is presented alongside a unique perspective of women’s history. 

The artifacts on display are on loan from the GSUSA, GS - Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, ESSE Purse Museum, and from the personal collection of Kathleen Pate. 

Remembrances: History seen through entrusted objects

February 19, 2019 – May 5, 2019

ESSE Purse Museum’s new exhibit celebrates – and thanks – the many patrons who have donated beloved items to the museum’s eclectic collection.“Remembrances:History seen through entrusted objects” opens Tuesday, Feb. 19, and runs through May5. A special evening reception Thursday, March 14, from 5:30-7:30 will add a festive touch to the exhibit’s run. 

Though too many people have donated belongings to show something from each one,“Remembrances” highlights the variety of donations, featuring purses, their contents, hats, shoes, paper dolls, photographs, sewing kits and more. Some items date to the late 1800s. Although some things are donated by their owners, most are given by family members to honor a loved one’s memory. All items help create a tangible history of women.

PURSEsonal Connections: Drawings by Betsy Davis

NOVEMBER 6, 2018 – JANUARY 27, 2019

In commemorating our 5th year Anniversary, ESSE Museum and Store’s latest exhibit “PURSEsonal Connections: Drawings by Betsy Davis” features original artwork from our book, What’s Inside? A Century of Women and Handbags. Davis, a graduate of St. John’s University in Sante Fe, illuminates the significance of the handbag by drawing inspiration from historical references and images. This historical thread runs throughout the museum as handbags and history align to create snapshots from each decade of the 20th century.

Of her experience creating the artwork, Davis says, “The best part of illustrating for What’s Inside: A Century of Women and Handbags was the attempt to capture the attitude and style of each woman from every decade. I tried to weave these drawings with wisdom and fun. I loved being a part of the world at ESSE- it’s a magically “real” place.” By incorporating handbags and decade-appropriate contents, Davis’ work captures the relationship between the fictional and factual text found in the book and museum.

Up In Smoke

August 28, 2018 – October 28, 2018

With an unusual exhibit that wafts in Tuesday, Aug. 28, and gets snuffed out Sunday, Oct. 28, ESSE Purse Museum looks back on a time when Americans were duped into seeing cigarettes as part of a glamorous, even healthy, lifestyle. 

For decades smoking was believed to be sultry, sophisticated, and safe. Once the truth broke through the tobacco industry’s spin, that deadly notion went Up in Smoke – but not before inspiring enough smoking accessories and paraphernalia to make your head spin. From the manliest of masculine ashtrays to chic cigarette holders for the fashionable woman, the collection is sure to surprise some and remind others of those more innocent, if deadly, days.

You May Kiss The Bride

May 29, 2018 – August 19, 2018

If you cry at weddings, you’d better bring your hankie to ESSE Purse Museum’s newest offering, “You May Kiss the Bride.” The temporary exhibit, which features eight wedding dresses from 1900 through the 1980’s – and much more – opens Tuesday, May 29, and runs through Sunday, Aug. 19.

The wedding dresses and accouterments, photos, and other nuptial paraphernalia are sure to please, but, as ESSE is more than a fashion museum, you just might learn some fascinating facts and hysterical history about that most hallowed of traditions.

Cutting Edge

May 1, 2018 – May 20, 2018

“Cutting Edge,” a mod new exhibit, will tear through ESSE Purse Museum for three weeks, Tuesday, May 1, through Sunday, May 20. The exhibit features fun, chic paper dresses from the 1960s, clothes that could be hemmed and altered with a pair of scissors and repaired with a piece of tape. Mixed-media artist Laura Fanning’s Caution: Garment May Be Flammable collection of paper clothing – to be hung on the wall, not the body – makes up the rest of the exhibit. Fanning’s pieces are for sale; the vintage dresses are just a trip down memory lane, even though you’ll want one.

Exposed: Unmentionables 1900s – 1960s

JANUARY 30, 2018 – APRIL 29, 2018

ESSE Purse Museum is excited to announce a new temporary exhibit Exposed: Unmentionables, 1900s-1960s, which opens Tuesday, January 30, 2018. The exhibit runs through Sunday, April 29, and is included in regular admission price.

Typically not displayed for all to view, undergarments offer a unique view into a woman’s life and the measures she will take to achieve a certain look. This exhibit aims to showcase the evolving perceptions of the ideal female figure and the contraptions it takes to achieve it.

Pain is beauty, or is it? Certainly every woman has experienced the discomfort of a binding undergarment, but the pain inflicted by these present-day garments is minor compared to what women were expected to endure. As we look back to the early 1900s, typically restrictive foundation garments are beginning to be designed with a woman’s well being in mind. The invention of new materials and evolving beauty ideals led to less of a reliance on these garments to mold a woman’s body and more on them to enhance the beauty that is innately present.

The exhibit includes items on loan from the Old State House Museum and UA Little Rock Theater Arts & Dance Department.

Experience it, virtually, HERE

The Power of Plastics: Reshaping Midcentury Fashion

AUGUST 29, 2017 – JANUARY 7, 2018

ESSE Purse Museum presents a new temporary exhibit The Power of Plastics: Reshaping Midcentury Fashion, which opens Tuesday, August 29th, 2017. The exhibit runs through Sunday, January 7th, 2018 and is included in regular admission.

The exhibit showcases midcentury plastic handbags and accessories from owner Anita Davis’s private collection. Much of the exhibit focuses on Bakelite and Lucite handbags from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. Supplemental text offers guests a brief history of the conception of and popularity of plastic purses.

Take Your Purse With You: The Reimagined Work of Katherine Strause

May 9 Through August 27, 2017

ESSE Purse Museum is pleased to feature a beautiful new temporary exhibit by Little Rock artist Katherine Strause. Take Your Purse With You will run from Tuesday, May 9, 2017 through Sunday, August 27, 2017 and is included in general admission.

Strause’s work features paintings of women and their purses. Inspired by discarded and found mid-century photographs, Strause’s series touches on themes of transcendence, hope, and transformation. Her work aspires to challenge viewers in how they think about the past and present as well as the generations of women in their lives.

Strause created the works especially for ESSE, and it pairs perfectly with the museum’s permanent exhibit, What’s Inside: A Century of Women and Handbags, 1900-1990, which tells the 20th-century story of the American woman through the purse and its contents.

Reflections: Images and Objects from African American Women, 1891-1987

January 31, 2017 Through April 30, 2017

ESSE Purse Museum and Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (MTCC) are thrilled to announce a new collaborative exhibit, Reflections: Images and Objects from African American Women, 1891-1987, which opens at ESSE on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. The temporary exhibit runs through Sunday, April 30, 2017, and is included in regular admission price.

In conjunction with Black History Month and Women’s History Month, Reflections honors and celebrates African American woman in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibit will view their lives through the lens of feminine material culture, ephemera, and photography. ESSE and MTCC hope visitors will reflect on the private spheres of every day life of African American women in Arkansas and beyond.

The artifacts on display represent the collections of MTCC, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, and ESSE Purse Museum. The private collections of the Bernice Lamb McSwain family and Mary and Joshua Swift have also contributed to the making of this exhibit.

A Walk In Her Shoes


ESSE Purse Museum is excited to announce a new temporary exhibit, A Walk In Her Shoes, which opens Tuesday, October 11, 2016. The exhibit runs through Sunday, January 15, 2017, and is included in regular admission price.

A Walk In Her Shoes traces the steps of the American woman over the course of 100 years. Beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, the exhibit reflects on the evolving styles, materials, silhouettes, and function in women’s footwear. From restrictive lace-up leather boots and painted silk peep-toe heels to glamorous stiletto pumps and chunky punk scene platforms, the exhibit showcases major trends in women’s shoes in North America and Europe. The museum hopes it will also raise questions about women’s evolving mobility, social positions, and expressive choices in the public sphere.

The artifacts on display represent a diverse array of designers and craft origin. Visitors can expect to see shoes by mid-century greats like Christian Dior, Bally, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Mary Quant, end-of-century stunners by Christian Louboutin, Thierry Mugler, and Yves Saint Laurent, and everything in between. In addition to these haute couture lines, the exhibit draws from Caribbean, South American, Asian, and American designs as well.

A Walk in Her Shoes features 50 pairs from the collection of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada as well as an extensive selection from ESSE Purse Museum’s own collection.

Experience it, virtually, HERE

The Art of Handbags


ESSE Purse Museum will open an exciting new art exhibit by Rhode Island artist and designer Kent Stetson on Tuesday, August 16, 2016. The Art of Handbags, which runs through Sunday, September 25, features mixed media installations.

Museum visitors can expect the unexpected with this new temporary exhibit, which is unlike anything ESSE has hosted before. Stetson’s exhibit will offer a fresh, artful, contemplative take on the purse, which serves as the fundamental storytelling device of our museum. From abstract assemblages and video elements to glittering sculptures and graphic wall pieces, The Art of Handbags is sure to transport the viewer.

The staff at ESSE couldn’t be happier to showcase Stetson, who is also a featured maker in the museum store. His purses are chic, graphic works of art that are known for eye-catching themes and versatility.

Changing Tides: 100 Years of Iconic Swimwear

MAY 10, 2016 THROUGH AUGUST 7, 2016

ESSE Purse Museum is excited to announce a new temporary exhibit, Changing Tides: 100 Years of Iconic Swimwear, which opens Tuesday, May 10, 2016. The exhibit runs through Sunday, August 7 and is included in regular admission price.

Changing Tides highlights iconic women’s swimwear in the 20th Century. From homemade to haute couture, the core installation features select suits on loan from the collection of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.

Beginning in the 1900’s, the exhibit invites visitors to reflect on the changing styles, materials, silhouettes, and expressions in women’s swimwear over the course of 100 years. From voluminous wool bathing costumes and silk pageant suits to gingham bikinis and skin-tight spandex, the exhibit features iconic examples of major fashion trends as recreational swimming and bathing developed as a social activity over the course of the 20th Century.

The exhibit draws from the collections of the Fashion History Museum and ESSE Purse Museum.

Caro-Nan: The Women Behind the Baskets

MARCH 22, 2016 THROUGH MAY 6, 2016

ESSE Purse Museum presents a new temporary exhibit Caro Nan: The Women Behind the Baskets, which opens Tuesday, March 22, 2016. The exhibit runs through Sunday, May 1, and is included in regular admission price. 

Caro Nan honors the two women, Carolyn McDaniel and Nancy Steele, behind the handmade basket purses that were all the rage in American fashion from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Distinguished by their hand-painted and decoupage custom street scenes of cities across the country, these purses are instantly recognizable. Visitors are invited to reflect on the women who made these nostalgic accessories as well as the women in their own lives who carried them. 

The exhibit draws from the collections of three Little Rock women, Becky Major, Angela Norton, and Anita Davis. Visitors can view an array of Caro Nan purses, along with additional special exhibit items that highlight these nostalgic pieces. 

ESSE is also thrilled to host a special event during regular opening hours on Sunday, April 3 celebrating special guests Mrs. McDaniel and Mrs. Steele, the Jackson, MS-based designers behind the Caro Nan line. The event is Tea & ‘Tiques, and museum goers can enjoy a cozy meet and greet as well as hot tea and light refreshments with admission to the museum. Guests are encouraged to bring their own Caro Nan bag and share memories with friends, family, and these wonderful ladies. There will also be an opportunity at this event to support future artists and entrepreneurs by donating art supplies to Angela Norton’s art class at Franklin Elementary School.  

Purse-onas: An exhibit by Jason Travis

JANUARY 13, 2016 THROUGH MARCH 13, 2016

ESSE Purse Museum at 1510 Main St. in Little Rock will open an exciting new exhibit by Atlanta photographer Jason Travis on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Purse-onas, which runs through Sunday, March 13, was carefully selected from Travis’ much larger Persona exhibit and features 18 of his photo diptychs shot between 2011 and 2015. 

The staff at ESSE couldn’t be happier to showcase Travis’ work, which features photo portraits of people of all ages above a photo of each person’s bag or purse and its contents, offering an intimate look into the lives of others. 

In conjunction with the exhibit’s opening, ESSE will resume “The ESSE Purse Project,” an online exhibit of visitors’ and other willing participants’ purses/briefcases/backpacks and their contents. 

The beautiful photos by Jason Travis seem tailor-made for the purse museum’s permanent exhibit, “What’s Inside: A Century of Women and Handbags.” The permanent exhibit focuses on the 20th-century American woman and her development, as shown through handbags and their contents. Travis’ photos (and “The ESSE Purse Project’) bring the concept into the current decade – and include men. 

Oh, What Fun! A Very Vintage Holiday Exhibit


Oh, What Fun! A Very Vintage Holiday, a temporary exhibit, at ESSE Purse Museum will open Tuesday, Nov. 17, and run through Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. ESSE Purse Museum & Store is located at 1510 Main St. in SoMa in Little Rock. 

A Very Vintage Holiday will offer a plethora of items from Christmases past, with decorations and ornaments from turn of the 20th century antiques to mid-century modern kitsch. Come see what you remember from your own life while enjoying what your grandparents and beyond might have displayed. 

It’s sure to be fun for visitors of all ages.

Pinafores, Purses & Pigtails

JUNE 16, 2015 THROUGH OCTOBER 31, 2015

For the young and young at heart, ESSE Purse Museum will offer a festive blast from years pastin a new temporary exhibit that will run Tuesday, June 16, through Sunday, Sept. 20. Esse PurseMuseum & Store is located at 1510 Main St. in SoMa in Little Rock. 

Pinafores, Purse & Pigtails will feature vintage little girls’ purses, toys, photos and pinafores, ofcourse, as well as other fun items of note from a time when little girls didn’t necessarily dream ofbeing princesses but did want to be like Mommy. 

But that didn’t mean little girls weren’t spunky; they also wore their hair in pigtails and got theirbare feet dirty – and climbed trees with boys – which this exhibit also celebrates. 

What a great way to beat the summer heat; just duck into the cool confines of the ESSE PurseMuseum to be transported to a simpler time.

Common Threads: A Special Exhibit Woven of Four Parts

MARCH 7, 2015 THROUGH MAY 31, 2015

ESSE Purse Museum at 1510 Main St. in Little Rock has sewn together a new three-month, four-part exhibit, Common Threads, which opens Saturday, March 7. The exhibit, which runs through Sunday, May 31, is included in the regular admission price. 

Common Threads honors the common feminine threads of creation, inspiration, sewing and family tradition that tie generations together and weave the rich, mysterious fabric of life. 

For extra fun, visitors are encouraged to bring a button (or several) to pin to the communal art wall, titled Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button? – and to share photos on social media (#EsseButtons) – not just opening day but through the exhibit. 

The four components of the exhibit are: 

Circles of Life – Breath-taking medallions/mandalas created by Dallas artist Pamela Nelson incorporate jewelry, buttons and beads from Nelson’s grandmother and mother. 

Inspiration Is 87% Perspiration – Twenty steel wire replicas of artist Chelsye Mae Garrett’s great-grandmother’s sewing machine pay homage to the woman who supported her family through sewing. 

Sew Much Fun – Collector Donna Ward’s array of sewing notions through the decades will bring a smile to your face or a tear to your eye – or both. You’ll have almost as much fun as she did collecting them with her sisters and mom. 

The Art of the Button – Florine Thomason’s button collection, presented with love by her granddaughter, is beyond dazzling. If you never knew buttons could be things of beauty, prepare to be amazed.

Barbie: The Vintage Years 1959 - 1972


Esse Purse Museum & Store, at 1510 S. Main St. in SoMa in downtown Little Rock, is pleased to announce the launch of its second temporary exhibit, “Barbie®: The Vintage Years, 1959-1972,” which will run Sunday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Jan. 4. 

Though sure to thrill baby boomers who played with the vintage-era dolls, the exhibit is perfect for all ages. Little girls will especially love the Barbie® cookies and mini-cupcakes at the opening-day reception from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28. 

And their mothers and grandmothers will love revisiting the past and reminiscing over the tiny fashion statements that reflect the passage of time, from the sophisticated 1950s to the marvelously mod later years. 

From the collection of Marsha Stone of Little Rock, the exhibit features the teen fashion model doll from her glory days – when she and her friends came in cardboard boxes and their clothes, made of fine fabric, had tiny zippers and came with delightful accessories. Speaking of her friends and fashions, you’ll see plenty of those, too, as well as other fun Barbie® products. 

This exhibit is not sponsored by Mattel, Inc. 

Experience it, virtually, HERE

The Milliner's Art

April 6, 2014 THROUGH june 8, 2015

Once upon a time, a well-dressed woman wouldn’t be caught without her hat and gloves.Those days may be gone, but Esse Purse Museum & Store will celebrate the chapeauwith its first temporary exhibit, “The Milliner’s Art,” which opens Sunday, April 6, witha tea and scones reception, and runs through Sunday, June 8. 

The exhibit covers seven decades of hat history and is curated from the collections ofAnita Davis and Catherine Nugent. Hatpins and accessories from the collection ofMarsha Stone add the tiniest of details, and the fashionably festive display makes it adon’t-miss exhibit.