Rae Messer Reilly ’63 makes generous gift to collection

on right, alum Rae Messer Reilly

Alumna Rae Messer Reilly ’63 has made a generous gift of $200,000 to the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, a collection administered by the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design that advances knowledge, research and teaching of fashion and textiles.

In May 2016, when Reilly’s husband Pete was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, they began getting their affairs in order. This included a list of organizations they wanted to leave money to and deciding that when the first person passed away, the funds would be distributed all at one time

“When Pete passed away in November of 2017, we did that, and I wanted to support the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection in some way,” Reilly said.

While a Cornell student, majoring in Textile & Apparel, Reilly was introduced to ethnographic textiles from the Collection in a class that was given by Elsie McMurray, professor emerita of textiles and apparel.

“That began an interest in me for ethnographic textiles and I continued that interest and used it in my professional and personal life,” she said. “I have very fond memories and strong feelings about Human Ecology, the FSAD Department and Cornell as a whole.”

Reilly worked in retail and the home sewing industry in New York City until finding a home at Iowa State University’s Textiles and Clothing Department as an extension specialist in textiles and clothing, a role she held for 18 years.

A couple of years ago, Reilly had a series of emails with Kate Greder, a volunteer with the Collection and now an FSAD Ph.D. student, whom she had gotten to know when Greder worked for Iowa State’s University Museums. They spoke about the Collection and the small budget it had.

“Over the years, my annual gift had been either to FSAD or Design and Environmental Analysis departments,” Reilly said. “So I specified that my next annual gift should be given to the Collection, and when I thought about the bequest, I decided to give it to the Collection as well for the desperately needed renovation to the Collection’s storage space.

“I know how important that’s been for the Iowa State University Collection and how hard it can be to get funds for more practical and unglamorous sorts of projects,” she said. “I feel strongly that if you can’t properly store or preserve and conserve items, whether it’s art or textiles or clothing, a museum or collection quite simply can’t fulfill its mission.”