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Thistle Cottage Studio’s Artistic Director: Elsie Collins

Wedding Fascinator by Thistle Cottage Studio

Thistle Cottage Studio Blog

Thistle Cottage Studio’s Artistic Director: Elsie Collins

   Allow me to introduce myself. I apologise for not posting this biography a lot sooner.  It just occurred to me that potential students who might be looking for a place to privately study apparel design or millinery skills, would like to know as much as possible about who they may be studying with.    In addition to what you are about to read, I’d also like to add that, Thistle Cottage Studio, each year, grooms its’ age eliglble students (11-14 yrs. old), to compete in the Providence Performing Arts Summer Arts Scholarship competition.  We are just now starting to enroll eligible students, and offering fashion sketching and sewing classes, in preparation for next March (2012) deadline for entry.  To date, we have had four winners in three years!!  This summer, TCS hosted our first Upward Bound student, Airine Alves, who was recommended to us by Rhode Island Colleges’ UB Program.  We hope this will become an annual tradition!
  In another direction, as I am becoming more and more immersed in the art of millinery, and discovering new skills with handblocking wool and straw, we will be offering basic millinery classes, and will be hosting workshops in our studio with the very talented master milliner, Jasmin Zorlu (from San Francisco), this November and December.  Those interested in workshops and classes may call 401-231-4343 as soon as possible, as space is limited. 
So without further ado, here is my biography, as seen in my online Etsy shop, (www.orsinimedici1951.etsy.com) and a few of my latest hat creations.  
I would be delighted to hear your comments!

The name Thistle Cottage Studio comes from a trip I took to the south of Scotland in 1995, and was so charmed by the fact that people name their houses.   I adore the U.K., English decor, shabby chic, antiques, vintage textiles, European and particularly Italian Renaissance history, art, art history, mask making, period hats and costumes, period movies and books, Jane Austen, J.W. Waterhouse, mythology, Joseph Campbell, John O’Donohue, poetry, Emily Dickensen, Langston Hughes, film and theater, classical, period and Celtic music, Loreena McKennett, and a more gentile way of life.  The name orsinimedici comes as a result of the research I did,  while costuming an original opera about the life of Michelangelo, in the summer of ’08.  In the process, I began to connect myth with reality! I would hear tales in my childhood, of how the Orsini’s were once royalty in Italy, and that we had royal blood in our veins.  My mother was an Orsini, and my grandfathers’ ancestors were the Orsini’s who married into the Medici family in Florence in the 1400’s.  These two dynasties went on to build all of Florence(Fiorenze), and much of Tuscany, making it the center of art and culture in the Renaissance world, and as we know it today.  It was also the Orsini-Medici  fleet of ships that defeated the invasion of the Port of Venice, by the Ottoman Turks in the 1500’s. A tower in the port commemorates the event. The Orsini’s were the owners of the now Castello Odescalchi in Bracciano, just northwest of Rome, until the 1700’s!  It is the same castle that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married in!!  There were 3 Orsini Popes, several Cardinals, including Cardinal Orsini, who was poisoned by Alexander Borgia in the 1500’s, at the height of the Spanish Inquisition, in his ruthless efforts to gain the throne of the Italian Papacy.  Even Mary Queen of Scots shows up in our family tree, as the daughter-in-law of Catherine de Medici, when she was married as a young girl to the Dauphine of France. Learning that my mothers’ ancestors were responsible for the patronage of Michelangelo, DaVinci, Raphael, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini, Dante Allegheri, Brunelleschi, and so many more, is something that I may never be able to fully absorb. Now I understand my bones, and why my mother was such a creative genius!! Who needs a PhD, when you have this kind of DNA?!

Rhode Island School of Design/Apparel Design
3 yr. Apprenticeship to an Italian Tailor
1987-95 Owner of Samsara Designs/Retail&Custom; Design, Prov.,RI
2002 RI State Council on the Arts and Humanities Award Grant for my
Exhibition: One Hundred Years of Fashion:1850-1950
 (over 200 pieces of authentic designer vintage, and my reproduction clothing, hats, accessories and wall art).

Theatrical Costuming for: 
Trinity Repertory Co.(RI), The Walnut St. Theater (Phil.PA), The Shakespearean Theater of Maine at Monmouth, Celebration Mime Ensemble(S.Paris ME), Everett Dance Ensemble, Opera Providence, Opera RI,  Looking GlassTheater, Barker Playhouse, CCRI,  Bristol Community College, American BioTechnologies TV commercial, and most recently (2011) “Triangle” for Hope High School. This play has recently returned from performing at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, as part of the American High School Theater program, this past August.
I now create merchandise for my ETSY shop, including hand blocked hats, and teach apparel design and textile related courses in my studio, to adults and children as young as seven years old! 
    I have been sewing since the age of ten, at my mothers side, who was a master dressmaker.  I still use and teach on her ca. 1976  Bernina 830 sewing machine!!  I’m certain that she is watching over my studio, and is very happy to see her Bernina humming away with little ones learning to sew on it!!

Most Memorable Clients:
*Paula Vogel–Pulitzer Prize Winning Playwright/ Professor of Drama (Yale)
*Dale Chihuly–Master glass artist/Artistic Director of the Pilchuck School of Glass (WA)
World reknowned for his breathtaking glass sculptures, Mr. Chihuly’s work can be found in permanent collections of many major museums, public gardens, and parks around the world.
*Dr. Joan Countryman–Educator/Head Mistress. Dr. Countryman was called upon, and was instrumental in assisting Oprah Winfrey, to set up the Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, S. Africa in 2007-08.
*Tony Montanaro –Celebration Mime Ensemble/S. Paris, ME
The late master performer, mime, and teacher, Mr. Montanaro was a student of Marcel Marceau, and Etienne DeCroux.
It was my most profound pleasure to  know and work for all of them.



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  1. Rabia | | #1

    Dear Elsie: I too am a BIIIG fan of Loreena McKennitt; in fact she lives only a relatively short distance away from me! I once met her at the Union train station in Toronto; we were taking the same train home! I consider her to be the TRUE "singing jewel" of Stratford, Ontario!

    Oh and your hats are FABULOUS. I too like to decorate and re-vamp hats; thank you for the inspiration!

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