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'She was beyond her time' | NC fashion designer's dresses on display at N.C. A&T

The work of Jim Crow era seamstress, Willie Kay, on display at University Galleries at NC A&T.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — There's a little bit of North Carolina history sewn into every dress on display at the University Galleries on North Carolina A&T State University.

The artist behind all the beauty is Willie Kay.

The Raleigh native was born during the Jim Crow era, but that couldn't keep her talent hidden. She followed in her mother and grandmother's footsteps in becoming a seamstress to support her five children after her husband died.

The Shaw University graduate dressed women of all colors including many first ladies of North Carolina.

Paul Baker, Director of University Galleries, said she didn't even use patterns. That's how good she was at her craft.

He said one of her gowns graced the cover of Life Magazine and just a couple of years ago one of her designs was found at a consignment shop in Paris.

"She was beyond her time in many cases. Today she would be known as an international fashion designer, but because of Jim Crow, she was relegated to being a dressmaker and a seamstress," Baker said.

Kay also has ties to Aggie Pride. Two of her children and her grandchildren graduated from N.C. A&T, and her great-grandson will be on campus next month for his freshman tour.

Baker said a lot can be learned from her life and legacy.

"She was faced with so many obstacles, but she was able to overcome those and become a successful businesswoman, become an entrepreneur because she had that steady guide. She was inspired by her mother, her grandmother, sisters so all of that really enveloped into becoming a huge success for her," Baker said.

The "Made Especially for You" exhibit will be on display until the first week of December.

You can go check it out for free. The museum is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. and Saturdays by appointment only.