Standing on the front steps of an old whitewashed United Methodist church, Daniel Storto squints into the distance: nothing but blue sky and rolling hills studded with faded barns. We are, to put it mildly, in the middle of nowhere. We are, to be exact, in Dorloo, New York, a hamlet near Cooperstown so small it doesn’t even have a post office. It is, therefore, a fitting place for the 64-year-old Storto to open his equally far-out, deeply personal, highly unlikely new project: America’s only freestanding glove museum.
“Come in, come in,” he says with a grin, his eyes sparkling behind a pair of thick-framed black spectacles. Leading me through the light-flooded sanctuary of this 1852 church he recently bought and restored, he walks down the rows of pews to the altar, where he’s mounted a dozen undulating leather gloves, each hand-sewn from Italian lambskin. Some are artfully strewn on the floor, some mounted on display stands. All are lit dramatically. “I was inspired by the wooden sculptures of Louise Nevelson,” Storto says, referring to the Russian Modernist artist. “I’m inspired by the negative spaces in her work.”
Born in Toronto to a family of Italian immigrant tailors and cobblers, Storto is one of the country’s few remaining master glove makers, or gantiers. And for the last 17 years, he’s worn an especially lonely mantle: the last glove maker of Gloversville, New York, a town so named for its erstwhile identity as the glove-making capital of the country. Forty miles north of Dorloo, in the foothills of the Adirondacks, the town was once thick with groves of hemlock, the poisonous plant whose tannins give leather its reddish-brown hue. Tanneries, named for that process, sprang up across the town, as did the glove factories they supplied, and business boomed. Between 1890 and 1950, Gloversville accounted for nearly 90 percent of all gloves made in the United States, and in its heyday, the industry employed four-fifths of the town’s 23,000 residents. But by the 1960s, Gloversville was in decline—formal leather gloves came to be seen as relics of the stodgy ’50s just as manufacturing jobs began moving offshore. Today the factories are closed, and the population has dropped below 15,000. “It’s a ghost town,” says Storto, a passing cloud plunging his face into shadow.
He still has a small shop in Gloversville, tucked next to the lobby of the Glove Theater, where Samuel Goldwyn once screened MGM movies, a tribute to his early days as a glove salesman in town. But Storto has turned his focus to preserving the town’s legacy at his new museum. As he gives me a tour, we pass a line of turn-of-the-century wooden glove forms, a grid of glamorous photographs from 1930s catalogues, and hand-painted vellum designs once ferried up the Hudson from Manhattan design studios. Behind plexiglass, Storto shows off his own handiwork—six avant-garde designs that form the word gloves. “When my son, Andre, was learning his alphabet,” explains Storto, “I printed out all the Helvetica letters and hung them in his room. Then I realized, these are gloves!”
It’s fair to say that Storto sees the entire world as a pair of gloves. After a career in Hollywood as a gantier to the stars—Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, and Madonna among them—and a couture designer, partnering with Geoffrey Beene and Dries Van Noten, Storto moved to Gloversville in 2001. As a glove maker, he says, “I couldn’t resist.” Almost immediately, he began to amass a collection of equipment and ephemera. “The table cutters would stop by and give me their shears,” he says. “They just wanted someone to have them.” He visited the old factories, which “looked like the day the earth stood still.” Gloves lay unfinished in their machines; scraps of leather fluttered about the empty spaces. On display betwen the pews at his museum are not just gloves but also the machines that made them: elastic machines, machines for embroidery, devices that thrust a glove inside out for finishing, a hand-cranked machine from Paris for intricate needlepointing. When glove making dwindled, says Storto, all the secondary industries were affected too.
But the Glove Museum isn’t all eulogy. Storto leads me behind an alcove where an organ once stood, a space now filled with stacks of art books and typewriters. “I’m developing a fashion and art library for students,” he says. “Libraries don’t have books like these. This is for students to research and get inspired.” In one cabinet are monographs on David LaChapelle and Salvador Dalí, Richard Avedon and Coco Chanel. Under three statuettes of saints, a tray of unburned votive candles sits atop The A B C of Millinery. In the pews’ racks, Storto has placed copies of Diana Vreeland’s 1977 tome, Hollywood Costume: Glamour! Glitter! Romance!, a handsome coffee-table book bound in golden brocade. “I figured, Why not?” he says. “This is my Bible!” In his vision, the Glove Museum isn’t just a place to celebrate forgotten fashion but is also a source of inspiration where, he says, someone could discover Dalí. “One has nothing to do with the other, except, of course, everything inspires everything!”
Just before I leave, Storto opens the door to his tucked-away workshop, a former Sunday school classroom. The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with pristine glove boxes he found in Gloversville. Vitrines brim with tiny dies for shaping dolls’ gloves and gold-embroidered 16th-century French gloves that the daughter of a gantier sent to him. It’s like walking onto a magical film set, the Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Room of gloves. “Having worked for so long in film,” he says, “for me everything is a film set.”
In the back is Storto’s workbench, the sanctum of the museum. He approaches it with the reverence of a true believer, fingering the heavy mallets he uses to press steel-cut dies into the neatly arranged yards of lambskin. Storto still hand-sews his couture gloves, some of which sell for upwards of $500, but he also makes up to two dozen cloth pairs a month—mementos he gives to museum visitors who leave donations. Swinging the mallet like a priest’s censer, he leads me out of the church. “Gloves are my religion,” he says. “I’m spreading the gospel.” As I leave, he pulls on a frayed rope that leads to the bell tower, and driving away I hear it tolling, proclaiming Storto’s love of gloves for all the world to hear.
Joins hands, take the Glove Train: Gloversville, New York, is a 25-minute drive from Amsterdam, a stop on Amtrak’s Empire Service line between Albany and Syracuse. Dorloo, the home of the Glove Museum, is 40 minutes southwest of Amsterdam.
A contributing writer for The National, Joshua David Stein has also written for GQ, Esquire, New York magazine, The Guardian, and The Village Voice.
Born in China and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, photographer and director An Rong Xu has photographed such celebrities as Sally Field, Dapper Dan, and Alicia Vikander. His work appears regularly in The New York Times and has also been featured in The Washington Post and Time, and his commercial clients include Airbnb, Instagram, and Under Armour.