Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A 1760s Silk Brocade Court Dress Has Timeless Appeal

This weekend found me back at Historic Deerfield, visiting "Celebrating Fiber Arts" for the second time. I noticed several things differently during this visit, and while drawn to many of the same garments, looked at them afresh. Among the many delights of this gallery is the opportunity to view many garments without the intermediary of a glass or plexiglass barrier. I would like to share with you, as closely as possible, what I was able to savor twice in the last six weeks.
Not surprisingly, I was again attracted to the blue and cream/white Court dress, with its glorious textile and abundance of hand knotted floss or fly fringe. The luscious blue & white silk brocade was woven in Lyon, France, about 1760. The panniers (hoops or baskets) are expansive but by no means the largest protuberances we have seen.  Indeed, as far as court dresses are concerned, there are numerous extant examples which exhibit far greater detail and expense. Perhaps this is in part why I find this garment so appealing - there is an accessibility to it. The palette is akin to the blue and white Delftware and Asian export ceramics which were widely mimicked and popular throughout the period, remaining desired to this day. 
While the floss fringe is extensive - yards of it cover the bodice, trim the sleeves and skirt - it complements the silk brocade and is not jarring to the eye. There is a pleasing balance and harmony in this dress, where all the parts come together to form a cohesive whole. A classic sensibility emanates from this garment, one that I imagine would lure many a contemporary visitor to take a closer look.

The combination of the fabric, detail and width of the dress, demonstrate that it would have occupied its own space and makes the spatial requirements of one "at court" quite clear - whether it be promenading, conversing or even standing still. To be in the presence of this gown, on its mannequin, commands your attention.
All the photos are courtesy of Historic Deerfield and were taken by the author. For more on the installation, see: "Cotton, Linen, Silk, Wool: Celebrating Fiber Arts" (http://silkdamask.blogspot.com/2013/11/cotton-linen-silk-wool-celebrating_15.html)

Curated by Ned Lazaro, Collections Manager and Associate Curator of Textiles

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
Department of History
University of New Hampshire

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Icy Blue Silk & Feathers: Two Wintery Victorian Garments, 1870s-1880s

Two Victorian garments recently caught my attention – both are of a pale, icy blue silk, trimmed with soft white feathers, perfect for winter entertainments and galas attended by the late 19th century elite.  
The Gown:

This fluffy, feminine evening gown of icy sky blue & gold silk, trimmed with feathers (perhaps eider?) is labeled "R.H. White & Co." one of Boston's premier shopping destinations well into the 20th century. This well-designed head-turner was created during the 1880s. The feminine evening gown features a light palette, popularized after the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia as "Colonial." Further, note the treatment of the gown construction, with a nod to the "petticoat." The designer was looking back to the garments of the previous century for inspiration. Perfect for evening Victorian soirees, can’t you just imagine its wearer making an entrance, all eyes turned upon her?

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number 2009.300.1803

The Dolman:

Looking for another little statement to adorn your holiday attire? How about an frosty blue silk dolman? Intriguing and attractive garment from a skilled, but anonymous Victorian designer. Look at that sleeve! Ornamented with extensive metallic silk trim (with a militaristic bent) and soft feathers which together create a sort of ying/yang effect. Note the substantial quilting which would have afforded some warmth. This is an American piece c. 1871.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accession Number 1979.346.96

What accessories would you select? A feather muff or fan?

Friday, December 20, 2013

Visiting With Elizabeth Bull's Wedding Dress, c. 1731-1735

“Tradition in the family states that he attended divine worship at Trinity Church, and there saw, for the first time, Miss Elizabeth Bull. He [Reverend Price] was so much pleased with her beauty that he gave up his intention of returning to England, sought her acquaintance, and during the year 1735 she became his wife.”
           -Annals of King’s Chapel.

When Miss Elizabeth Bull (b. 23 February 1716) began work on the dress that she would ultimately wear for her marriage to Reverend Roger Price, she was a teenager, probably about 15 years old. She most likely had not yet met, and was certainly not betrothed to, her future groom. According to The Bostonian Society (TBS), the caretakers of this rare pre-Revolutionary garment: "Miss Bull began designing, sewing, and embroidering her own China silk wedding gown while in school, a project undertaken by young women to practice and perfect the advanced needle arts. She had already been working on the gown for several years when, in 1734, she met Reverend Roger Price at Trinity Church. The gown was still not completed when Miss Bull wore it to their wedding the following year."

Viewing the "practice bodice" worked by Elizabeth Bull, perhaps as a prelude to her wedding dress, was an unexpected treat. Apparently never completed or worn, it is in excellent condition and the colors are still vibrant. My photos do not capture the texture & nuance of the piece, but hope they convey a glimpse of the beauty. This garment has long been one of my personal favorites, in part because of the many family stories the alterations reveal. Many will likely remain mysteries, even once the conservation of the dress is complete. The skilled work is being carried out by textile conservator, Kathryn Tarleton. (www.contextinc.net

Visiting at least a portion of the dress as it was intended – before the style driven alterations during the 19th century – provided a special opportunity to experience a 1730s garment. Embroidered bold, bright floral patterns, laid out asymmetrically, dominate the “practice bodice” currently on view at TBS. The twisting tendrils, over-sized motives and powerful palette are associated with the Rococo in textiles, furniture  and wall coverings and hangings.

Above, details, hand embroidered floral details, silk thread on silk.  Note the hand drawn pattern, completed either by the young Miss Bull or an experienced family member or instructor to guide her embroidery.

The Bostonian Society/Old State House has undertaken major conservation of this significant gown and will be posting new information as it becomes available.

Kimberly Alexander, Ph.D.
University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH. USA

Monday, December 16, 2013

Truth in Marketing, A Stange Bedfellow for History


On a cold grey December day that mirrors one I remember from long ago, oddly not far from the site of this scene, I found myself looking at a 1930s poster created for the LNER by Doris Zinkeisen (1898-1991).  I enjoy posters and when this image fell into my lap the other day the theatricality of the piece captured me.  It reads far more like a cartoon for a stage set or a historical romance film than a poster for a major rail line.  The hat on the red-coated gentleman is reminiscent of John Hurt and Tim Roth’s characters in the 1995 version of Rob Roy; it’s strange how the mind works. Well it seems that Zinkeisen was not only an artist but also a set and costume designer.   Then I looked at the text below and to the right of the image, which describes the scene as the secret signing of the article of Union between England and Scotland.  (I have absolutely no comment on the current referendum)  Having read Scottish history shortly after this event occurred it struck me that I had never heard of it, and for good reason, it didn’t happen.  As Dr. John Young, Sr. lecturer at the University of Strathclyde, recounts in an online article from 2009, the tale seems to have been invented in the late nineteenth-century and has survived into the twenty-first.  As the article points out, some parliamentarians may have taken refuge from a displeased Scottish mob in the cellar during negotiations, but no treaty was signed there. The full article is an interesting read and can be viewed here: http://www.strath.ac.uk/press/newsreleases/2009/headline_235561_en.html 

Nice piece of theatrical puff, a good poster, an interesting image and the kind of thing that drives some people daft.  But it happens all the time, or at least so this week. Kimberly recently posted a piece about the business card William Hogarth’s created for his sisters’ clothing business. Their shop was located near the gatehouse of Little Britain and it caught my eye. (It’s area of London that intrigues me.)  I found a description of the area in London Past Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions by Henry Benjamin Wheatley in 1891, who updated an earlier version of the book by Peter Cunningham in 1849.  On page 406 of the book the Hogarth business card is mentioned, but at the same time dismissed as, “probably an Ireland forgery.”  The name Ireland refers to Samuel Ireland, who was a prominent collector of Hogarth in the 18th century. For those interested, there is a book based upon this collection, The Graphic Illustrations of Hogarth published in London in 1794.  Back on track, at the present time, the card is considered real, but sometime in the 19th century at least one person thought it wasn’t. (I cannot find a reference to this in Cunningham’s Handbook of London (1849 or 1850), so it may be Wheatley’s opinion in 1891…?) 

Both pieces were produced for travelers, the first to entice and the second to inform. Romanticizing the past can capture an audience and may lead to a genuine enquiry.  We can not know everything about the past so we need to remember to objective lest the relish becomes the joint. Opinions and stories shift throughout history or the understanding of history and there are moments when a new twist influences our perception of the truth, transforms a fact and sends us down a different path.  No treaty was signed in the cellar, but did parliamentarians seek refuge from angry mobs in 1706. Similarly, was there concern in the 19th century that an 18th century collector was manufacturing Hogarth’s work and passing it off as original, or was it an expert establishing his turf?  Another day, another quest…

Peter Cunningham, Handbook For London, John Murray, London 1849, enlarged 1850.
Henry Benjamin Wheatey, London Past Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions, Cambridge University Press, (1891), reprint 2011

Jeffrey Hopper is an editor, independent scholar and frequent writer on men's wear and related topics for SilkDamask.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is there an app for that? A Wedding Dress; A Wedding Shoe, 1870s

I am partial to the cut of 1880s and 1890s, with fitted jackets over yard after yard of skirt and trim. Despite the activity and asymmetry of the skirt, there is a balance to the lavish whole. American or European, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Acc. # C.I.45.83a, b
This is going to be a simple post but one that sums up the opportunities we have before us in this technological, image-driven age. There is nothing new here–-just a short tale of how connected we can be and the ability we have to make connections across countries and cultures, which were absent or laborious, at best, for previous generations.  For historians of material culture and costume history like myself, the technology opens doors that had been shut.

This morning I posted this lavish, lovely 1870 wedding dress from the collections of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC, USA.  I shared it on Twitter and Facebook, as usual.  Not only was the response a staggering number of shares and retweets, but I was delighted to find that The Shoe Museum, Somerset, UK (Clark's shoes) kindly went through their vast shoe inventory to locate and send along an image of these dreamy shoes (1879) to accompany the wedding dress. The cream ribbed silk, embroidered with silk and pearls would have provided a perfect counterpoint to the gown.

Despite being worn separately, they convey a sense of the Victorian era on both sides of the Atlantic–-shared impulses of style & fashion, fabrics & finishes.

Detail of silk skirt with large "ribbons" (which trail off into further detail) from the 1880s wedding dress,
possibly American (above).
The Metropolitan Museum of Art (http://www.metmuseum.org/collections) The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide provides a comprehensive view of art history spanning five millennia and the entire globe. (http://store.metmuseum.org/invt/mmanewguide#.UqnPjKXm4fZ)

The Shoe Museum houses hundreds of historic shoes, including Roman, Medieval and Victorian and tells the history of Clarks Shoes.  Street, Somerset


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Glimmer of Gold: A 19th Century Bonnet

The costume collection at the University of New Hampshire includes lovely fashionable hats from the 19th and early 20th centuries, but among the silk and straw headwear is one unusual piece that stands out--a bonnet made of beaten gold. (photo 1) (photo 2)
Bonnets like this were part of traditional folk wear in Germany and Austria in the 19th century though they likely developed from earlier 16th century gold-embroidered hair cauls. There were a number of regional shape variations and names, such as Goldhaube, Bodenhaube, and Riegehaube. Each bonnet would have taken about 200-300 hours to make, and would have been worth several monthly wages. This particular bonnet dates to the late 19th century and is constructed of lace woven from thin strips of gold, mounted on linen. (photo 3) 
The brim flares gently outward with pleated fans of gold lace, with linen lace finishing the inside, both supported by internal wires. (photo 4) The back is embellished with padded embroidery, sequins, and either garnets or glass. (photo 5) Broad purple and green silk brocade ribbons form many-lobed bows at nape with long streamers. (photo 6)

A similar bonnet ( Acc. No. 2009.300.2554) is located at the Metropolitan Museum, with more gemstones and with gold ribbons instead of silk. (photo 7)

Interestingly, these caps are still being made and worn today by members of charitable folk culture groups in Germany and Austria. The skills are still being taught, keeping this beautiful art alive. (photo 8, 9, 10)

Guest blogger, Astrida Schaeffer is author of "Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail" and Principal of SchaefferArts, Costume Exhibition & Care www.SchaefferArts.com

Monday, December 2, 2013

William Hogarth's Sisters and "The Old Frock-Shop," 1730

Part of my research this weekend transported me to 18th century London via trade cards and broadsides. One of my favorites is "the old Frock-Shop." The proprietors were Mary (1699-1741) and Ann (1701-1771) Hogarth, sisters to the famed William Hogarth (1697-1764).
Mary Hogarth and Ann Hogarth, c. 1740
The sisters appropriately appear as forthright women of business- their dress suggesting some measure of success but not excessive; their facial expressions erring to the serious and matter of fact.
 (Painted as separate images; joined by author for demonstration)
Courtesy, Yale Center for British Art britishart.yale.edu

Hogarth, best known for his satirical engravings and "Modern Moral" subjects, engaged in multiple aspects of his trade in his early years, including learning to chase salvers and tankards.  Even in his 1730 trade card for his sisters, you sense he is somewhat bemused by the subject he portrays. A youth and his family are gathered round and appear to be engaged in a bit of drama, with arms gesturing. The gentleman is wearing a long coat with turned back cuffs and the indication of fancy stitching at button holes and pockets. The sisters sold "ready made frocks…stript Dimity & Flanel Waistcoats." A coat hangs in the background and what appear to be vest pieces or patterns are on the table to the right. You can just make out Hogarth's name in the lower left, as well as that of his frequent collaborator, engraver Thomas Cook.  A number of excellent London trade cards are published online at www.spitalfieldslife.com

What may be an example of Hogarth's earliest work is his own trade card from 1720, in the collection of the Bodleian Library (bodleian.ox.ac.uk). While the iconography  may appear somewhat pedestrian, he had just started his career and needed to demonstrate his abilities for a wide range of potential clients. Hogarth, like many other engravers who went on to success, were "jobbers" to the trade for bread and butter money.