I recently met friend Liza in the little town of Fountain Inn, SC. We were there to see an exhibition at the local museum, The Fabric of a Town: What We Wore from 1860 – 1960. Neither of us had ever been to Fountain Inn, which is just a few minutes south of Greenville, so we didn’t know what to expect. Small, local museums like the Fountain Inn Museum try very hard, but resources are slim, and there’s a lot of making do with what one has.
That said, we were delighted with what we found in Fountain Inn. The director of the museum, Kenzie Galloway, wanted to do a clothing exhibition, but the museum’s collection did not have enough garments to put on a good show, so she reached out to long-time members of the community and asked for loans of their clothes, and those of deceased family members. The result was a well thought out exhibition, with every piece a part of the story of the town.
This is not just a clothing exhibition; it is a collection of the stories of the people who are Fountain Inn. The wearer of each item is identified, any there are short stories about the wearers presented through the exhibition space. With the exception of exhibitions that feature the clothing of one person, you just seldom get this type of provenance.
Another advantage of this type of show is that you usually can get a good, close-up look. We were especially lucky because Kenzie walked through the exhibition with us, telling us even more about how she planned the show, assembled the garments, and recorded the stories.
This dress was one of my favorites, partly because it is so pretty, but mainly because of the woman who wore it. Emmie Stewart was in her mid thirties when she agreed to marry town dentist Doc Fulmer, provided he built them a large house and that he did not expect more than one child.
The dress was bought after the wedding and was Emmie’s afternoon receiving gown.
As you can see, she got the house and the one little boy.
This garment appears to me to be a dressing jacket, or a combing jacket. There is a matching corselet and petticoat (or skirt). It was made by one of the Mock sisters, Mattie and Maggie who were born in the 1860s. Both were accomplished seamstresses, which you will see once you know that the eyelets were all hand embroidered.
The sisters never married and lived together until Maggie died in 1940.
There are also men’s garments in the exhibition. This is a class coat from Furman College (now University) worn by Fred Wood. Fred graduated from Furman in 1930.
Furman’s college colors are white and purple, and the use of them has been traced to the early 1890s. My guess that the use of light blue and black for Fred’s coat indicate this was his class’s colors, which were different from the college colors.
And yes, there was a bit of sportswear, including this circa 1915 swimming tunic and bathing shoes. Unfortunately the bloomers were missing.
And there was this perfectly charming 1960s Jantzen swimsuit with matching cover-up or blouse.
Jantzen and Catalina made a lot of these matching sets in the 1950s and early 60s. It was fun to see a set that has remained together.
This is a beautifully preserved wedding gown from 1942. It was made by Carolyn White’s mother for Carolyn’s wedding to Luther White. Note the painting. This is Carolyn’s self-portrait of herself wearing her gown.
The display includes the sewing pattern!
You really can’t take us anywhere. Liza thought the veil was obscuring the beauty of the neckline. She was right.
A big challenge to small museums in displaying clothes is that mannequins and dress forms greatly enhance the way the garment looks, but these are not always available. Some of the plainer garments were hung on padded hangers, which pretty much worked. But some of the garments were much too fragile to hang and so were put in display cases. In the case of this late 1800s dress, there was no way it could have been displayed any way except flat. The silk is disintegrating, as you can see. It’s a shame, as this was a lovely dress.
This dress sparked a lively conversation about the stories that are often attached by family members to heirlooms. According to the story this dress was worn to a garden party in 1925. I’m not saying the story is not true, but if it is the wearer must have felt dreadfully out-of-date and overdressed.
There was a bassinette full of cute little baby things. Gwen Walton’s little feet wore these beautifully crocheted slippers.
I want to congratulate Kenzie for a job well done! The exhibition is running until July 30, 2021, so there is still time to see it if you are in the Greenville area.