Category Archives: North Carolina

Reynolda House Museum of American Art

Reynolda House Museum of American Art © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

On a recent trip to Winston-Salem, we took a bit of time to visit Reynolda House.  I’ve been there several times, but there was an exhibition of Ansel Adams photographs that I wanted to see, and Tim had never seen the house.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.

Reynolda is the story of three women – Katherine Smith Reynolds, her daughter Mary Reynolds Babcock, and granddaughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse.  Even more interesting is that the main character in this story in times past was R.J. Reynolds, Katherine’s husband, and the owner of Reynolds Tobacco.  But this house is so much more than the house of a wealthy industrialist.  It was a home created by the Reynolds women.

To be fair to RJ, he only lived there a very short time before he died.  The house was finished in 1917, and he died in 1918, but it did become the family home in every sense.

In 1905, RJ married his cousin and much-younger secretary, Katherine Smith.  He was pretty much a confirmed bachelor, and I’m sure all of Winston-Salem was a bit taken aback by the wedding.  Smith was an accomplished woman for the times, having not only graduated college and having moved from the family home to the city to work, but she was also an expert seamstress who made much of her trousseau.  Over the next few years she had four children.

The family lived in Winston-Salem, but Katherine bought large tracts of land a few miles north of the city.  That is where Reynolda and its supporting farm and village were built.  As you can see, the exterior of the house was rather plain.

The Reception Hall at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

But as you stepped into the front reception hall, you knew this was no ordinary country home.  This was a house to be lived in, but it was also built for entertaining.

After RJ died, Katherine and their children continued on at Reynolda.  In 1921 she remarried, and unfortunately, she died following the birth of a fifth child in 1924.  At the time her oldest child was only twelve.  Eventually, in 1934, daughter Mary Babcock became the owner of the estate.  Her own children were in part reared in the house, which Mary and her husband updated after moving there in the 1930s.

Art Deco Bar at Reynolda House © Reynolda House Museum of American Art

While the main part of the house was left intact, Mary turned the basement into a recreation center, complete with bar, bowling alley, and indoor swimming pool.  Her family lived there through the 1950s, when it was becoming increasingly hard to maintain such a huge house and estate.  In the 1960s the property was made into a non-profit that was to further arts education.

Mary’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse became the next woman to shape Reynolda.  She had become interested in American art in a time when there was not much interest in it, and so she was able to start a collection that became the nucleus of the Reynolda House Museum today.  She had a simple strategy for collecting – to buy the best example she could find of who she considered to be the American masters.

The house opened to the public in 1967, and as a high school junior I visited it in the fall of 1971 as part of a statewide tour my class got to take.  I can remember that we all compared it unfavorably to the Biltmore House in Asheville, but one classmate pointed out that it was more like a home than was the Biltmore.  And he was right.

One thing of interest to the fashion lovers among us is that Katherine Smith Reynolds loved clothes, and she used a big room on the third floor of the house as her huge closet.  Over the years, the other men and women of Reynolda used this area as clothing storage, and in 1972 the room was “rediscovered” and found to be full of the clothing of three generations of the family.  Despite the fact that the room had been used by the children as a source for dress-up play, the clothes were in good condition.  Today, the attic is a display space for a rotating exhibit of the Reynolds family clothing.

After my first visit to the house in 1971, I did not make it there again until 2003.  I went because I’d read that the Reynolds clothing was on exhibit, so I went and spent an entire afternoon sketching the collection.  I can’t remember if there was a photography policy, but at the time I was so into drawing that I probably would not have taken them any way.

On this trip, I did notice the policy (Oh, now Instagram has changed things!) and photos are allowed in only two areas inside the house.  I’m sure this is a compromise to satisfy the selfie generation as the two areas are great photo opps.  Still I found myself wanting to photograph the details of the clothing, as with a husband along, the time for sketching just was not there.

But I was even more surprised later when I reread the list of rules and found that one must have permission before sketching in the house.  I really do not understand why an art museum would want to limit sketching.

I do understand the photography rule though, and like it or not, I will admit that our visit was enhanced by the knowledge that I could not whip out the phone and start snapping.  It was a quiet afternoon at the museum, and we had the little audio tour devices which told not only about the house and the Reynolds family, but about most of the works of art on display.  Still, I’d have loved some detail shots of that Boue Soeurs cape.

Click for more about Reynolda House, including some shots of the clothing.

Sightseeing hint:  As a former teacher, I know that school groups have to be at a site early, and they usually have to return to school before it closes between 2:30 and 3:00 pm.  So late afternoon is a quieter time to visit many museums that are popular with groups of school kids.

 

 

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Ad Campaign – Aberfoyle Fabrics, 1928

Susan at Witness2Fashion sent these ads my way because she noticed that the Aberfoyle mill was located in North Carolina.  I had never heard of Aberfoyle, but as it turns out, they had a mill in Belmont, NC, a small mill town just west of Charlotte.  I’ve been to Belmont plenty of times, mainly because there are several antique places there, one in a repurposed textile mill.  By looking at some photos Susan linked to, I at first thought that the mill I like to visit was the Aberfoyle plant, but on further investigation I realized that Aberfoyle was located down the street outside of town.

On that street, there were at least three textile mills, all of which are now closed.  Even after the factory buildings are torn down, you can often tell were they were located by the presence of lots of similar little houses, lined in neat rows.  These are former mill houses, built by the company as housing for the workers.  There are clusters of mill houses all over Belmont.

The wonderful textilehistory.org site appears to have been down for the past few weeks, which makes learning about these old textile companies a bit more difficult than usual.  I have learned that Aberfoyle began in Chester, PA in 1889, and later opened a mill in Belmont, probably because they were doing business with the other mills in that area, and because production costs were less in the South.  The Chester Mill closed in 1950, but the one in Belmont stayed open at least into the 1960s.

From reading the ads, you can see that Aberfoyle produced what many other Southern mills made – cotton dress goods.  I love how in the ad above you can see snippets of the fabric designs, which are arranged in a very Art Deco manner.

The artist of these is Helen Dryden, who is probably most famous for her beautiful magazine covers of Vogue.  She also did covers for Delineator, where these ads were found.  I can’t help but wonder what the workers at Aberfoyle thought of these stylish ads.  The late 1920s were particularly hard times for textile workers, and I suspect they would not have seen the “story behind their gaiety” that is implied in the ad.

I did learn of a history museum in Belmont that has exhibits on the town’s textile heritage.  I know what I’ll be visiting the next time I’m passing through that area.

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Fashionable Romance at the Biltmore Estate, Part II

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet as worn by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.  What more can I say except this dress looked much better in person.

Also on view were these dresses from the 1996 version of Pride and Prejudice.  These dresses belonged to Miss Bingley and her sister, Mrs. Hurst.

Probably my favorite costumes from the exhibition were the ones from Out of Africa.  The designer Milena Canonero was nominated for a Best Costume Design Oscar, but she did not win.  That’s a bit of a shame, actually, because the costumes were quite influential in starting a trend for “safari clothes.”

Here’s another ensemble as worn by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa.  I really do wish you could see just how wonderful this suit is, with construction of silk.  Truly, it was my favorite.

This wedding dress is from a 1996 production of Hamlet.  Yes, Hamlet.  I don’t remember this film, but director Kenneth Branagh set it in the Victorian era, rather than the Middle ages of the original.  I didn’t quite know what to make of this dress, but I loved the way it was displayed, with the mirror view of the front.  It was worn by Julie Christie in the role of Queen Gertrude.

I really, really disliked this dress, and I can’t decide if it is the dress or the portrayal.  It was worn by Billie Piper as Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and while I’m quite sympathetic toward Miss Price, I hated the way Piper played her.  Oh, well, the dress is all sparkly and looks like something a modern mother of the groom would wear if trying to compete with the bride.  Remember, this is a Regency era film, and the dress just did not look true to era.

A better known Jane Austin adaptation was the 1996 film, Emma.  Played by Gwyneth Paltrow, it was a sweet movie, convincingly played.  The fact that Paltrow’s figure was perfect for Regency dresses helped, though on this wedding dress, the mannequin was a bit too busty, and thus the dress is riding up where it should not be.  Still, I like this and the other Emma costume.

Again, as mentioned before, the way the tour winds through the house opened up opportunities to show off more than one view of some of the clothes.  This is the veil on Emma’s wedding dress.

And here is the second dress from Emma, though the lighting was terrible.  This was worn in the picnic scene.

This is the wedding dress worn by Frances O’Connor in the 2000 film, Madame Bovary.  It was set in the mid to late 1850, in the era of hoops and pagoda sleeves.

And another dress from Madame Bovary.

What was really interesting, was that not all the costumes were in the historic house.  There was one in the visitor’s center, and another, this one, was in one of the gift shops. This is a costume from Tess, the 1979 Roman Polanski adaptation of Tess of the d’Ubervilles.  The dress was in a glass prison, but that allowed one to see it on all sides.

I think this is supposed to be late 1880s, after the bustle collapsed and sleeves started getting puffy.  It’s a lot of look.

And finally, there was this dress, which is not a film costume, but is rather, a reproduction of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 1924 wedding dress.  It was re-created by Cosprop, the company that produced the exhibition.  I find it interesting that the original does not exist, or maybe it does and is too fragile to display.  But for some reason, very few of the Vanderbilt family’s clothing survive.  You would think that with all those rooms they’d have plenty of storage space.

Biltmore House was opened to the public in 1930. From what I’ve read, the family was in need of cash, as most of their assets were tied up in the house and the many acres of land.  The estate was a working farm, and some money was being made from dairy cows, but it was during the Depression and money was tight.  The city of Asheville asked Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, who had inherited the house in 1925, to open it to the public to draw tourists to the area.  For years only a small part of the house plus the gardens were open, with the family continuing to live there at times.

Over the years, the business at Biltmore has grown considerably.  The dairy is long gone, but in its place is a popular winery.  There are two hotels on the property, and a number of restaurants and cafes.  Much more of the house has been opened, including the downstairs area where the servants worked and lived.

What I found interesting on this trip was how Biltmore seems to have looked at other more touristy, attractions to increase revenue.  One thing that stood out was how they are now targeting children in some of their branding.  Using the “character” of a former St. Bernard owned by Mr. Vanderbilt named Cedric, they have made a special audio tour for kids with Cedric as the guide.  In the gift stores there were Cedric items for sale, and I saw several children carrying around Cedric stuffed dogs.

There is an attempt to market Biltmore, not as an historic site, but as an experience.  Professional photographers take each visitor’s photo as they pass through the house, much like is done in Walt Disney World, and the Titanic attraction in Branson, Missouri and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  There are Segway tours, river rafting and carriage rides.  For shoppers, there are a total of twelve gift shops.

If you plan a trip to Biltmore Estate looking for a purely historical experience, you are not going to find it. I suggest to any first time visitor that they take the audio tour, and try to tune out the rest of it.  It is a beautiful house, nicely situated, and it’s always interesting to see how the other one percent lived.

 

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Fashionable Romance at the Biltmore Estate

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Biltmore Estate with friend Liza of BetterDressesVintage and her friend Sarah.  The occasion was a new fashion exhibition at Biltmore, Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film.  As the title tells us, all the garments on display were actual film costumes, and there were some very interesting ones.

For those of you not familiar with Biltmore, it is one of the Vanderbilt mansions.  It was built by George Vanderbilt, and was officially occupied in 1895.  In 1930 the house was opened to the public.  It is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants and is today, big business.  The estate is a major employer in this area, with more than 2000 workers.

Over the years I’ve been to Biltmore numerous times and it always amazes me how they continually update the experience of the visit.  Six years ago they added costumes to the house tour after doing their research and seeing how popular costume exhibitions have become.  Last year they had the Downton Abbey costume exhibition, and this year they have followed it up with Fashionable Romance.

In all the years I’ve been to Biltmore, they had never before allowed inside photographs, so when we got there and found that photos were allowed, I was caught without my good camera.  I’m afraid we’ll have to made do with the inferior cellphone shots that I took.  And I took a lot of them, probably because it felt like I was getting away with something naughty.

One of the real treats of visiting Biltmore is how it is always decorated with flowers and plants.  On this visit there was the addition of drapery and ribbons, as if the house were a setting for a wedding.  Very effective, as you can see in the top photo.  This is the banquet hall, from the rear of the room.  The tour twists and turns, and often visitors are treated to multiple views of the same space.

And now for the clothes…

Despite the title of the exhibition, not all the costumes were wedding attire.  This is one of the dresses worn by Keira Knightley in 2008’s The Duchess.  As I study mainly twentieth century clothing, this 1770s dress is well beyond my area of knowledge.  As much as I would love to, I can’t say a thing about this dress other than it is pretty.

This is the wedding dress worn by Knightley along with the wedding attire of Ralph Fiennes.  This dress has the panniers and stomacher expected on a dress of this era.

The next set of costumes are from the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility.  That is the wedding dress of Elinor Dashwood as worn by Emma Thompson, and Edward Ferrars, as portrayed by Hugh Grant.

And here are the clothes of Marianne Dashwood as played by Kate Winslet, along with her groom Colonel Brandon who was portrayed by Alan Rickman.  Both dresses looked like reasonable early 1800s dresses, though I thought it was a bit odd that both were white, seeing as the vogue for white wedding dresses came along in 1840 with the wedding of Queen Victoria.

These three dresses were worn in a 1992 adaptation of the E.M. Forster novel, Howards End.  From left to right, the wearers were Vanessa Redgrave, Emma Thompson, and Susie Lindeman.

You may have noticed that the three films mentioned thus far are all British productions.  That’s not a coincidence, as the exhibition was produced by Cosprop, a London-based costume production business.  Cosprop was founded in 1965 by designer John Bright, and he and Jenny Beavan (the recent Oscar winner for best costumes) designed the costumes for several of the movies represented.  Cosprop was also responsible for many of the costumes used in Downton Abbey, and they produced the Downton Abbey costumes exhibition that has been traveling around the USA.

This dress was worn by Helena Bonham Carter in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein of 1994. It was designed to be a wedding dress, but plans changed and it was worn in a ballroom scene.  I knew that Helena Bonham Carter is a small woman, but she is tiny.

Here’s another shot of the dress.  It was placed in Biltmore’s library, one of my favorite rooms.  It may be just that I’m so familiar with the house and that I was focusing on the clothes, but the interior of the house seemed to be relegated to being merely a background for the costumes.  I hope that first time visitors were not so distracted.

This costume and the one following were used in a 2002 BBC  production of Daniel Deronda. The book was written in 1876, and I’m not familiar with the story so I don’t know the time frame.  Both dresses have bustles, though the skirt on the green one looks to be a bit plain for 1876.  But then, I’m no expert.

When it comes to more recent stories that involve real people, the costumer is often able to begin with photographs, or even an existing dress.  You might recognize this as the Mainbocher dress worn by Wallis Simpson for her wedding to the Duke of Windsor.  Actually, it is a costume based on the original dress, which is now faded to grey and which is part of the Met’s collection.  This was worn by Joely Richardson in Wallis & Edward of 2005, and by Andrea Riseborough in W.E. in 2005.  I was impressed at how much this dress looks like the original, though Wallis definitely wore it better than the mannequin.

The dress is also based on an actual wedding dress, that of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  The dress she wore in 1923 to marry Prince Bertie was not particularly flattering to her, and this reproduction is downright dreadful.  The fabric looked to be a heavy poly knit, though I could not swear to it.  I didn’t see the movie, Bertie and Elizabeth, so I can’t say how well or poorly the dress photographed.  I assume the headdress was improved with a bit of hair peeking out the sides.

I’ll finish this long look at movie wedding attire in my next post, where I’ll also have some things to say about historical sites.

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Shopping with the Vintage Traveler: Hendersonville, NC

I recently had business in Hendersonville, but that suited me because there are lots of great vintage shops in that area.  I was on a tight schedule, and so I was only able to stop at two places, but there was a lot of great stuff to see and talk about.

One thing I can say for certain, in the first three decades of the twentieth century they really knew how to sell a book.  I’m talking about the fantastic covers.  Just look at Peg o’ My Heart above.  I’d have bought that book based on the little scruffy dog alone, not to mention Peg and her little bag.

Or what about Peacock Feathers, with that super Coles Phillips illustration?  I am always on the lookout for pictures of women wearing pants in the forest.  But it has been pretty much my experience that when it comes to mass market books of that era, you just can’t judge the book by its cover.  It leads to great disappointment.

Someone assembled a lovely scrapbook filled with illustrations like this farm girl.  Behind it you can see a wallpaper sample.  It was full of loveliness, but then when I turned to look at the cover I saw that the book was originally a 1910 tailoring book of wool fabric samples and drawings of the suggested suits.

My guess is that these are bicycling boots.  The heels are a bit high for hiking, though they could have served that purpose as well.

I don’t see a lot of these patio sets here in the East.  They were made to sell to tourists visiting the Southwest, but I have a feeling that the ones purchased didn’t get a lot of wear.   They border on costume, being based on the tightly pleated skirts of Navajo women.  They were even called squaw dresses during the time, though that term is not used much these days due to the idea that some consider the word to be offensive.

Here’s the label, with a great thunderbird motif.

Of course I had to photograph these Scottie twins.

Here’s a wooden handbag that was trying to cash in on the popularity of the Enid Collins bags.  This one is not signed in any way.  I love the 1960s version of nostalgia, with all its quaintness.  Make sure you note the doggie in the basket.

I do not need to take up another craft, but I’d almost learn to knit in order to have a pair of those beer socks.

There are quilt historians who claim that quilt makers invented modern art.  This quilt is an excellent argument in their favor.

Here’s proof that there are still bargains to be found in antique stores.  This silk teddy from the 1920s was unworn and perfect, and only twelve dollars.

I’m sorry about the quality of this photo, but look carefully to see how this velveteen handbag is shaped using folds.  And what about that clasp?  It almost looks like a pair of lips.

And finally, a 1940s photographer gets all artsy.

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Liberty Antiques Festival – Fall 2015

For ten years I’ve been going to the Liberty Antiques Festival.  I’ve always gone by myself, leaving my husband, Tim, at home with the dog.  But we are now dogless, our dear little terrier having left us after over eighteen years, and so Tim decided to see what it is that is so interesting that I have to go twice a year to a field that is literally in the middle of nowhere.

Unfortunately, the weather was dismal, with rain alternating with more rain, and so we spent a wet morning trying to visit all the vendors who were huddled under their tents in an effort to keep their treasures dry.  Still we had a really good time, and we both kept a sense of humor about the day, especially with so many great things to see.

The Ideal Velveteen illustration was a store counter ad that someone framed.  It was so pretty.

This booth is vintage handbag heaven.

One seller had several dozen feedsacks.  I love looking at them, trying to find unusual designs and novelty prints.  The one on the far right caught my eye.

How great is that?

I guess that this is proof that fashion has been used to sell almost anything!

I fell head over heels for this tea towel with Scotties.

There were few fashion magazines this time, but it seems like I always find something to stop and study.

Which is better, the hair tonic and head rub sign, or the doll hospital cut-out sign?

These adorable little children’s dresses were tempting.  I can’t help thinking that they were made for twins.

I suppose this is a Southwestern Native American souvenir piece, Navajo perhaps.

I could not help but imagine all the great stuff that had to have passed under that sporting goods sign.

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Greensboro Historical Museum

We spent a pleasant afternoon at the Greensboro Historical Museum, which is a lot more than just the holder of that fantastic Dolley Madison collection.  I’ve been to a lot of museums, big and small, and I’ve found that the measure of a good one is how it tells the story it sets out to tell.  In this case, it is easy; the story is the history of the City of Greensboro and the surrounding area.  And this little museum has a very good exhibition that tells that story with artifacts and interactive displays.

I always tend to focus in on the parts that tell women’s history and the history of textiles and clothing.  Above are pictured artifacts from the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina.  Founded as a normal school in 1891, WC is now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  At one time it was the largest college for women in the country.  Men were admitted starting in 1963.  My friend Carole who attended Women’s College before the name change still refers to UNC-G by the old name.

North Carolina is historically known for textiles, and Greensboro in particular is known for the production of denim.  There were interesting displays showing the large producers of the area – Blue Bell, the maker of Wrangler jeans, and Cone Mills, maker of denim fabric.

Considering the importance of textiles to the growth of Greensboro, I’d have expected a bit more about the industry.  But though the exhibit was small, there were lots of interesting things to see, and I learned a bit more about Cone.

There was a display on mill towns which included some photos and quotes about how children and education were valued.  Some mills provided kindergartens for the workers’ children.

On one floor the museum has set up a replica of some of the old town that has historical significance.  Writer O. Henry was a native of Greensboro, and he worked at a drugstore that was owned by an uncle.  He became a licensed pharmacist, a skill that helped him years later when he was imprisoned for embezzlement.  He was able to work in the prison hospital, away from the general prison population.

I can imagine that school groups really like this little town vignette, as it is a bit like going back in time.  There is also a hotel and a school with all sorts of things to explore.

There were a few exhibits that were a bit puzzling.  There was a room full of pottery from the Jugtown potters, which is not located in nor associated with Greensboro.  They also have a huge collection of Civil War guns that was exhibited in a very large area that prominently  displayed the names and portraits of the collectors.  Even my husband, who has a great interest in old firearms, admitted that it was gun overload.

I don’t know the circumstances of these items in the museum’s holdings, but one thing that many museums have to grapple with is the way their collections fit in with their mission statement.  I know that it must be difficult to say no to a donor, especially one who is also willing to donate money, but in this day and time when museums have moved beyond being mere cabinets of curiosities, it is important to stick to the purpose of the institution.  Personally, I’d have liked to see more of the Dolley Madison collection and less of the firearms.

As much as I love the great museums I’ve visited, I can’t say enough about the value of a museum like this one.  All places are unique, with interesting people and stories that need to be heard.  I urge you to seek out the small museums in your area and support them.

 

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