Category Archives: North Carolina

Vanderbilt House Party at Biltmore Estate

For the past several years, Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC has partnered with Cosprop to mount a costume exhibition in the house. Previously they have displayed costumes from Titanic and Downton Abbey, one year they displayed movie wedding dresses, and another, dresses from films inspired by literature.

This year’s fashion exhibition was a bit different, and more ambitious. Cosprop was hired to reproduce some of the actual clothing worn by the Edwardian Vanderbilts, the owners of the estate. To do this, photos were studied, along with other records such as newspaper accounts, letters, bills of sale and other family documents. It’s not entirely possible to know exactly how a garment that had long ago disappeared looked, especially as to color, but enough evidence was uncovered to give John Bright of Cosprop the information needed to recreate quite a few looks.

In the cases where clothing was recreated, the photos on which they were based was displayed along with the garments. The couple above is Adele and James Burden, two of the first visitors to Biltmore, soon after George Vanderbilt moved into the house in 1895.  Adele’s blouse was beautiful, but the sleeves look a bit deflated compared to the photo of her wearing the blouse. This was, after all, 1895, the era of the huge puffed sleeve.

We sort of joked that James’s ensemble can still be bought today at Ralph Lauren.

Most people can’t really relate to the fact that this was George Vanderbilt’s country home, and that the dress code there was much more casual than you would find in a house belong to the robber baron class in New York. There is a multitude of photos showing the Vanderbilts in outing attire. That’s George, ready for a walk around a small part of his estate.

There were several of these tweed and boots ensembles for men on display, but I was surprised that there was no real woman’s walking ensemble represented. Outdoor activities were a big part of what went on at Biltmore, with trails galore, even one that stretched the fifteen miles to the Vanderbilt’s hunting lodge.

This is the photo from which George’s tweeds were modeled. That’s daughter Cornelia before a swim, 1910.

When George Vanderbilt planned and built Biltmore, he was not married. He met and married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. Their only child, Cornelia, was born in 1900.

In the above vignette, George’s suit was reproduced from a photo of him taken in 1900, but “Edith’s” dress was borrowed from another Cosprop project, the 2000 film, The Golden Bowl. Quite a few of the garments in the exhibition are Cosprop products that were not specific to Biltmore. I don’t know why the decision was made to include these garments, but I suspect it was because of the expense. It’s a lot cheaper to rent an existing dress than to make a new one.

This lovely waist and skirt were recreated from a 1900 photo of Edith.

To me, this was probably the most effective recreation, with the design team going so far as to screen-print the exact pattern of the dots on the ribbon stripes of the blouse. There was an interesting little video for visitors to explain how many of the design decisions were made. Even though this is based on a black and white photo, through research they were able to determine Edith’s favored color palette, and to make a good guess at the actual colors used.

Here’s another recreation from a photo. This is Edith just before her marriage to George in 1898.

Her waist looks much more corseted in the photo.

Here’s another pretty waist and skirt combination. If it looks familiar, that’s because this was designed for the 1985 film, A Room with a View. 

Let’s not forget that there was a little girl in the house, and this setting was based on a 1904 photo of Cornelia and her aunt, Pauline Dresser Merrill. I really love Pauline’s travel ensemble.

Unfortunately, they left out Iwan the wolfhound, who was in the original photo.

And here is Cornelia again, along with her cousin John Brown.

John and Cornelia, 1906.

Not only were the Vanderbilts and their guests represented, but we get a glimpse of the staff as well. Here is the gentleman’s gentleman getting out Mr. Vanderbilt’s motoring accessories.

And this is Martha Laube, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s lady’s maid.

A group of guests have made themselves comfortable in the third floor living hall.

And just down the hall a maid is busy unpacking a visitor’s trunk. Much of the third floor was for house guests.

The basement had multiple functions.  Here was located the kitchen, the laundry, and the food and serving supplies storage. It was also the location of recreation rooms, including this bowling alley.

Past the bowling alley and a line of changing room is the indoor pool. Here on the diving platform are two bathing suits that probably would have never been seen together, The one at top is circa 1920, and the one at bottom is ten years older. Both are a bit too new to fit in with the rest of the clothes on display.

This gymnastics girl was right on point. I would have loved to get a closer look at her shoes. Which leads me to one of my issues with Biltmore clothing exhibitions. The clothes were just out of range to get a really good look, I could not tell if these were antique or newer that just look old.

After the trek through the basement, the tour planners wisely bring the visitor back to the fancy side of things by going back to to the first floor and the magnificent banquet hall. This is where one “dressed” for dinner. Above we see the recreated  Worth dress of George’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly.

And here is Florence.

Also in the banquet hall was this dress, worn by Edith in 1903.  The dress in the background is from Cosprop’s inventory.

If you visit Biltmore, be sure not to miss the Legacy Museum located near one of the hotels. They do changing exhibitions, with the current one being on travel and recreation. The notes on this motoring duster were not exactly clear, but I am pretty sure it is antique, as is the Louis Vuitton trunk.

There were also lots of photos showing the Vanderbilts and guests at play on the estate. I wish they had recreated Edith’s outing suit.

I really appreciate that Biltmore has a commitment to doing a costume show every spring.  Tickets are not cheap, but they really do try to make the visit as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The floral arrangements alone are worth seeing.

And if you go, why not try the most appropriate dress, as these members of Atlanta Time Travelers did? That’s my friend Liza on the right, along with Randi and Bobbie Jo. Their attire enhanced everyone’s experience!

Finally, here I am with Edith, Iwan, Cedric, and George. The photo prop was based on an actual photograph from 1903. Thanks to Liza for the photo.

 

 

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Filed under Museums, North Carolina

Anne Adams Sewing Patterns, Fall 1938

Anne Adams was the name of a sewing pattern company which sold their products through syndicated content in newspapers across America. I have seen Anne Adams patterns from the 1940s through the 1980s, but this catalog of designs is dated 1938. I added it to my archive because it was published by my hometown paper, the Asheville Citizen.

In looking through this catalog, I was struck by the big variety of lifestyles Anne Adams catered to. As you can see on the cover, there were evening gowns for those who had need of them. And while people might not think that women in a small city in the middle of the southern mountains would need a formal gown, there were plenty of events in Asheville that would make such a dress a necessity for many women.

On the other end of the spectrum was the house dress. A woman working at home during the day might not wear the three inch heels shown in the illustration, but I can remember that as late as the 1960s my grandmother and her three sisters always wore dresses similar to the ones pictured while doing their house cleaning, laundry, and cooking. All of them made these dresses out of cheerful prints in easy to clean cotton.

Here is a grouping of day dresses of a different sort. These were not for housework. They were for shopping or lunching, or perhaps for a club meeting.

In 1938, as it is today, the older woman is encouraged to look younger and thinner. Some things seem to never change.

For the truly young, there were campus fashions, starring the original teenage star, Deanna Durban.

The career woman was advised to make and wear separates which she could mix and match. The idea of separates is more associated with the 1950s, but it actually dates back much earlier, to at least the 1890s.

It’s pretty unlikely that in 1938 there was any skiing going on in the Asheville area, but a good, warm coat was needed. Interestingly, with the exception of pajamas, this was the only pair of pants offered for women. That was to change dramatically in just a few years.

And here are the other pants, in the form of pajamas. I can see where the width of the hems is starting to diminish from the extremely wide legs of the mid 1930s.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, one of the chief complaints of the girls in my school was that “fashion” here was two years behind what we saw in the fashion magazines. I’ve come to realize that our own conservatism had more to do with that than what was available to us. Even in 1938, women in the mountains of North Carolina could buy patterns of what was fashionable in other markets.

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Filed under North Carolina, Proper Clothing, Viewpoint

Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring 2018

It’s officially flea market season. This weekend was one of my favorites – the Liberty Antiques Festival. It never disappoints and this show was especially good. We have been in a rainy pattern here in the Southeast, and often that means dealers leave the textiles at home, but for some reason they all took the chance on the weather. As it turned out, both days of the show were beautiful, if a little on the cool side.

Despite the presence of clothing, I didn’t find anything I needed for my collection, but I did find shoes and skates and a great little pair of “ski-skates”. So, here’s what I saw that was interesting to me, but I didn’t (for the most part) buy.

I loved this, and could see how handy it would be for sorting all my embroidery thread, but where would I put it?

There was a new dealer who had the most fantastic photos. The ones above and below were all in a group from a news service, and were of the rich and famous. Many, like this one, were identified:

The engagement was announced yesterday of Lady de Clifford and Mr. Arthur Stock, of Glenapp Castle, Ballentrae, Ayrshire. Our photo shows Lady de Clifford with Mr. Arthur Stock at Murren in Switzerland.

This group of photos was a real treasure, and needed to be kept together, so there was no way I could afford the thirty-odd photos that were priced at $20 each. A shame.

This is a chromolithograph of the sort that people collected for their scrapbooks. So pretty, but again common sense whispered that the price was too much.

At first glance this looks like an ordinary shirt. But look at the $2 bill and the spoons, and you can see that this is a miniature salesman’s sample.

Flea market rule #14: Every single box of textiles much be thoroughly examined for hidden treasure.

Without a doubt, this is the best way to display vintage hankies I’ve ever seen. Most dealers just pile them in a little box and one has to stand and flip through the entire stack. This way potential buyers can see at a glance if this seller has any hankies of interest.

What about the Nunn-Bush salesman’s case? And it was surprisingly well-made, with nice leather trim.

I may have shown this little boy’s middy and knickers set before, as I’m pretty sure I had seen it previously. I don’t usually buy children’s clothing, but this was a temptation, as it shows a step in the progression of girls and young woman wearing middys for sports.

This scarf was pretty amazing.

I see a lot of overshot coverlets at shows like this one, but rarely one with light blue and red. Very pretty!

This handbag was tiny and made from cardboard. But look at that Scottie.

Here’s proof that I live on the edge. I took this photo to show in this post, but the more I thought about Peter’s Ski Skates, the more I wondered why I didn’t buy them. I even posted a photo on Instagram, hoping that would be enough, but all the enablers over there told me I should have bought them. By that time I realized a smarter somebody had probably scooped them up, but I got back to the seller’s booth and they were still there. He even gave me a generous discount.

Meet Rosco. Unfortunately, he was not for sale.

The show was a bit smaller than last fall’s show, and two of my favorite sellers were not there. Still, I found some fantastic things for my collections, which I’ll be showing off in the coming days.

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Filed under I Didn't Buy..., North Carolina, Road Trip, Shopping

William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016

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I’m always up for a good surprise, and that’s what I got when visiting The Mint Museum recently. I was going to meet a long-time online friend, Lynn Mally, who writes AmericanAgeFashion, and I hadn’t really thought too much about the exhibitions. I knew they were showing theater costumes from William Ivey Long, but since the show wasn’t “historical” I wasn’t too enthused about seeing it.  I was wrong.

One of my first thoughts about this show is it is a fantastic example of just how much clothing exhibitions have changed from just a few years ago. This is not a bunch of costumes lined up to show how pretty or extraordinary they are. Instead, the visitor is treated to mood boards, sketches, fabric swatches, historical inspirations, and, yes, some pretty spectacular costumes.

Long is best known for his work on Broadway, but he also did the costumes for a famous North Carolina play, The Lost Colony. This drama has been presented during summers since 1937 at Manteo, NC, and as a youngster, Long’s family all worked on the play. In 2007 the theater’s costume shop was destroyed by fire, and William Ivey Long was called on to design new ones.

For each play featured in the exhibition, there were tables set in front of the display to show Long’s design process. One of the first steps is to establish a color palette, which Long does using watercolors.

Using historical references, and in this case, photos of the costumes that were destroyed in the fire, Long made detailed sketches for each character. Swatches of potential fabric choices were obtained, and studied until narrowed down to the ones that would be used to make the costumes.

It’s a bit jarring to see theatrical costumes so close up, as they are designed to be seen at a distance. So close one can see that Queen Elizabeth’s fine gown is not silk and gilt, but polyester and metallic trim. Her strings of pearls are obviously fake. But it is how the costume translates to the audience that counts.

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This costumes are from Little Dancer, a play about artist Edgar Degas, and the girl who inspired his famous sculpture.

Here you see the material that gave further meaning to the costumes. Long’s sketch is surrounded by the material he used to develop each costume.

You can tell that these dresses are representing the 1930s, right? While these are not faithful representations of what women wore in the 1930s, to me it was obvious what period of fashion they represented. These are from On the Twentieth Century.

And here are some of the swatches Long worked with in his design process. I love how he used the plaid, but cut it on the bias.

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These costumes are from an adaptation of Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This costume was designed for Laverne Cox for her role in the remake of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I can only imagine how amazing this show was!

Long put thought into the smallest detail, including the accessories for Cox’s role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter.

In 2015, Fox presented Grease Live! with  Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit in the starring roles. And while it may be hard to image Grease without Travolta, Hough was a superb Sandy. There were several of Long’s costumes on exhibit, including these from the Hand Jive sequence.

A real strength of this exhibition was the use of video to show the costumes as they were seen in the shows.

And here’s Lynn, standing proudly beside the costume we “draped”. Another strength was the hands-on activities like this one. There was also the opportunity to design a costume using a clever set of drawing templates. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t get a photo of our efforts.

How do costumes help develop the character on stage? The Mint gives visitors an opportunity to think about how the costumes relate to the character.

My thanks to The Mint for such a beautifully presented exhibition. You can see William Ivey Long: Costume Designs 2007 – 2016 in Charlotte through June 3, 2018.

 

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Early Southern Stitchery at MESDA, Winston-Salem, NC

Last weekend it was my great fortune to attend the MESDA Spring Seminar, Stitching a Southern Identity: Defining Female Culture in the Early South. MESDA is the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and is located at the southern edge of Old Salem, a Moravian town dating to 1766. The museum is located in a converted Kroger supermarket, and dates to 1965.

I signed up for this seminar on a whim. I’d planned to go to Williamsburg, VA for the Costume Society symposium, but a conflict prevented me from getting to make that trip. So this was a bit of a consolation prize, but as it happens, I’m really glad things turned out this way. I was pushed out of my comfort zone of 20th century clothing, and into a field about which I probably knew less than any of the other participants, at least it seemed that way by the learned conversations going on around me. And I can’t remember ever learning so much in two short days.

As the title suggests, this was all about the manufacture and decoration of textiles, mainly for use in the home. Most of the research presented was on samplers and quilts, but we also saw quite a bit of  other types of embroidery and of weaving. Without a doubt, my favorites were the samplers.

The word sampler tends to pull up an image of a school girl practicing her stitchery, and that’s a valid thought. But what was so surprising to me was the skill these girls exhibited in their work. Because girls tended to not only sign samplers, but also recorded their ages, we can see just how young these stitchers were. Even eight-year-olds were doing embroidery that would put me to shame!

Today samplers are valued not just as charming reminders of past childhoods, but also as historical documents. A girls would often include the names of family members, where she lived, important dates. But what is really interesting is how researchers today can look at a sampler and see so much more than the bare facts. This unusual sampler was stitched by Salley Keais, in 1793 in Washington, NC.

Researcher Marquita Reed was able to piece together a very good family history, just from the names and dates on the sampler and through searches in period newspapers. Her research helped explain the mermaid and the ship as it was found that hers was a family in the shipping business.

Another great sampler is this one by Sarah Hatton McPhail of Norfolk, VA. Other samplers of a very similar composition, including one by Sarah’s sister, were known to have been made in the Norfolk area. This tends to suggest that this was the style taught by the girls’ teacher. The fact that similar samplers were produced in the same school is a big help in identifying samplers, and has even led to the discovery of multiple samplers made under the direction of a particular teacher.

This close-up shows just how skilled Sarah was. She was eight years old at the time.

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This remarkable sampler is part mourning tribute, part family register, and part scrapbook. The stitcher, Mary Ann Colboard, made this sampler in 1821 in Charleston, SC. It is thought that they are mourning the death of Mary Ann’s stepfather. The church is easily recognizable as St. Philips, where Mary Ann was married the year after she completed this work.

We also learned about quilts and other bed coverings. This is part of an album quilt. Each square was made by a different woman, and then put together and quilted by Catherine Palmer, near Charleston in 1848.

The squares were appliqued. Each maker would cut out a design from printed chintz (often combining elements from three of more different prints) and then stitch the new design to a square of cotton. Then it would be assembled and quilted.

Even though this quilt is attributed to Catherine Palmer, it is very possible that she had help in the form of her enslaved workers. Documenting the work of enslaved persons is extremely difficult as their labor was an expected part of the household work and was not often noted. However, careful examination of quilts often reveals that the stitching was done by more than one hand. It stands to reason that these other hands could have been enslaved.

Weaving was another task often carried out by enslaved workers. Again, curators and researchers take what they know about a piece and try to determine whether or not it is possible that the item was made by an enslaved person.

It’s not possible for all the museum’s textile holding to be displayed all the time, but I was really surprised when the curatorial associate opened this cupboard to reveal a trove of handwoven coverlets and blankets.

I was surprised to see a few wallpaper covered bandboxes. For some reason I tend to associate them with the North, maybe because they are so seldom seen for sale here in the South.

Boys of the Powell Family by Samuel Moore Shaver, Knoxville, TN, circa 1850-1869

Just so you won’t get the idea that MESDA is just needlework, here are some details from their great collection of paintings. You will also find furniture, pottery, silverwork, clocks, books, woodwork and architectural elements, and ironwork.

I’ll close with this portrait of Mary Hawksworth Riddell and her daughter, Agnes Riddell. It was painted in the early 1790s by Charles Peale Polk (of the famous Peale family of artists).

I love that this sweet picture includes a basket of needlework.

My thanks to MESDA for such a rewarding experience. You can see more of their collection online.

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Getting Exercise at the Biltmore Estate

One of the things that amazes visitors to Asheville’s Biltmore Estate is the size of it. As a kid of twelve years visiting for the first time, I could not believe that this was the country home for three people. What was not explained back then was that it was home to the George Vanderbilts, but also a “hotel” for their friends, family, and acquaintances. Visitors to the estate were common, and many of the bedrooms were set aside for them.

The house was finished in 1895, and it was located way out in the country outside the very small city of Asheville. For people used to New York and Newport I can imagine that visitors wondered how they would spend the time at the estate. What would they do?

In planning Biltmore, Vanderbilt took this into consideration. He built a large library for the book lovers, and there were walking trails – eventually as far as Mount Pisgah which was fifteen miles away. He also built an indoor recreation area.

The gymnasium had been a popular idea for several years. Doctors and educators had begun to see the importance of exercise as a structured activity. But Vanderbilt’s gym area was not all work. He also had a two lane bowling alley.

It would not have been appropriate for the men and women at Biltmore to go traipsing around the house in their exercise attire and bathing suits, so a line of changing rooms was built between the bowling alleys and the indoor swimming pool.

It’s pretty much impossible to get a photo of the pool that shows it properly. It is in a tiled and vaulted room, with the deck built around three sides. It’s a large space, but feels a bit claustrophobic, as the walls are so close to the pool. If the tilework looks a bit familiar to those of you in New York, that is because it was designed by architect Raphael Guastavino, who worked extensively in New York, and designed many of the early subway stations.

There was once an outdoor swimming pool, which has been filled in.

The gym had some basic exercise equipment like the rowing machine above, but it was mainly an area for free exercise. On the wall you can see a row of “Indian” pins or clubs, which an exerciser used to swing around and build up the arms.

Or one could workout on the parallel bars, or use the wooden dumbbells located on the wall. There are even two showers.

This image is from an 1895 book, Artistic Work and Gymnastic Games by Henry S. Anderson and Stanley Schell. I love the thought of women thus attired in the Biltmore gym.

 

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Liberty Antiques Festival – Spring, 2017.

I’ve been attending the big outdoor antiques show at Liberty, NC since 2005, and in those years I’ve only missed the show one time.  That’s because this antiques show is good. In the past few years I’ve reported that the festival was shrinking, with fewer vendors, but I’m happy to say that this spring’s show seemed to be the most robust in years. I’m hoping that is a sign that the economic recovery that began in 2010 is finally making sellers, and buyers, more confident.

Not only were there more vendors, it seemed as though there were more buyers. In years past I’ve noticed how the majority of buyers seems to be in the plus 60 demographic.  This time around I saw lots of younger people out looking to build collections.  It’s a cheering thought.

Still, one woman I talked with, older than me, was lamenting the state of things, saying I’d missed the golden years of Brimfield.  That may be the case, but I still managed to see so much great old stuff here at Liberty, and I even added a few prime pieces to my own collection.  There will be more on that later, of course. For now, here are some other items of interest.

The days of stumbling across big stacks of vintage fashion magazines seems to belong to the past.  I spotted only one, and as luck would have it, I already have this issue of Vogue in my collection.

Continuing with the doggie theme, I spotted a salesman’s book of textile samples, got all excited only to find that the swatches had been removed and the book reused as a scrapbook.  There were some adorable Scotties in it so that made me feel a bit better.

A lot of clothing dealers don’t like to do outdoor markets, but Liberty has a few that are always there, regardless of the weather. It was warm and dry this weekend which made looking even better, as some dealers only bring textiles if it is dry.

It seems like there are always a few great old dressmaker’s dummies. This one with the bustle back was the oldest one I saw at the show. (And check out the Serro Scottie camper!)

This was a new-to-me item – a homemaker’s workbook.  All aspects of keeping a 1935 house were covered, from sewing to laundry to cooking. My guess is it was used in home economics classes.

This Kickaway box held underpants for little girls, but the company also made knickers for gym wear.  I have a pair in my collection.

Great old poster for Indian motorcycles had a great (big)  new price tag.

These double knit poly bells made a stunning display! Seriously, these are some of the best I’ve ever seen for sale, and all dead stock.

These are probably the oldest roller skates I’ve ever encountered, and only the high price tag kept me from buying them.  The wheels are made of wood, as are the soles.

I’ve also noticed that the Liberty show is attracting more sellers of country antiques.  There were lots of old rustic furniture, handmade baskets, and North Carolina pottery. This is not really my thing, but sometimes these dealers have great older textiles, which makes for a good learning experience.

All in all, it was a very good day!

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