2017-05-11 / Editorial

‘Embellishments’ opens this weekend

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By Leslie Rounds

When I think of the Victorian era – roughly the years of Queen Victoria’s very long reign, 1837-1901, I picture dark, fancy, fancy parlors, horse-drawn carriages, muddy streets and uncomfortable clothing. All of these were aspects of the era, but the one that jumps out at me foremost is how decorative clothing was in that period. (I admit that I am an absolute sucker for textiles so it’s not really surprising that wonderful clothing is my first thought.)

During the Victorian era, women’s clothing was usually richly embellished. Fabrics that featured sumptuous prints, patterns and colors were often draped in remarkable ways. Yards and yards of material were needed to accomplish these mind-boggling marvels of engineering. Rarely did the designers stop there, however. If ruffles, pleats, rouching, lace, buttons, fringe or tassels could be included, well, all the better.

This Friday night, May 12 at 5:30 p.m. is the free opening of our summer exhibition at the Saco Museum, “Embellishments in Victorian Fashion.” It focuses on how 19th century aesthetics influenced women’s clothing design and construction. It features 50 garments from five institutions in Maine and New Hampshire.

The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the University of New Hampshire Museum, and is curated by textile historian Astrida Schaeffer. For more than two decades, Ms. Schaeffer has researched, re-organized, rehoused and cataloged the University of New Hampshire Museum’s Irma Bowen Textile Collection. During this time she, as guest curator, organized three major exhibitions including her most ambitious enterprise, “Embellishments: Constructing Victorian Detail,” an exhibition that included a stunning catalog. Following the UNH Museum’s installation of Embellishments in 2012- 2013, the exhibition traveled to the Lowell Quilt Museum in Massachusetts and the Portsmouth Athenaeum in New Hampshire. This fourth iteration of Embellishments, greatly expanded with the addition of garments from the Saco Museum and other institutions, will truly be a feast for the eyes, as well as a wonderful opportunity to look at Victorian fashion close-up, in a new light.

In addition to the exhibit, there will be three special programs over the summer: Guest curator Astrida Schaeffer will present: “A Curator’s Tour” at 6 p.m., on Friday, June 16; “Three Dresses Up Close and Personal” on Friday, July 21 at 6 p.m.; and “How Victorians Got So Fancy” on Friday, Aug. 18, at 6 p.m. All of these programs are free and no registration is needed.

Finally, I want to thank all of the very nice people who turned out this spring at Saco City Council meetings to speak in support of your Dyer Library and Saco Museum, and most especially to thank the very hardworking members of the city council. Very late last night they voted to support our budget for the coming year. We will continue to strive to provide you with outstanding service at a price that represents a very good value for the citizens of Saco. We look forward to your visit.

Leslie Rounds is executive director of Dyer Library/Saco Museum.

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