Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nanny's 1906 Portrait Dress

Those of you who have been reading along might remember the amazing portrait I posted when discussing Nanny's closet. I'm sure you can imagine how anxious I was to find the dress from that portrait. But alas, I did not find it, and returned to school in upstate New York confident that it hadn't survived.

Since I was a kid when we went through the closet, I didn't have many qualms about the mess we made in the process; I was way too busy loving the treasure hunt. I think Grammy's curiosity had been triggered, too. I remember her often saying, "Huh, I've never seen that before." So she was totally nonchalant about having everything out even though we had trashed Nanny's former bedroom by using it to drop all the stuff we displaced to reach the closet's depths. When my vacation ended, I left without helping to put anything away.  As I'm sure you can imagine, subsequent visitors to Grammy had a "What the Hell happened here?" kind of reaction to the disaster. Someone seems to have continued the exploration though, because when I next visited Grammy, the room was still a mess, but it was configured differently and the goods removed had multiplied. More importantly, however, I was informed that the portrait dress had been located!

I rushed up the stairs and demanded direction to the dress in question, and was unbelievably deflated when I saw it. It looked like a mass of stiff yellowed paper. And not only did it look bad, but it was clear that there was NO WAY I'd fit into it. My disappointment was complete. I concluded, with all of my teenage knowledge, that it had probably been starched like crazy and stored that way, leaving it to shrink and become brittle over time. I took pictures in 2000, but remained unimpressed.

Even when we spread out the portrait dress for photos in 2000, it looked shriveled, yellowish, and generally not as fabulous as I expected it to be.  

Well, last week I was up in Maine and this time I was armed with two dress forms, a backdrop, a petticoat wired to help a trained skirt take its intended shape, and most importantly, a hand-held steamer! My aunt Joy inherited the portrait and the dress to go with it, so she brought it over for a photo shoot. Sadly, the original matching lace belt has not been located, so I substituted with another gathered belt from the collection that was period appropriate. The fabric is still yellowed, but it no longer looks like old shredded paper. So here it is: the dress Georgiana Mayhew Duncan wore in the portrait made when she graduated La Salle in 1906, front, back, side, and in detail. Now I can finally say that I'm impressed. Who wouldn't love this delicate frock?

1 comment:

  1. Sara, thank you so much for never giving up the fight...I have long wondered about that dress, and you have redone it so amazingly! It truly is as beautiful as it was on Nanny in the portrait. I continue to love your blog, and eagerly look forward to each new posting!