Revel in vintage style at the Farnsworth

Posted Feb. 08, 2010, at 5:51 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:25 a.m.

A perfect way to brighten the winter doldrums is to head to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland to see the exhibit “Elegantly Attired: Victorian Apparel and Accessories in Coastal Maine.” From the moment I stepped into the gallery at the museum, I was enchanted as my eye caught a trio of mannequins adorned in dresses of silk and lace from the late 1880s. For a moment I thought I had been wafted back through the mists of time to consort with the ghosts of my female ancestors.

The exhibit features clothing, hats, shoes and jewelry dating from 1850 to 1900.

One of the many appealing things about the exhibit for those of us who sew is that visitors can inspect the stitching at close range — providing, of course, one does not touch the garments. But even without the advantage of touching the dresses, the up-close view is a treat for those of us who love vintage fashion and have an interest in how such items of clothing are put together.

One design detail that I scrutinized for long minutes on one dress was several rows of clever, curved stitching at the elbow that served to define that area of the sleeve.

It also was fascinating to inspect the lovely lace and whimsical bobble trim that adorned several dresses. Was the lace machine-made, handmade or a combination of the two? It was an intriguing question.

The fabrics and their weaves, such as the damask dress in tones of dark red, also caught my interest.

Several of the daytime and evening dresses once were worn in the late 1800s by Maggie Shepard, wife of Capt. Frank Shepard of Camden, and their daughter, Annabel (Shepard) Hodgman. Such families, because they went to sea for a living, were truly citizens of the world, and their clothing, made from fabrics from ports around the world, reflected that fact.

Looking at the garments made me long to be similarly elegantly attired. Yet, I am very glad that fashion no longer dictates that women be cinched and laced daily into boned corsets that covered the torso from chest to thigh — or that women no longer have to drag innumerable yards of ruffles and flounces behind them, trailing in the dirt.

Hats, fans and jewelry also are part of the exhibit. Need I say that the hats are to die for, even the ones that sport whole wings from dead birds.

The era’s fetish for feathers to embellish hats and fans, and the deleterious impact that fashion statement had on bird species around the world at the end of the 19th century, is delineated by information included in the exhibit.

Indeed, one of the fans on display sported an entire hummingbird, and another was composed mostly of a bird of paradise. Some may find that troublesome, but I did not — activists of the times took steps to ensure that the feather trade was curtailed by the passage of laws still in effect today.

The fans in the exhibit are exquisite, many appearing to have originated in the Orient, designed with Asian cultural themes. Their beauty and craftsmanship are a delight to behold.

Also on display are nearly 100 items of jewelry from the William A. Farnsworth family of Rockland, including gold thimbles, earrings and brooches, intricate gold chains and gold pocket watches. Artisans of today who craft fine jewelry will find much to inspire them by viewing the antique bracelets, necklaces and earrings.

“Elegantly Attired” is on display through April 25, so there’s still plenty of time to get a few of your stitching buddies together to make the trip. You’ll be glad you did. While you are there, take time to have lunch in one of the downtown Rockland restaurants.

Museum winter hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Admission is $12, $10 seniors and students, free to children, Rockland residents and museum members. For more information, call 596-6457 or visit www.farnsworthmuseum.org.

Snippets

• The Bangor Area Chapter of the American Sewing Guild will conduct a class in how to make a low-sew purse using a place mat and purchased handles. The class will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Hampden Municipal Center, Western Avenue. The cost is $10 members, $15 others. Call Chris at 8273370 to register or for more information. Beginners are encouraged to attend.

• Coastal Quilters will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Lions Club, Lions Lane in Camden. Local artist Robinsunne will do a trunk show, discuss techniques and show a variety of the eclectic pieces she creates, both large and framed pieces, and small artist trading cards. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call Karen Martin, 236-8038 or Louisa Enright, 236-6215.

• Nancy will be in stitches as she shares her quilting skills at the Thursday, Feb. 11, Christian Women’s Club Luncheon at Spectacular Events Center in Bangor. The meeting is set for noon-2 p.m.

Also, Marcea Ewald will tell her story, “Through the Storm: The Process and Purpose of Pain.”

Any interested woman is invited to attend.

Admission is $10 and includes a three-course dinner. Call Alcinda at 989-5796 for information and to RSVP.

ahamlin@bangordailynews.net

990-8153

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