The Stitch in Time exhibit at the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society and Museum highlights women's clothing of yesteryear
NEWARK — For several seasons "Downton Abbey," the British-made television period drama, fascinated American viewers.
Part of the appeal of the PBS series was the attention to changing fashions during the historical time frame from 1912 to 1926. Now, a hometown history museum has assembled examples of women's fashions worn by members of some prominent well-to-do local families that also date to the beginning of the 20th century and earlier.
A Stitch in Time is this year’s featured exhibit at the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society and Museum (N-AHS), which runs to April 2018. Visitors may be forgiven if occasionally they are reminded of “Lady Mary” and other fictional Crawley family women when viewing the display.
“The original idea for this year’s exhibit was to do something with vintage clothing,” said N-AHS President Cynthia Russell, who is on a committee that plans and mounts annual exhibits.
A sizeable donation of women’s clothing once worn by ladies along Newark streets, at school, and in private homes became the basis of the exhibit. The long dresses and gowns assembled on dress forms and mannequins once belonged to Sarah Elizabeth Reed Stuart (1850-1925), her daughter Marguerite Stuart Revis (1887-1984) and Anna Reed Cronise (1847-1914), Sarah Elizabeth’s sister who was the wife of Newark hardware merchant John S. Cronise. Two full-skirted dresses donated by the donor's cousin, Margaret Stuart Beale, reflect fashions of the mid-to-late 19th century.
All these individuals are linked to notable Newark families known for their business ventures, which reached far beyond the Wayne County community — such as C.H. Stuart/Sarah Coventry (nursery/home products and later jewelry) and Reed Manufacturing (tin ware and enamelware). The museum already displays artifacts like a sign from the Stuart Jewelry store once on Newark’s Main Street, which was donated several years ago by Sara Revis of Washington, D.C., and her sister Anne Revis Grosvenor. Their visit to the museum prompted Sara’s 2010 gift of family apparel.
Several exhibited dresses belonged to Marguerite Stuart Revis, the mother of the donor. A delicate white dress with a lace-trimmed ruffled bodice was worn by Marguerite for her 1904 high school class graduation. Russell admits it is a favorite.
“We are fortunate to have the 1904 Newark High School class graduation photo displayed with Marguerite identified and wearing the dress,” she said. “There were 13 females and no males graduating that year. Some people have asked when they see the photo if they took separate photos of males and females, but I found a newspaper article about a reunion the class held and a former teacher remarked in the article that the class that year had been comprised solely of 13 girls.”
Marguerite’s 1913 wedding gown, plus the shoes worn for the nuptials, are exhibited as well as a modest two-piece pink and gray striped dress she wore in high school around 1900. Complementing the exhibit are displays of contemporaneous vintage clothing pieces, like gloves, handbags, fans, a parasol and jewelry.
N-AHS Executive Director Chris Davis came up with Stitch in Time, the title of the exhibit, based on the words of a well-known expression. A stitch in this case, said Davis, refers to the displayed attire that would have been hand sewn and embroidered either by the wearers or a dressmaker/tailor. The words "in time" apply to the years circa 1850 to 1913 of the featured garments.
Davis believes younger visitors to the museum might appreciate the fact that they live in a more “comfortable” time.
“Women, and men, wore lots of clothes, various layers and odd undergarments which were fancy and very restrictive,” said Davis. “They tended to ‘dress up’ for most occasions, while today, things are more informal and summer clothes are much cooler! I hope the kids enjoy seeing what their descendants might have worn just a few generations ago.”
Cindy Russell, Mary Smith and Annette Harris should get most of the credit for this exhibit, said Davis.
“They worked like a well-oiled machine — pressing, doing minor repairs, dressing the mannequins and forms, styling the wigs, making sure everything looked nice," Davis said. "They did an incredible job.”
Displaying the clothing presented one challenge, admitted Russell, because of the larger size of the modern mannequins compared to the size of the clothing.
“The women who wore the dresses were definitely shorter, and had tiny waists and small busts," Russell said. "We had to be careful not to tear the material when dressing the mannequins because most of it is quite fragile with age.”
WHAT: "A Stitch in Time" exhibit
WHERE: The Newark-Arcadia Historical Museum, 120 High St., Newark
HOURS: Saturdays, year round, 1 to 3 p.m.; summer (July and August): Wednesdays, 7 to 9 p.m.
COST: Admission is free; donations accepted
INFO: Call 315-331-6409 or email firstname.lastname@example.org