Wedding exhibit opens at Evanston History Center


Clare Varellas/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston resident Susan Moss views a 19th-century wedding dress at the Evanston History Center’s new exhibit. The center held a wedding reception-themed opening event Thursday night for the exhibit.

Clare Varellas, Reporter

Wedding cake was cut and toasts were made at Thursday evening’s opening reception for “Evanston Ties the Knot,” an exhibit featuring Evanston’s wedding-related historical artifacts.

The exhibit, a compilation of bridal gowns and other matrimonial clothing and accessories, officially opens to the public Friday at the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood St. About 70 visitors attended the wedding reception-themed opening event.

The center’s costume curator Janet C. Messmer said she organized the exhibit over the past year by searching the museum’s extensive costume collection for wedding artifacts and requesting donations and loans of historically significant pieces from Evanston community members.

“I wanted to do the exhibition to really explore not only costume fashion, but wedding customs those clothes reflect, and the changes that have happened in terms of wedding customs from the middle of the 19th century when Evanston was founded up to the present day,” Messmer said.

A total of 19 mannequins clad in wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses, officiant robes and other pieces were displayed in the library and two upper-story bedrooms of the center, which is the former home of past U.S. Vice President Charles Gates Dawes. Two of the displayed dresses appeared in the wedding of his adopted daughter, who was married in the house.

In addition to the clothing, displays of rings, shoes, neckwear, garters, cigarette holders and other wedding accessories were supplemented with explanations about the history of various wedding customs.

“(Messmer) really focuses not only on the dresses, but the connection to Evanston, and also the larger context of weddings, the customs and how they’ve evolved over time,” said Jenny Thompson, the center’s director of education. “It’s really an interesting look at getting married.”

The event at the center featured white tablecloth-covered tables, piano music and a wedding cake. Visitors viewed the pieces between refreshments, heard brief remarks from both Messmer and executive director Eden Juron Pearlman and participated in a contest for best bridesmaid dress.

“The costumes are in impeccable condition, and really they exude the whole era which they represent,” Evanston resident Susan Moss said. “So I feel like we’re being cast into these different spells of time and place, and the building itself of course lends itself to this whole feeling.”

The exhibit will continue through Jan. 3, 2016, but Messmer said she plans to rotate the pieces on display to showcase more items from the museum’s collection and to feature a broader range of cultures.

“I’m looking to expand the diversity of the collection,” Messmer said. “The vast majority of the things in the collection are from Protestants … from middle class and upper middle class people. I would like to have things from working class people, from African American, Hispanic, Asian, every group.”

The Evanston Public Library partnered with the Evanston History Center to put on the exhibit, and in honor of its opening will show a series of three wedding-related films for free throughout the next year. The first film, “Father of the Bride,” will be shown at the library on Saturday at 4:15 p.m.

Tickets to view the exhibit are available for purchase at the center.

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