Getting Dressed in Early Maryland Exhibition
at Homewood House Museum
A new exhibition, What's in the Wardrobe?: Getting Dressed in Early Maryland, opens at Homewood House Museum on Thursday, January 6, 2005 with a reception from 5-7 p.m. and will remain on view through Thursday, March 31. Homewood House is located at 3400 N. Charles Street in Baltimore on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University. For more information the public should call (410) 516-5589. In conjunction with the exhibition, Homewood presents "Costume a la Mode," a performance and illustrated lecture on Friday, January 7 from 6-8 p.m. and again on Saturday, January 8 from 2-4 p.m. A special exhibition tour and Madeira reception will be held on Thursday, February 3, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
If Harriet Chew Carroll, the original mistress of Homewood in the early 19th century, were to walk across the Hopkins campus today, her attire might raise a few eyebrows. "Although people assume that women during this era dressed with modesty, even prudishness," says Homewood curator, Catherine Rogers Arthur, "women's clothing at the time was actually pretty risqué — even by today's standards. What's actually in the wardrobe' in 1801 may be surprising to our visitors."
Clothing can communicate a wealth of information about the wearer's financial means, social status, profession, age, and even moral beliefs. What's in the Wardrobe examines the type of clothing known to have been worn by the Carroll family and other residents of Homewood in the early 19th century as a means to better understand the lives of the people who resided there. Says Arthur, "Our exploration informs us about the workings of the Carroll household — the roles of adults, children, and slaves and, more generally, about 19th century society. Clothing provides a terrific lens through which to understand social history and is a topic that we all can relate to. The exhibit even features reproductions of clothes that visitors can touch."
The fragility of textiles combined with the fact that clothes in the 1800s were expensive and generally worn until they were worn out means that there is little surviving clothing from this era. Arthur's investigation into the Carroll's wardrobe therefore involved numerous sources. Research into the family's ledgers, receipts, and correspondence provided descriptions of clothing, fabrics, and buttons purchased by the Carrolls. Printed advertisements from the early 1800s in Baltimore furthered the research, offering a sense of what would have been available. Details about fashionable fabrics and design were also gleaned from paintings, drawings, and prints of the Carrolls and their contemporaries. Says Arthur, "The process is something akin to a historian 200 years from today attempting to recreate my wardrobe based on Gap advertisements, my VISA bill, a photo of my neighbor, and a thank-you note I sent about a sweater. It allows us to make informed, but not necessarily exact, guesses."
On display in the exhibition are a Baltimore-made wardrobe from ca. 1800, the type of cabinet in which the Carrolls' clothing would have been carefully protected and stored "Clothing at this time is relatively expensive as compared to other household items," says Arthur. Detailed documentation of prices can be found in the 1825 probate inventory of Charles Carroll, Jr. where it is noted that a "mahogany press" or wardrobe is valued at $10, and "wearing apparel" at $75 — equal in price to his "black mare." Because of its value, the care, mending, and storage of clothing were extremely important and are also addressed in the exhibition.
Copies of the documents and images that Arthur used for research will also be on display along with reproduced articles of clothing sewn by textile historian Margot Curran. Using historic patterns and fabrics similar to those available in the early 19th century, the clothing represents what may have been worn by Homewood's inhabitants and includes examples of one of Harriet Chew Carroll's dresses, a small girl's dress, Charles Carroll Jr.'s suit based on a portrait at Homewood House, a boy's "skeleton suit," a male servant's livery, and a slave's dress, based on information provided from a watercolor of the period.
Programs related to the exhibition will be held at 6 p.m. on January 7 and at 2 p.m. on January 8 and include a dramatization of the letters of the Mistress of Riversdale performed by Cherie Weinert of Theatre Hopkins, including descriptions of the European fashions ordered for her oldest daughter's debut followed by an illustrated talk on clothing and undergarments in the Federal era by Kristina Haugland, assistant curator of costumes and textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Reservations for these programs are required and admission is $25 a person. On Thursday, February 3, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., visitors are invited to tour Homewood followed by a Madeira wine tasting in the wine cellar. Admission is $15 a person.
Homewood House Museum is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Tours of Homewood are offered every half hour with the last tour beginning at 3:30 p.m. Museum admission is $6 for adults, $3 for students and children over 6 years of age, and $5 for seniors. Call (410) 516-5589 or visit www.jhu.edu/historichouses for additional information.
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