Laid to Rest

The permanent exhibits at The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum were created in the 1980s. The exhibits were designed so well that 30 years later … wait! Thirty years! Can that be right?

[Off to fact-check the date …. ]

Yep, they were created in 1983, so we’re just shy of 30 years. Where was I?

Even though the exhibits are 30 years old, they still feel fresh and undated. However, keeping artifacts continually on exhibit stresses them and makes them deteriorate more rapidly.

Museum staff have noted that Laura Tanner Davidson’s pink satin ball gown from the 1890s has been showing signs of wear. Portions of the silk have been shattering and the bottom edges are picking up dirt.

Laura Tanner Davidson's 1890s satin ball gown on exhibit at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, 2011.
Laura Tanner Davidson's 1890s satin ball gown on exhibit at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, 2011.

Yesterday, I took the gown off exhibit and laid it to rest.

It was quite the challenge. For one, the gown is delicate because of the wear. For another, there are at least 30 hooks in the back of the gown that run in two layers. I can’t imagine getting into this dress without help.

I started taking the dress off the mannequin by moving it down to the base, but I ran into a hoop that was not big enough to fit over the bottom portion of the mannequin. At first it seems as though the hoop was attached to the dress, so I had to work both the hoop and dress carefully up over the top of the mannequin to remove them. Once I got them free, I could see that the two were not connected.

The mannequin itself is an interesting artifact and comes from the Tanner Davidson collection. (In using the word mannequin, I wondered if dress form was the more appropriate term. Here’s a great glossary related the mannequins from the Mannequin Madness blog. According to the definition, mannequin fits my use of the word.)

Mannequin from the Tanner Davidson collection at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, 2012.
Mannequin from the Tanner Davidson collection at the Weyerhaeuser Museum, 2012.

There is sheet metal under the muslin at the top. That’s what’s giving the mannequin its shape.

After rehooking all the hooks, I placed the dress in a large acid-free box, putting acid-free tissue between layers in order to minimize harsh folds. Touching the heavy, smooth satin was like feeling heaven in my hands. I don’t think I’ve ever found satin that nice in any fabric shop.

The Laura Tanner Davidson ball gown laid to rest, February 9, 2012.
The Laura Tanner Davidson ball gown laid to rest, February 9, 2012.

The top of the dress, with its lace and beads and metal threads, is also especially lovely. It’s the sort of dress that makes a girl feel like a princess.

The bodice of the Laura Tanner Davidson ball gown, February 9, 2012.
The bodice of the Laura Tanner Davidson ball gown, February 9, 2012.

For the time being, the Laura Tanner Davidson dress shall be our Sleeping Beauty.

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