Tuesday, April 4, 2017

2017 Women's Quilt Show: Wenona Reese Exhibit

~Wenona Louise Reese (top left)~
Back in November (2016), I received an email from Linda Morgan, coordinator of Wright State University's Women's Quilt Show, regarding a collection of 1920s gowns that a friend of hers, Ann Diller, had inherited from an uncle who had recently passed away. Enclosed in the email were photographs of several of the gowns and the question, "Would you be willing to examine the gowns and tell Ann something about them?"

Am I willing...? *squeeee!*

Linda wanted to display the gowns in a special exhibit for the 2017 show, showcasing them alongside a few of my reproduction era costumes in a progression of women's garments from the late 1890s through the 1920s - a chronological display of women's fashion constructed by women. 

When I met Ann at her home the week before Thanksgiving, she had the gowns laid out across her living and music room. I was so taken by the display, I didn't know quite where to begin. I suppose I could have thrown myself right in the middle of it all in hysterical joy, but my better sense told me to cap my enthusiasm and ask Ann about the history of the gowns, who owned them, and how she came about them. 


~Wenona, possibly at OU?~
They belonged to her grandmother, Wenona Louise Reese. Born in 1900, Wenona and her brother, James, were raised by a wealthy aunt and uncle in Winchester, Ohio (about 30 miles east of Cincinnati). Wenona graduated from Ohio University (OU) in 1925 with a Bachelor's in Music Education, and in 1927 she married Neil Thomas, and engineering professor at her alma mater. 

Ann told me that her grandmother was quite the social butterfly, and loved music and dancing. Add to this Wenona's exceptional fashion sense (judging by the exquisite and lux display of gowns draped across Ann's formal rooms) and one can imagine her flashing and dramatic presence at social engagements and soirées. In fact, Ohio University's Athena described Wenona as "...one of those tall stately girls who look just right at all times." Clearly, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, I realized, regarding my host. Looking at Ann was like seeing a apparition of her grandmother. The physical resemblance between the two women is uncanny, and like Wenona, Ann is 6' tall, statuesque, and graceful. I asked her if she had tried on any of her grandmother's gowns and in fact she had, and they fit. No surprise - it made me smile

When Wenona died in the early 1960s, her son, Mert, inherited the gowns and over the years he and his wife used them in their church musicals. When Mert died in 2016, Wenona's clothing collection was divided between Ann and a cousin. Many of the gowns were well-worn and when I met up with Ann that November morning, her main concern was how to preserve, possibly restore, what remained of them. I spent several delightful hours in her company as we went from gown to gown, combing over their details, discussing the textiles, designs, construction techniques, and simply marveling over their beauty. Several of the garments were too fragile to display at the show, like Wenona's black silk velvet receiving robe - the ivory silk lining was shattered and greatly damaged, but beautiful all the same. 

From the twenty or more garments which came down to Ann, she chose eight to display at this year's Women's' Quilt show:


Dress #1: Constructed from black silk crepe, accented in navy and ivory cotton braiding and tassels; cotton lace jabot. Slipover style sheath dress.







Dress #2:  Constructed from peach silk crepe; this garment is one of the better preserved (despite its wrinkling) - there's no evident damage or color fading; slip over. 


 

 


Dress #3:  Black silk velvet sheath style dress lined in a fine black cotton; black cotton sash at the hip accented in a rhinestone star brooch; sleeves, cuffs, and side cut-outs constructed from sheer pleated cotton; slip-over. (This is my favorite dress from the collection; in mint condition - the photos did not capture its elegance and beauty.)







Dress #4: Evening gown constructed from pink silk netting, unlined. Peach and silver sequins made of celluloid, glass beads; eye and hook side closures. Note that a good portion of the sequins have been lost over the years and once covered the dress. 






Dress #5: Evening gown constructed from rose silk crepe, lined in sheer rose cotton; Norse/Scandinavian motif created from jet beads and white paste rhinestones (most of which are missing). The weight of bodice is remarkable; the jet beading continues to the back; complex inner lining and side closure with metal snaps and eye and hooks. 







Dress #6: One of two garments displayed from the early 1930s in Wenona's collection, this evening gown is constructed from a light pink silk satin and accented on the bodice with silk flowers; silk sash at the waist, closes at the side by several metal snaps. Note the classic hip panel detail from this era - beautiful!







Dress #7: The epitome of 1930s glamour, this evening gown is constructed from a light olive silk damask. Closes in back with several eye and hooks and seven covered buttons. Note the neckline and back detail of the gown.







Imagine, and this is only a few of the beautiful garments from Ann's grandmother's extraordinary wardrobe! Happy Spring, blessings and happy sewing! 

~2017 Women's Quilt Show~