Posted tagged ‘Rochester Historical Society’

Inspired by Downton Abbey

December 3, 2013

Over the past two weeks, it seems as if I’ve been living and breathing Downton Abbey.  Not that I’m complaining.  Since the first season of Downton, I’ve been mesmerized by the characters and the intrigues but also, more importantly, by the elegant costumes and history of the time period.

Bruce, Alastair003Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a special luncheon presented by WXXI featuring Alastair Bruce, OBE, historical advisor to Downton Abbey.  It was an intimate gathering – just me, my friend Suzanne Lee, and 400 other fans of the show.  What a time we had!  This was Mr. Bruce’s only presentation in the United States and, I’m very proud to say, it was held in Rochester, New York.  Captivating the audience with charm and wit,  Mr. Bruce regaled us with stories about the making of the show.  Who knew that Rob James-Collier, also known as the dastardly servant Thomas Barrows, is an amazingly nice guy in real life?  Or that the actors sometimes get tired of being told to tilt their heads differently or to sit up straighter?  If I came away with anything from the presentation, it was to watch for the little details going on in the background of the show.  Did you ever notice the servants measuring how far each chair was from the table?  Those are the details that go into creating a show of such high caliber.

This week, I have the pleasure of being a guest speaker at the Barnes & Noble in Webster, New York, for their Downton Abbey event, where I will display and discuss seven Downton Abbey inspired costumes from the collection of the Perinton Historical Society (PHS) which were recently exhibited at the Fairport Museum.  The PHS has an impressive collection of over 1,000 costumes and accessories from the mid-1800s through modern times.  My original plans were to create a different costume exhibit for the museum.  However, once I saw the black gown, an inner voice that sounded much like the Dowager Countess said, “My dear, you must display Downton Abbey.  Nothing else will do!”  B&N Flyer 2013002After that, the costumes nearly jumped out of the closet.  There was an exquisite gown which would have been stunning on Lady Grantham.  Sweet Sybil was represented in white and blue, while Edith’s no nonsense attitude manifested itself in a black sheath dress.  Lady Mary wore a classic long, black gown complete a net jacket embellished with thousands of small beads.  Even Mrs. Hughes and Lady Rose MacClare were represented in the exhibit.

Although the Downton Abbey exhibit at the Fairport Museum has ended, you still have the opportunity to see the fabulous costumes at this one time event at Barnes & Noble, located at 1070 Ridge Road in Webster, New York.  It promises to be a fun evening.  Our friends from the Rochester Historical Society, whose own Downton Abbey exhibit opens today, will also be there.  So will Kristen Zory King of Writers & Books, who will give a short presentation about why the female characters of Downton Abbey draw us in.  Stop by on Thursday evening, December 5, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. to gaze at these exquisite pieces of history that were once worn by women from our own community.

Don’t Allow Your Local Historical Society to Become History

January 31, 2013
"Baby It's Cold Outside!" exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society

“Baby It’s Cold Outside!” exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society

As I walked through a Rochester Historical Society exhibit of exquisite cold weather clothing recently, I was awed by the craftmanship of the pieces.  Here was a collection consisting of velvet jackets with beaded mantles, wool capes,  plush muffs and  incredible hats trimmed with feathers, and yet the gallery was empty.  Where were the visitors who should have been relishing the experience of seeing this historical attire in such a captivating display?  

This is a common situation among small museums and historical societies.  People are busier than ever.  They are involved in charitable organizations, church groups and their children’s sports teams.  Grandparents are also playing a bigger part in the lives of their grandchildren than ever before.  Many individuals are just so busy, they don’t think to make time for something as “old-fashioned” as a visit to the local museum or to attending a program at a historical society. However, these museums and historical societies, most of which are non-profit organizations, subsist on memberships, small admittance fees and the occasional grants and donations.  They need you to survive.  They need your time and your money and they need you to know they still serve a valuable purpose. 

There are many ways to donate to these worthwhile historical organizations.  Historical societies have very reasonable annual membership fees, which can range from $5-$20 and up.  Your membership allows these organizations to purchase artifacts for their collections and to pay honorariums to speakers who provide excellent programs on historical topics.  Consider making a donation to a local historical society in memory of a loved one.  Many societies have also benefited from bequests, and have attorneys on hand who can assist with this process.  Grants can be a wonderful resource for small societies, but the process is complex, the competition is fierce and therefore it can be difficult to be awarded a grant.

Navy blue velvet hat with blue ostrich feathers.  Rochester Historical Society exhibit.  Courtesy of Cheri Branca.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside!” Rochester Historical Society exhibit. Navy blue velvet hat with blue ostrich feathers. Courtesy of Cheri Branca.

Although the gift of money is always welcome, consider donating your time.  At the Fairport Historical Museum in Fairport, New York, we have been fortunate to have many long-time volunteers who greet visitors, oversee gift shop sales and help out wherever needed.  Many of these stalwart volunteers work just two hours a month at the museum.  As time goes on and these veteran volunteers retire, fewer people are taking their places.  It becomes more and more difficult to staff the museum.  A few hours of your time a month makes all the difference between having a museum everyone can enjoy, and a building filled with historical treasures but devoid of people.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society.  Photo courtesy of Cheri Branca.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” exhibit at the Rochester Historical Society. Photo courtesy of Cheri Branca.

Think of your childhood memories, which included visits to local museums.  Remember the childlike wonder as you beheld the treasures contained within its walls.  Now ponder a future with no museums, no treasures, no magic.  We must find a way to support these institutions for the sake of our children and grandchildren, and theirs after them.   Without your support, these societies will cease to exist.  Please consider a visit to your local museum, a membership to your local historical society or volunteer your time so you can be a steward of history.


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