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Monday, December 1, 2008

Going to the Chapel

When planning an exhibition, the museum's collections staff consider which archival materials and objects will best tell the story, and often choose an item based on how recently it has been displayed.

For the current exhibition on World War II, "Keep 'Em Flying: How the Homefront Helped the Frontlines," staff wanted to feature at least one wedding dress. The exhibit was a great opportunity to showcase a beautiful dress from the museum's textile collection. In the end, two wedding dresses and a woman's Red Cross uniform jacket were chosen.

The exhibition's focus is to highlight a grant project digitizing tens of thousands of World War II images from the collections. The majority of the images are postcards made by the Curt Teich Company between 1941-1945. A selection of about 200 of these postcards are featured in the exhibition, along with Civilian Defense booklets, and photographs from Fort Sheridan.

Exhibiting textiles takes special preparation, and may require mending or steaming. Shown here is collections assistant, Deanna Tyler, steaming Marcelline Czernik's wedding dress with distilled water. The process took several hours in order to proceed with the utmost care, and to make the dress as presentable as it was on the wedding day. Note that Deanna is wearing a white cotton glove on the hand touching the dress. This prevents the transfer of oil from her hand onto the fabric.

Marcelline Czernik married her high school sweetheart, Chester Vasofsky, on January 22, 1944, as seen in their wedding photo below. The bride purchased an off-the-rack dress at the Globe Department Store in downtown Waukegan. With the war raging, it was the only style available.

After steaming, Marcelline's dress and veil were placed on a museum quality mannequin. Archival tissue was used to fill out the dress's shape. The dress is shown on display in the World War II exhibition (below).

As staff was preparing one dress for exhibition, another war-time bride's story came to light as a museum exhibits intern told of her grandmother's wedding dress made from a parachute. After inquiries, it was confirmed that the dress had a unique Lake County story to tell, and the family was willing to donate it to the museum's permanent collection. The timing was perfect to be included in the exhibition. The unique nylon dress (below) needed some steaming before being dressed on a mannequin and put on display.

Carol Rosalie Kirkpatrick (left) on her wedding day at the First Baptist Church in Waukegan, on September 6, 1947. Her dress was made from a parachute that her fiance, John Smelcer, sent home while stationed in Okinawa, Japan. The white nylon parachute was fashioned into a bridal gown by the bride’s mother. It was fairly common for servicemen to send pieces of parachutes to loved ones back home, but rare to send the whole thing.

Both wedding dresses are on display through January, 2009.

(Since making this post, the exhibit's closing date has been changed to May 3, 2009).

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