They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in Dr. Karin Bohleke’s case, it was worth well over a thousand stitches.
The Winterthur Museum, a museum of American decorative arts in Delaware, commissioned Bohleke, director of the Fashion Archives and Museum of Shippensburg University, to recreate the lost 1916 wedding gown of Ruth Wales du Pont. Du Pont was the wife of the museum’s founder, Henry Francis du Pont.
Armed with two photos of the gown and a few newspaper clippings describing it, Bohleke went to work mostly hand-sewing a replica for the museum’s “Lady of the House” exhibit.
To begin the undertaking, she analyzed the visible portions of the dress in the photographs to identify the style type. Then, she used her costume history knowledge to create stylistically appropriate sections in areas where the gown was not visible because of the bride’s bouquet and veil. Bohleke used a 1916 silk dress from Shippensburg’s Fashion Archives Museum as a template for many of the interpretive sections.
“Creating this dress was a fascinating and challenging project given that I had two photographs from which to work and the original dress does not survive. The New York Times reported that the dress was silver, and finding a good silver fabric was difficult,” explained Bohleke.
To recreate the veil, which was originally worn by du Pont’s grandmother in the 1850’s, Bohleke used scraps of 100 plus year old antique lace.
“I cut, rearranged and reconfigured them to match a typical pattern of the 1850s and hand sewed them onto a new net backing.”
The dress is now a featured item in the “Lady of the House” exhibit along with photographs, personal documents and objects such as her traveling case and her sheet music collection.
The Winterthur Museum features a collection of nearly 90,000 objects made and used in America between 1640 and 1860. The museum building itself was once the 175-room house of the du Pont family. The museum also serves two graduate programs and is home to a distinguished research library, making it a prime location to study American art and culture.
In March, Bohleke will give a virtual lecture on the creation of the dress. The lecture is hosted by the Winterthur Museum.