BATAVIA — Ever since this past summer, Kathy Jasinski and Anne Marie Starowitz have been up to their necks in crinoline, silk, cotton and tulle.
It all began innocently enough by going through clothing that had been stored at Holland Land Office Museum. The board members volunteered to sort through dozens of items in the attic storage to see what would be nice to show off downstairs. As they kept coming across wedding gowns, they knew they had their theme.
“These are gorgeous gowns. We have had way too much fun with this,” Starowitz said. “We mostly want to get people into the museum and show this collection that’s never been shown before. I am really excited that it can be on display.”
Treasured Wedding Memories will have an opening reception from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 31 in the Mary Richmond Room of the museum, 131 West Main St. Admission is free but a donation will get visitors a chance at door prize drawings at 2:30 p.m.
While primping a mannequin dressed in a long-sleeved ivory silk dress, Jasinski decided that it was her favorite. That was after claiming similar sentiments for a few others. But this 1940s number, with an empire waist, v-neckline and subtle embroidery over the material’s sheen, captured her vote.
“We imagined how the bride felt on her wedding day while putting on her gown,” she said. “We’ve done this almost every Saturday and a few hours during the week when we can. We have the vision in our heads, we’ve just got to pull it together.”
She has been drawn to the sleeves, which vary quite a lot, from short and heavily embroidered to long with a row of cloth-covered buttons up each side.
There will be at least 25 gowns ranging in age from 1870 to 2012 and each will have some type of description of when it was worn and by whom, if known. Women didn’t always wear fancy gowns, such as during World War II, when they wore more modest garb out of respect for the times. Women would often use whatever was available, even the parachutes their military men would bring home. A brown two-piece long skirt and buttoned jacket illustrated more self-effacing fashions.
Starowitz has submitted her mother Theresa Peca’s gown worn in 1942. The was reworked when her daughter Jessica Heffernan chose to wear it for her wedding in 2002. The shoulder pads were removed and made into a cap.
“It was like Cinderella, it just fit her so well,” Starowitz said.
There will be other wedding-related accessories of shoes, books, jewelry, furniture, dishes, sleepwear, veils and even one crown-like flowered and crystal embellished headpiece. An opened trunk (resembling a hope chest) will display men’s and women’s night shirts, travel clothing, a man’s shaving mug and hat and a quilt tucked in the bottom. Of course, that’s for the bride’s trousseau, Jasinski said.
“Hopefully, the wedding pictures we have will show the whole ensemble in all its glory,” she said. “We have a few dresses from the wedding parties, but not a lot from the early years. A problem we are having is that we have more gowns than mannequins to wear them.”
If anyone has a mannequin to loan or donate, contact the museum at (585) 343-4727.
Museum Assistant Director Ashley Bateman submitted her grandmother Anna Alessi Carlino’s gown. Her grandmother wore it in 1939 when she got married in Buffalo and before the couple moved to Batavia. Carlino was thorough in preserving her day, as she also included her under garments, which are part of the exhibit.
Although some items have yellowed with age, their beauty has remained in tact with every fluttering sleeve and lacey detail, the women agreed. Many have been maintained in plastic garment bags and dust covers.
The reception atmosphere will be complemented by white sheets draped over the walls and Jeff Fischer of Corfu playing piano and singing romantic melodies. Refreshments from Sweet Ecstasy Bakery of Stafford will be served.
Queen Victoria in the 1840s triggered much of the wedding gown fashions, museum Director Jeff Donahue said. It’s about time the Holland Land Office gave others a glimpse of what came since then, he said.
“We have not always used clothing for displays,” he said. “This is not only encompassing Batavia but we’re encompassing Genesee County.”
The exhibit runs through June 15. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.