19th century clothing, art history, Costume, Events, fashion, Federal style, living history, Research, sewing
Two paths crossed for me this week, both in the early Federal era. Cephas Thompson, a self-taught New England painter, recently became very interesting to me. Although he grew up in Massachusetts, Thompson painted extensively in Virginia, but also in Providence, so of course the story resonated with me. But even more than the story, I loved the images. What a show the portraits would make– and he seems to have painted miniatures as well– so when I met with a local preservationist who turned out to be a fellow art school fugitive, wheels began to turn.
“What clothes!” my new friend said.
“I can get you a room full of people in those clothes,” I replied. And what fun would that be, a gallery opening where the people in the portraits appear to have come to life? Beats the pants off mere mannequins, but keep your Cossacks on: this one’s gonna take a while. In the meantime, what about those clothes?
Saturday marks the third time I’ve been part of the Salem Maritime Festival, and once again the West India Goods Store will be the base of operations for a mercantile enterprise. Millinery has its charms, but this year, the park historian shared fascinating notes on “She Merchants” of Salem, and the Hathorne sisters really intrigued me. Drunk Tailor dug into online newspapers (harder than ever to access remotely) and found an 1803 issue of the Salem Register
That’s an incredibly helpful list of goods to sell (and to pack from the Strategic Fabric Reserve), but a new year means a new dress, of course, and for reasons still not entirely clear to me, this seemed like exactly the right time to wear white. That’s sort of where Cephas Thompson comes back into play: white dresses.
There’s a pile of white cotton and white linen on my table, ready to be packed up this evening: with the dress on for a fitting, I felt like a bowl of whipped cream, the red silk Spencer and scarf the cherry on top. Happily, white and red are documentable to New England, though I would be mortified to be as frighted of a garter snake as the girl in Thompson’s painting. Strawberries and coffee are entirely different, and I shall probably require a bib for Saturday, lest my whipped cream be spoilt.
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