This is the exhibit’s second stop in America, having just come from its opening at Biltmore, the palatial home of the famous Commodore Vanderbilt. Curated in conjunction with the show’s production company, it is apparently being shown only in museums such as Biltmore and the Paine, which once were fine homes and provide appropriate settings for the costumes.
In this regard, the Paine Museum is a spectacular success. Construction of the house began in 1925, but it was deliberately designed by the architect to appear to have been constructed and (tastefully) added on to over three centuries of English building styles. As such, the home suits the costumes marvelously, and many are shown in the correct setting: dinner dress in the dining room, travelling clothes in the foyer, formal gowns in the ballroom, and outdoor clothing, such as Lady Mary’s riding habit, Matthew Crawley’s military uniform, and Lady Edith’s bicycling outfit (complete with bicycle) are shown in the specious purpose-built gallery.
The house and its permanent collection of artworks are worth the trip alone, but it was hard to pull ourselves away from the costumes. They are all shown in the open. Most you can get very close to, and many of those that you can’t see the back of have strategically placed mirrors allowing you to see back details. The exhibition includes large color photographs of the costumes as worn, and text identifying the episodes in which they appeared.
The museum gift shop has been totally given over to “Downton Abbey” related merchandise, from tea and wine to jewelry and teddy bears. (There’s no “Carson” bear—yet!) We resisted most of the temptations, but did buy an exhibit catalog, which is very nice.
Of course we dressed Neo-Edwardian, which got us a number of approving comments from visitors and staff. The staff mentioned also that they had very much appreciated the Milwaukee Steampunk Society visit the previous day.
The exhibition remains in Oshkosh through September 20th. The exhibition will be returning to the Midwest later: The Richard H. Dreihaus Museum, Chicago, February-May 2016; The Taft Museum of Art, Cleveland, July-September 2016; and The History Museum, South Bend, Indiana, October 2016-January 2017.
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