Rock County Historical Society exhibit showcases wedding finery
IF YOU GO
What: “Something Borrowed: Wedding Gowns of Rock County,” a Rock County Historical Society exhibit.
When: During museum hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays in May and daily June 1 through Sept. 30.
Where: Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center, 426 N. Jackson St., Janesville.
For more information: Call (608) 756-4509 or visit www.rchs.us.
JANESVILLE Something old,
and a silver sixpence in her shoe.
When Madge Benzie Murphy saw her dream wedding dress on the cover of Brides magazine in 1971, she had to have it.
Except that bridal shops here didn’t carry it, and neither she nor her parents could afford the dress.
So they had a dress made to match the one in the picture, said Murphy, the former Rock County Historical Society executive director.
The crème linen, ankle-length gown with shades of orange, gold, and burnt red crewel embroidery is among the wedding gowns to be featured in the Rock County Historical Society’s new exhibit, “Something Borrowed: Wedding Gowns of Rock County.’’
Brides magazine featured the dress again in 2009 in a publication focusing on wedding dresses throughout the century.
“It just surprised me that this was the dress they picked for the ’70s,” Murphy said.
The local exhibit, which opened May 3 and closes Sept. 30, features mostly wedding dresses from 1900 to 1950 along with other wedding finery and memorabilia. Included are a portrait of Nellie Norton Tallman wearing what is believed to be her wedding dress, bridal accessories from shoes to handkerchiefs and undergarments, plus calling cards, wedding invitations, marriage licenses and other wedding photographs that document the changing styles of the 20th century, said Laurel Fant, collections manager.
Each month, the exhibit will feature a bridal gown borrowed from a Rock County resident. In May, those who visit the exhibit, housed in the Helen Jeffris Wood Museum Center, 426 N. Jackson St., will view the wedding dress, headpiece and gloves that Jackie (Perry) Smith Wood wore in 1963.
“I see Jackie Kennedy in this period’s dress with its fitted waistline, wide neckline and short length,’’ Fant said, as she led a guest through the exhibit and its appropriate blue backdrop.
Wood, a Janesville business owner, was a docent at the historical society in 1963. She also is past president of the historical society’s board.
In conjunction with the exhibit, spring and summer tours of the historic 26-room Italian Villa Lincoln-Tallman House will feature 19th century wedding gowns.
One of the oldest dresses in the historical society’s collection is of purple and black plaid silk and was worn in 1858, Fant said.
Wedding boots and gloves provide examples of men’s wedding wear. Typical wedding gifts—dishes, clocks, silver and pillowcases—are displayed in the historic house’s formal drawing room, as was the tradition during this era.
The exhibit has been in the planning stages for several years.
“It provides an opportunity to pull from our large collection of wedding gowns, put on an exhibit and talk about wedding customs,’’ Fant said.
A wedding re-enactment is being discussed and may be staged in the Lincoln-Tallman House this summer to tie in with the exhibit, she said.
Murphy is confident the exhibit will be popular.
“I think sometimes you just need a feel-good experience,” she said, “and that’s what this exhibit will be.’’