SHREWSBURY – What started out as a great idea for a display at the Shrewsbury Historical Society blossomed into a unique exhibition that drew hundreds, perhaps thousands of visitors, included a display of some of the collection at Easten Branch County Library, and charmed generations of women and girls with stories of the materials and people featured in the exhibition.
Weddings, Brides, and Bridal gowns are very definitely an important and historic part of the culture of people all over the world and have been for centuries.
Historical Society President Don Burden, who spearheaded the idea when he recognized the talent of Society volunteers and the generosity of local residents, explained the exhibit, Historic Wedding Dresses, has been special for many reasons. Currently it includes 25 gowns at the Society’s building at historic Four Corners and another ten gowns in the Library until the end of this month, with many more in temporary storage.
Because of the interest, the Society, which published a booklet on the dresses last year, printed a second booklet this year with some of the same gowns described in the book and an additional five that were not part of the collection last year.
“The total collection has nearly four dozen different dresses,” Burden said, ranging from the Victorian era through the early 20th century with some accent on the Edwardian and mid-19th century time periods. Some of the gowns are on loan and will be returned to their owners when the exhibitions close down, he said, while others will be placed in storage for another exhibit sometime in the future.”
Burden said at the present time there are still another eight gowns that have never been on display because they are still in the process of being restored.
Burden, who gave up more than one Sunday dinner or Saturday afternoon at home to open the museum upon a last minute request, said he had an entire exhibit committee and support crew that deserves all the praise for the outstanding exhibit. These include his wife, Mary Lea Burden, Mark Degenhart, Mike Forrest, Stuart Buncher, Marty Kowalski and Mike Jones. In addition, the professional consultants who made certain the exhibit was accurate and filled with historic anecdotes and tales were Elizabeth McDermott, Ellen Jackson and Bernadette Rogoff. “Nor can we forget the many local women’s and families who are represented in the exhibit, and the people who made gifts or loans dresses and accessories.”
Judi Buncher, who holds a fine arts degree from Georgian Court College and is founder of the Fiber Arts Guild at Allaire Village, is the stylist and garment restore for the entire collection and Robin Blair, vice president of the historical society has taken a lead with Burden in both talks and organization throughout the exhibit, serving as docent and exhibit coordinator.
Before the Eastern Branch Library exhibit comes to a close the end of the month, there is still another Dress Talk session on Tuesday, June 28 at 2 p.m. led by the curators. These are informal sessions when the Society curators delve deeper into the history of the dresses the process of restoring them to excellence while retaining their historic beauty and significance, and the stories about the brides who wore them. Registration is necessary for the June 28 session, and is available either by calling the library at 732-683-8980 or on line at MonmouthCountyLib.org. The library is located at 1001 Route 35 in Shrewsbury.
While it is impossible to have an accurate total of how many visitors the exhibits have had, since it is not known how many people came to Eastern Branch Library for a book or research and stayed to view the exhibit, Burden said comments from so many visitors indicate people loved the displays for a variety of reasons.
“Nostalgia is probably the main reason people loved the display,” the president said, “People love to see the fashions of other eras and loved hearing the stories about the brides, their families, and of course, the husbands at all these weddings.” There were many moms who came with daughters to show them how bridal gowns used to be, to give them ideas for their own weddings, or just to share some mother-daughter time in a laid-back and leisurely manner.
“The exhibit afforded the opportunity to tell the history of the role of wedding dresses in society. It also was an opportunity tell some interesting stories about the bride and their family, “ Burden explained. He noted the importance of providing an opportunity to tell about traditions and customs. “The exhibit was more than just viewing the dresses; it was hearing the background surrounding the gowns as well,” he said, “people just want to hear and perhaps imagine being part of these stories.”
For more information on the Society’s Museum or Library exhibits, or to learn more about the Shrewsbury Historical Society or to become a member, visit ShrewsburyHistoricalSocietyNJ.org