Mason Professor Ushers in Wedding Season in Style

Posted: June 15, 2011 at 1:01 am, Last Updated: June 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Marjorie Merriweather Post family gowns, above and below left, from a new exhibit at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens curated by Mason professor Howard Vincent Kurtz. Photo courtesy of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

Across the nation, June brides are celebrating their nuptials during the most popular month for tying the knot. Mason theater professor and award-winning costume designer Howard Vincent Kurtz is helping to kick off the wedding season in style through a unique and timely exhibition.

Kurtz, who is associate curator of costumes and textiles at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens in Washington, D.C., curated a new Hillwood exhibition titled “Wedding Belles: Bridal Fashions from the Marjorie Merriweather Post Family: 1874 − 1958.”

The exhibition will run at Hillwood from June 18, 2011, to January 1, 2012. Revealing how three generations of Post family women celebrated weddings, the exhibition will feature wedding and bridesmaid dresses, as well as a variety of wedding-day accessories, worn by members of the Post family over a period of more than 80 years.

Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post lived from 1887 to 1973. She created a place for herself in American history as one of America’s first businesswomen. She was also an avid art collector, philanthropist and socialite.

Hillwood, her Georgian-style estate, was first opened to the public as a museum in 1977 and has been known primarily for its collection of Russian imperial art and French decorative art, as well as its extensive collection of 20th-century apparel.

This is the second time Kurtz has created an exhibition that features items from the museum’s collection of more than 175 dresses and 300 accessories. The first exhibition, “An Invitation to the Ball,” ran in 2009 and highlighted Post’s social life, featuring her collection of elaborate costumes for fancy dress balls during the Roaring ’20s.

Photo courtesy of Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

“Both of the costume exhibitions are important because they focus on Mrs. Post as a woman rather than on her collections,” says Kurtz, an associate professor in Mason’s Department of Theater. “The ‘Wedding Belles’ exhibition goes a step further to follow the evolution of Mrs. Post’s style from a young bride to an accomplished businesswoman.

“The decisions she made and the fashion trends she set have endured for decades and are continuing to inform today’s American brides,” Kurtz adds.

Drawn mainly from Hillwood’s extensive costume collection, the exhibition begins with an elegant satin gray dress that was worn by Post’s mother in 1874. It continues with all of Post’s wedding gowns (she married four times) and one gown from each of her three daughters’ weddings.

Also on display will be two of Post’s mother-of-the-bride dresses, several bridesmaid dresses and other wedding accessories, including hats, veils and a jewel-encrusted purse designed by Cartier.

To put the time period into perspective, Kurtz conducted hours of research using historical photographs, newspaper articles and oral histories from the Hillwood archives.

“For each exhibition, I am able to combine my talents both as a theater professional and museum curator,” says Kurtz.

“I am mindful that while scholarly research is necessary in the museum setting, it is also important to add a theatrical component to the costume exhibition that will enhance the overall experience of the audience.”







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