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a close up of the back of a white silk wedding dress. The silk has a floral lace overlay and a row of small buttons running up the back
Curator's Statement

Our visiting public has alway been fascinated and excited by the textile collection at Wistariahurst.  As a whole, the textile collection is weighted heavily with garments made from Skinner silk fabrics.  Wm Skinner & Sons Manufacturing ran their main manufacturing mills here in Holyoke, Massachusetts from 1874 until 1959.  Skinner’s reputation for fine silk cloth, satin fabric, taffeta and silk linings was known world wide. This exhibition highlights bridal gowns in our textile collection–gowns with stories connecting them to Holyoke’s history.

As you wander through and examine these gowns, we challenge you to think about where the impulse to collect and preserve and treasure certain material objects comes from?  Why are certain items chosen over others? How are emotions and feelings connected to clothing and accessories? How does being able to hold, touch, feel, smell and move a physical object connect you to a loved one?  What cultural messages are communicated through the style, color, design and material.  Do these signals change with the times? And finally,  does seeing these dresses bring your own personal memories to your mind?

Highlighting a variety of colors, shapes, and patterns gives us unique examples of styles from across the past 150 years.  More importantly, we want to share the personal stories behind these gowns. Whether made from the finest satin and lace for a bride of means, or sewn on a budget and shared by family members, these gowns tell stories about the people who made them, wore them, and preserved them. You will see some garments with stains, and tears. How did they get there? What were the circumstances when they happened? How did the wearer feel? So let your mind wander and wonder about the lives, and experiences of the people who wore these garments. Explore this exhibition and connect the threads to the stories and memories. Embrace our common connections through clothing.

Penni Martorell

Holyoke City Historian and Wistariahurst Curator

A Floor-lenght White Wedding Gown With Short Sleeves And A Poofed Out Pricess Skirt Is On Display In Front Of A Portrait Of An Older Woman, An Urn Full Of Ivy, A Marble Bust, And A Green Curtain
A Floor-lenght White Wedding Gown With Short Sleeves And A Poofed Out Pricess Skirt Is On Display In Front Of A Portrait Of An Older Woman, An Urn Full Of Ivy, A Marble Bust, And A Green Curtain
A White Silk Wedding Gown With A Smal Train And A Headpiece Are In Display Infront Of The Portraits Of Katharine And Belle Skinner
In The Foreground A White Silk Wedding Gown Is On Display, Sleeves Pinned As If Hands Held In Front And In The Backgrounda Second Ivory Gown With A Long Train Can Be Viewed
An Ivory Skilk Gown With A Long Train Is On Display In Front Of A Grant, Curved Staircase With A Green Carpet. A Small Chandelier Glows Above
A View Of A Grand Dining Room With Wedding Veils On Display Heads And A Pair Of Wedding Shoes Propped In The Front Of The Display. Ornate Chairs Are Iin The Background And A Chanedeloer Glows Above
A White, Long-sleeved, Floor-length Wedding Gown Is On Display In Front Of A White Marble Fireplace, Small Gold Statuettes On The Mantle, And A Framed Portrait Off To The Side Staring At The Camera.
A Floor-lenght White Wedding Gown With Short Sleeves And A Poofed Out Pricess Skirt Is On Display In Front Of A Portrait Of An Older Woman, An Urn Full Of Ivy, A Marble Bust, And A Green CurtainA White Silk Wedding Gown With A Smal Train And A Headpiece Are In Display Infront Of The Portraits Of Katharine And Belle SkinnerIn The Foreground A White Silk Wedding Gown Is On Display, Sleeves Pinned As If Hands Held In Front And In The Backgrounda Second Ivory Gown With A Long Train Can Be ViewedAn Ivory Skilk Gown With A Long Train Is On Display In Front Of A Grant, Curved Staircase With A Green Carpet. A Small Chandelier Glows AboveA View Of A Grand Dining Room With Wedding Veils On Display Heads And A Pair Of Wedding Shoes Propped In The Front Of The Display. Ornate Chairs Are Iin The Background And A Chanedeloer Glows AboveA White, Long-sleeved, Floor-length Wedding Gown Is On Display In Front Of A White Marble Fireplace, Small Gold Statuettes On The Mantle, And A Framed Portrait Off To The Side Staring At The Camera.

In the Great Hall

Date: 1949
Candlelight ivory Skinner satin gown with tasseled embroidery, princess waist, long sleeves, train, and back zipper.

Sometimes collection items have multiple connecting stories. The bride who wore this gown, Charla Emerson Bidwell worked at the Holyoke Museum at the Public Library (now Wistariahurst) as an assistant curator back in 1949. In addition, her wedding to Edward Bidwell took place at Skinner Memorial Chapel here in Holyoke. Her bridal Skinner satin, ivory gown now is part of Wistariahurst’s textile collection.

Ivory Skinner satin gown with lattice-beaded shoulders, princess seems, and covered buttons and sleeves and back. Sewn-in garment label in neckline reads

Ivory Skinner satin gown with lattice-beaded shoulders, princess seems, and covered buttons and sleeves and back. Sewn-in garment label in neckline reads "Hope Thayer". Includes slip with lace-edged ruffle at hem; headpiece/veil; sequined headband with lace-trimming netting.
Date: Mid - Late 20th Century
A full long white wedding gown with lace around the collar and short sleeves, on a white background

This gown was worn by Lucie Peck Kilborne Moffett when she wed George Briggs Kilborne, (great-grandson of silk manufacturer, William Skinner) and then altered and worn twice more for each of her two daughters, Kim Kilborne Patrick and Sarah Skinner Kilborne. Made of Skinner silk (not satin). The taffeta skirt has two petticoats to give the skirt a full look.

A back view full white silk wedding gown with a bow at the waist and lace around the neckline, on a white background
Date: 1960
Lace bodice with scalloped, pearl-edged neckline and long sleeves over heavy taffeta-like skirt.

Worn by a mother (Beverly Ann) and daughter (Lara) decades apart, this dress is made of fabric sourced from the Skinner mill by Elizabeth Skinner Beverly’s mother-in-law. She bought enough Skinner Starlight satin for two wedding dresses and gave Beverly her portion of fabric when she got engaged. The dress was hand-made by Beverly’s mother Gertrude King Ramstrom of Haydenville, MA for her 1966 wedding. “Not a machine stitch in it,” remembers Beverly. When Lara got engaged they took the dress out of storage and found a seamstress to alter it for Lara’s wedding in 1990. Lara is a descendant of Thomas Skinner, William Skinner's brother.



Lace bodice with scalloped, pearl-edged neckline and long sleeves over heavy taffeta-like skirt.
Date: 1950
Candlelight ivory Skinner satin gown with tasseled embroidery, princess waist, long sleeves, train, and back zipper.

Post World War II wedding celebrations often had modest budgets. Many brides took advantage of the availability of Skinner fabrics manufactured and sold here in Holyoke. Shirley Lacinski had Philamene Swords (who worked in the Holyoke mill) purchase the material directly from the Skinner mill. The entire dress and bridal cap cost a mere $50. Shirley Lacinski of South Hadley and Wallace Sawyer of Holyoke were married November 11, 1950.

Candlelight ivory Skinner satin gown with tasseled embroidery, princess waist, long sleeves, train, and back zipper.



Candlelight ivory Skinner satin gown with tasseled embroidery, princess waist, long sleeves, train, and back zipper.
A Wooden And Glass Display Box Holding White Silk Gloves, A Feather Fan, Silk Shoes, Pearls, And Wedding Invitations
A Wooden And Glass Display Box Holding White Silk Gloves, A Feather Fan, Silk Shoes, Pearls, And Wedding Invitations
Two White Wedding Gowns, One With A Long Train And One Floor Length, On Either Side Of A Marble Statue Of A Greek Woman Frolicking With Grapes. Yellow Walls And Wooden Shuttered Windows In The Background
Wedding Gowns Of Various Colors, Ivory, White, Brown, And Cream, On Display In A Yellow Gallery With A Set Of Old Fashioned Under Garments Hanging Above A Pink Marble Fireplace
A Cream Old Fashioned Jacquard Wedding Suit Next To A Large Green Plant And An Even Older Brown Wedding Suit In The Background
An Old Fashioned Yellow Wedding Outfit With Tightly Cinched Bodice And Silk Skirt With A Ruffled Hem. Long Sleeves And White Collar On The Dress
A Wooden And Glass Display Box Holding White Silk Gloves, A Feather Fan, Silk Shoes, Pearls, And Wedding InvitationsTwo White Wedding Gowns, One With A Long Train And One Floor Length, On Either Side Of A Marble Statue Of A Greek Woman Frolicking With Grapes. Yellow Walls And Wooden Shuttered Windows In The BackgroundWedding Gowns Of Various Colors, Ivory, White, Brown, And Cream, On Display In A Yellow Gallery With A Set Of Old Fashioned Under Garments Hanging Above A Pink Marble FireplaceA Cream Old Fashioned Jacquard Wedding Suit Next To A Large Green Plant And An Even Older Brown Wedding Suit In The BackgroundAn Old Fashioned Yellow Wedding Outfit With Tightly Cinched Bodice And Silk Skirt With A Ruffled Hem. Long Sleeves And White Collar On The Dress

In the Gallery

Date: 1886
Fitted, boned bodice jacket with lace-covered green buttons; white collar with embroidery and cut work; waxed wool underskirt with full bustle, modified train and green trim at hem. Overskirt with a train and gathers in back to emphasize bustle effect. Ruffles at hem and cuffs.

Garments and clothing are the most intimate items a human can possess. Textiles are worn close against one's body. The evidence of this closeness is often shown by stains, creases and fabric wear. The bodice of this outfit has significant staining under the arms indicating perspiration. From these stains we know for sure this dress was worn. This is one of the oldest gowns in the collection. Worn by Esther Stiles when she wed James W. Meacham
Fitted, boned bodice jacket with lace-covered green buttons; white collar with embroidery and cut work; waxed wool underskirt with full bustle, modified train and green trim at hem. Overskirt with a train and gathers in back to emphasize bustle effect. Ruffles at hem and cuffs.

Fitted, boned bodice jacket with lace-covered green buttons; white collar with embroidery and cut work; waxed wool underskirt with full bustle, modified train and green trim at hem. Overskirt with a train and gathers in back to emphasize bustle effect. Ruffles at hem and cuffs.
Date: 1886
Front of red-brown wedding suit. Jacket is fitted and boned with gem-like metal buttons; leg-of-mutton sleeves; fitted styling. Skirt has box-pleat trim at the hem and darting. Collar is adorned with decorative flowers and closes with a hook and eye.

Minnie Bryant Parsons wore this wedding suit in 1887. Here 135 years later it is in nearly pristine condition thanks to the loving care taken by Minnie's daughter Florence G. Parsons. In 1978, when Florence was 91 years old, she donated the suit to Wistariahurst to continue its preservation. She told us the outfit was made by a friend of Minnie's for her wedding. Minnie J. Bryant married George D. Parson on November 17, 1886 in Rock Valley.

Back of red brown wedding suit Jacket is fitted and boned with gem-like metal buttons; leg-of-mutton sleeves; fitted styling. Skirt has box-pleat trim at the hem and darting. Collar is adorned with decorative flowers and closes with a hook and eye.

Jacket is fitted and boned with gem-like metal buttons; leg-of-mutton sleeves; fitted styling. Skirt has box-pleat trim at the hem and darting. Collar is adorned with decorative flowers and closes with a hook and eye.
Date: 1893
Two-piece suit of candlelight ivory silk satin. The bodice is boned with a high neckline; leg-of-mutton ruffled sleeves; very full skirt.

Wedding gowns often echo fashionable trends and this gown with its leg-of-mutton sleeves is an example of a once fashionable style popular in the late 19th century. This outfit was worn by Maria L. Kirtland who married Isaac E. Sawyer October 13, 1893. Their grandchildren donated the gown.
Two-piece suit of candlelight ivory silk satin. The bodice is boned with a high neckline; leg-of-mutton ruffled sleeves; very full skirt.
Date: 1890
Ivory faille fabric decorated with stripes of floral satin brocade done in silver and gold metallic threads. Train has wide bands of lace and net ruffles. Sewn in waist cummerbund and 3/4 length ruffled sleeves.

Faille (pronounced "file" or "fail") is a woven fabric with a slightly glossy finish. The term Faille comes from the French language referring to a cloth head covering worn by the women of Flanders. Brocade is a heavy decorative woven fabric with a raised design. It is usually a floral pattern and is often woven with gold or silver yarns and is produced on a Jacquard Loom.

back of Ivory faille fabric wedding gown decorated with stripes of floral satin brocade done in silver and gold metallic threads. Train has wide bands of lace and net ruffles. Sewn in waist cummerbund and 3/4 length ruffled sleeves.

Ivory faille fabric decorated with stripes of floral satin brocade done in silver and gold metallic threads. Train has wide bands of lace and net ruffles. Sewn in waist cummerbund and 3/4 length ruffled sleeves.
Date: 1930
Long-sleeved ivory satin bridal gown with extensive buttons down the back with bridal veil netting with rolled crown of pearls.

The sleek lines of this gown are reflective of the Art Deco influence of the time. Gone are the cinched corseted waists and heavily structured skirts. Note the extensive buttons down the back. In earlier centuries, buttons on the back of a dress were intended to give the appearance of wealth, because a woman wearing such a garment implied one could afford servants to help her dress. Irene met Norman at a dance in the Stardust Ballroom of Mountain Park. They were married on August 19, 1935 at Our Lady of perpetual Help in Holyoke.

the back of an ivory wedding gown with a floor length veil draping down the back

Long-sleeved ivory satin bridal gown with extensive buttons down the back with bridal veil netting with rolled crown of pearls.
Date: c. 1930
Apricot crepe silk with sheer layered yoke and capped sleeves. Layered wrap skirt with short, weighted train. Tassel ornamentation.

This gown stands out from the rest because of its sleek and delicate styling indicative of the fashion of the 1930s. Apricot crepe silk is a unique color for a bridal gown. Although this gown did not come with much of a back story, there are some small stains on the skirt and train, a few missing pearl buttons and a tear under the back, right sleeve--all indicating that this dress was worn and used by its owner Helen Chapin Read of Holyoke.

back of Apricot crepe silk with sheer layered yoke and capped sleeves. Layered wrap skirt with short, weighted train. Tassel ornamentation.

Apricot crepe silk with sheer layered yoke and capped sleeves. Layered wrap skirt with short, weighted train. Tassel ornamentation.
A Long View Of A Wedding Gown Exhibit In An Ornate White Room With Columns And Arched Ceilings. Display Cases And A Lacey Gown In The Foreground
A Long View Of A Wedding Gown Exhibit In An Ornate White Room With Columns And Arched Ceilings. Display Cases And A Lacey Gown In The Foreground
A Wide View Of The Historic Music Room With Dresses And Columns, And Belle And Katharine Portrait In The Background
Looking Down A Long White Room With Columns At The Trains And Backs Of Several Styles Of Wedding Dresses, Some With Long Sleeves, Bustles, And At The End One With A Long Cathedral Length Veil
An Ornate Old Fashioned High Lace Collar, Lacy Billowly Sleeves, And Layered Lace Skirt On A Wedding Dress In The Foreground, Background Shows Trains Of Other Dresses And An Arched Ceiling
A Lacy Layered Wedding Gown With Rhinestone Details And A V Neck Overlaid With Lace Is Backlight In An Alcove
A Gran Room With High Columns And Dramatic Uplight Holds Several Wedding Gowns With Long Train. In The Foregound Is A Silk Gown With A Square Collar And Slightly Puffed Long Sleeves
A White Gown With A Lace Collar Is In The Foreground Of A Photo Of Several Wedding Dresses In A Grand Room With Columns. A Painting Of A Lyre Is In The Background On The Wall
Veils And Tiaras Are On Displau Heads And A Silk Covered Table In The Dining Room
A Big Marble Hall With Columns Has Several Wedding Gowns On Display, The Foreground Shows A Five Foot Train Spread On The Parquet Floor
An Old White Wedding Outfit With High Collar And Long Sleaves, Floor Length, Is On A Stage With Interpretive Materials Around It
A Long View Of A Wedding Gown Exhibit In An Ornate White Room With Columns And Arched Ceilings. Display Cases And A Lacey Gown In The ForegroundA Wide View Of The Historic Music Room With Dresses And Columns, And Belle And Katharine Portrait In The BackgroundLooking Down A Long White Room With Columns At The Trains And Backs Of Several Styles Of Wedding Dresses, Some With Long Sleeves, Bustles, And At The End One With A Long Cathedral Length VeilAn Ornate Old Fashioned High Lace Collar, Lacy Billowly Sleeves, And Layered Lace Skirt On A Wedding Dress In The Foreground, Background Shows Trains Of Other Dresses And An Arched CeilingA Lacy Layered Wedding Gown With Rhinestone Details And A V Neck Overlaid With Lace Is Backlight In An AlcoveA Gran Room With High Columns And Dramatic Uplight Holds Several Wedding Gowns With Long Train. In The Foregound Is A Silk Gown With A Square Collar And Slightly Puffed Long SleevesA White Gown With A Lace Collar Is In The Foreground Of A Photo Of Several Wedding Dresses In A Grand Room With Columns. A Painting Of A Lyre Is In The Background On The WallVeils And Tiaras Are On Displau Heads And A Silk Covered Table In The Dining RoomA Big Marble Hall With Columns Has Several Wedding Gowns On Display, The Foreground Shows A Five Foot Train Spread On The Parquet FloorAn Old White Wedding Outfit With High Collar And Long Sleaves, Floor Length, Is On A Stage With Interpretive Materials Around It

In the Music Room

Date: 1887
Fitted jacket tapers to pointed, bottom edged with pearls; boned tiara collar and square neckline trimmed with pearls; long sleeves have split cuffs edged with pearls; lace scarf is sewn in at the neck. Skirt has front pleats and a thick layer of pleats in back that form the bustle; the attached long train is trimmed with lace at edges.

This gown was worn by Eleanor Luce when she married Wilbur Munyan Purrington on June 9, 1887. Eleanor was sister to architect Clarence Luce who designed this Music Room. Both the Luce and the Skinner families were neighbors in Haydenville, Massachusetts prior to the flood of 1874. In fact, Eleanor's other brother Franklin Luce, later worked in the Chicago Sales office of Skinner Mills and he put this outfit to use promoting and marketing Skinner fabrics.

Fitted jacket tapers to pointed, bottom edged with pearls; boned tiara collar and square neckline trimmed with pearls; long sleeves have split cuffs edged with pearls; lace scarf is sewn in at the neck. Skirt has front pleats and a thick layer of pleats in back that form the bustle; the attached long train is trimmed with lace at edges.
Date: 1950
Ivory Skinner satin bridal gown with mandarin collar neckline, fitted bodice, with lace skirting, full skirt and court length (72

Described in the Holyoke Transcript this bride wore "a white satin gown, having a mandarin collar, long sleeves pointed over the wrists, a peplum of French rose lace and a train edged in lace." This gown was made by the bride's neighbor Viola Moquin, who was a seamstress. Worn by June E. Aiken on her marriage to Richard E. Young on May 30, 1950.

Ivory Skinner satin bridal gown with mandarin collar neckline, fitted bodice, with lace skirting, full skirt and court length (72

Ivory Skinner satin bridal gown with mandarin collar neckline, fitted bodice, with lace skirting, full skirt and court length (72") train edged in lace.
Date: 1961
Cream satin wedding gown with lace and sequin overlay on bodice and sleeves. Some sequins appliquéd on the skirt. Bodice back has satin buttons with loops. Long juliet sleeves taper to a V at the wrist.
cream silk satin wedding dress with train bustled at the waist, buttons down the back, and lace acros a dipped back neckline

This gown features an elegant train. A train is extra fabric extending from the back of the gown. Long ago a train would indicate the wealth of the family, as more cloth cost more money. This gown incorporates an interesting system to raise the train through several attached loops and buttons in order to raise and gather the train so it is more manageable. Worn by Roberta Quagliaroli when she married Frank Perotti on October 21, 1961.

cream silk satin wedding dress with bustle above a short train, buttons down the back, and lace acros a dipped back neckline

Cream satin wedding gown with lace and sequin overlay on bodice and sleeves. Some sequins appliquéd on the skirt. Bodice back has satin buttons with loops. Long juliet sleeves taper to a V at the wrist.
Date: 1946
White wedding gown made of a heavy weight satin appropriate for a January wedding, and the train gathers up into a buttoned bustle at the back.
white silk gown with lace sleeves, buttons down the back, and a full trali

Margaret "Peggy" Skinner, (William Skinner's great grand-daughter) reaped the fabric benefits of being an heiress to a portion of the Skinner Manufacturing empire with this exquisite satin, silk gown with a court length train. The gown is made of a heavy weight satin appropriate for a January wedding, and the train gathers up into a buttoned bustle at the back. She was married to Dr. George Armistead, Jr. at the Skinner Memorial Chapel, and her parents lived at "Dogwood Estate," 1155 Northampton Street here in Holyoke.

With train bustled

the back of a long-sleeved white dress, with a rippling silk train bustled at the waist, trailing to the floor.

Satin Underslip

silk underslip with sheer tuille bottome and small blue ribbons
Date: 1941
Jacquard leaf-patterned, ivory, Skinner satin wedding gown with covered buttons down front center, train, exaggerated bustle at back.

[caption id="attachment_39422" align="alignnone" width="909"]Back of a Jacquard leaf-patterned, ivory, Skinner satin wedding gown train, exaggerated bustle at back.

Made at the start of World War II, the donor told the story how she tracked down one of the last bolts of Skinner satin available in the Springfield/Holyoke area to make sure her gown was made of Skinner material.

[caption id="attachment_39421" align="alignnone" width="1000"]Back of Jacquard leaf-patterned, ivory, Skinner satin wedding gown with three quarter length veil and train www.sethkaye.com


Jacquard leaf-patterned, ivory, Skinner satin wedding gown with covered buttons down front center, train, exaggerated bustle at back. Dirt stain on the train.
Date: 1904
pearl coburn sits with hands in lap, with her lace gown draped around her.
Accordion pleated white silk chiffon gown with exquisite French lace. Lace covers the bodice, neckline, skirt, train and makes up the long, buttoned cuffs. Shoes, stockings and extra ribbons.

Written up in the Holyoke Daily Transcript as "One of the Most Important Events in Local Social History," Pearl Coburn's wedding was quite a large event with 800 wedding invitations sent and the newspaper devoting two full columns to cover the details of the affair, including complete descriptions of what was worn, who attended and the gifts given. Worn by Pearl Coburn on her wedding to David Walton, Jr. on June 15, 1904.

Accordion pleated white silk chiffon gown with exquisite French lace. Lace covers the bodice, neckline, skirt, train and makes up the long, buttoned cuffs. Shoes, stockings and extra ribbons.

Accordion pleated white silk chiffon gown with exquisite French lace. Lace covers the bodice, neckline, skirt, train and makes up the long, buttoned cuffs. Shoes, stockings and extra ribbons.

This exhibit was made possible by a grant from the Holyoke Local Cultural Council

Special Thanks to:
Holyoke Media
Seth Kaye Photography
CJC Events

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