Monday, September 26, 2011

First Ladies at the Smithsonian

Where: National Museum of American History

When: through October 31, 2011

Rest assured, the exhibit of First Ladies' gowns is not closing permanently.  It's one of the most popular displays in the museum.  It's only closing temporarily, so that they can move the artifacts to their new home on the 3rd floor of the museum.

Note also, that this is not the First Ladies exhibit I remember from childhood.  At that time (think the 1970s), all the first ladies gowns were on display, arranged in chronological order.  I used to enjoy looking at the dresses every much, to see how fashions had changed over the years.  Now, only a few of the gowns are on display.  According to the notice on the wall, some of the gowns have been so damaged by years of being on display, that they can no longer be shown.  A pity, really, but it can't be helped.

The exhibit itself has moved before.  Its original home was the Arts and Industries Building (now undergoing renovation).  In the 1950s, it moved to the History and Technology Building (the name of what is now the Museum of American History).  This exhibit was the first to focus on women, and in 1992, the exhibit changed from one simply displaying gowns, to one that explored the role of the first lady, and featured items other than just dresses.

Martha Washington's gown is still on display, so it's not just age that causes deterioration - would be interesting to know why some dresses last and others don't.  Helen Taft was the first lady who began the tradition of donating the inaugural ball gown to the Smithsonian, and her dress is still on display as well.

The gowns of the "modern" first ladies, beginning with Lady Bird Johnson, are now in a separate gallery.  I'm assuming that state-of-the-art preservation techniques are being used to keep those gowns in good order, so they should be available to visitors for quite a while yet.  Lady Bird's gown is yellow, with brown trim - she was going for something that wouldn't seem dated in years to come, yikes - missed the mark there, I'm afraid.

Verdict: Well worth a look, although if you miss this show before it closes, you'll have plenty of time to look at the new exhibit that opens in mid-November.

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