Kent State museum to exhibit Civil War fashions, Mary Todd Lincoln quilt

Courtesy of Kent State Fashion Museum.

Sasha Chinchar

The Kent State University Museum is bringing back fashions from the Civil War with “On the Home Front: Civil War Fashions and Domestic Life.”

The exhibition will focus on the daily life and experiences of the American civilian population during the Civil War.

“People want to recreate and reenact what life was like during the Civil War, and this is a great way to see what it really did look like and to provide the real objects that people can actually see,” curator Sara Hume said. “The idea itself is great, but the objects themselves are just fascinating.”

Women’s and children’s clothing will be on display, along with accessories, photographs, decorative art, women’s magazines and even a unique quilt called “Elizabeth Keckley’s Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt.”

The clothing will represent the material circumstances and fashions of the women and children on the home front.

“Boys and girls wore very similar clothing up until a certain age,” Hume said, “so we have a number of outfits that are probably for boys, but they’re skirts, so it’s really hard to tell based on the dress whether it’s a girl’s or a boy’s.”

Some accessories in the exhibit will include hats, shoes, stockings, undergarments and corsets. The museum has also borrowed unique pieces from the Western Reserve Historical Society.

The “Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt” is a design by Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave and dressmaker for first lady Mary Todd Lincoln. Keckley made the quilt from scraps of Lincoln’s dresses.

“It’s actually a really amazing quilt,” Hume said. “The idea of it is terribly compelling, but when you look at it, the object itself is also in its own right. Even if it didn’t have that provenance and if that weren’t the story of the quilt, it would still be one of the most remarkable quilts we have.”

The Kent State University Museum received the quilt as a gift in 1994, which was also the last year it was on display at the museum as part of a quilt exhibit.

Since then, numerous museums have requested to borrow the quilt. About four years ago, the museum loaned it to the Decatur House Museum in Washington, D.C.

“We’ve had requests for the quilt and we’ve had to deny requests,” said Joanne Fenn, collections manager and museum registrar. “When an item goes on loan, it is most vulnerable, and because it is so important and in such fragile condition, we have to be very careful who we give it to.”

Hume said another large element of the exhibit will be photographs.

“The photographs both show the actual costumes and also are themselves an artifact of the period,” Hume said.

“On the Home Front: Civil War Fashions and Domestic Life” will open at the Kent State Museum Sept. 30 and will be on display until Aug. 26, 2012.

Contact Summer Kent Stater reporter Sasha Chinchar at [email protected].